Food Sovereignity And Sustainable Agriculture Go Hand In Hand To Reduce Poverty

Shobha Shukla, CNS Columnist
Despite rapid economic growth, income inequality is rising in India and structural inequalities have kept entire groups trapped in poverty. Although India has reduced absolute poverty by 14% in the last decade more than 400 million of its people still live in poverty. It is home to one third poor of the world as well as to 40% (217 million) of the world’s malnourished children. It also remains at the bottom of the group of mid income countries with a GDP per capita at $ 1410 in 2011.

A lopsided development in favour of economic growth to the large exclusion of addressing social inequity is making India and other countries more unequal and unsustainable. The disconnect between economic growth and social inequity and other development aspects were debated animately at a recent ‘Consultation on Nationalizing Sustainable Development’ organized in Delhi by a a range of organizations such as Third World Network, PAIRVI, Beyond Copenhagen, Cecoedecon, Family Planning Association of India, International Planned Parenthood Federation, CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness, South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Democracy, IBON International, LANDESA, among others.

The Open Working Group (OWG) final outcome document outlining 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), has combined agriculture and hunger and food security together which is more progressive as opposed to Millennium Development Goals where hunger and poverty had been clubbed together. SDG 2 explicitly asks to ‘end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.’

While the OWG document seeks to increase agricultural productivity and incomes of small farmers with a view to address hunger and poverty, it does not have a target ensuring that land is owned by the tillers, even though land distribution and tenure security remain the top agenda of poor farmers, especially in developing countries like India, and are vitally linked to food security. It also does not uphold food sovereignity.

Kavitha Kuruganti of ASHA (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture) said that, “ We have an official claim in India that poverty has come down and an official admission that hunger has gone up. This is a clear indication that our measuring of poverty has been wrong. The largest number of poor is in rural India. The paradox is that those who produce food are also starving. The most direct way of dealing with all the development issues in our country is to tackle the issues in agriculture.”

According to her, agriculture is not just about food production but also about sustainable practices of food security. She favoured Kisan Swarajya Niti which is a 4 pillared policy that aims to (i) bring environmental sustainability into agriculture; (ii) guarantee minimum living income in farming; (iii) give control over land forests and other natural resources in the hands of farming communities; and (iv) ensure nutritious/safe food for all.

“The largest number of women workers is concentrated in agriculture and the largest number of farmers have small holdings. Several of our developmental goals lie in development of agriculture and not in forcing displacement of people from agriculture sector to other sectors, especially for providing cheap labour for manufacturing sector. However the government policy seems to favour the latter.”

Kavitha spoke about various false dichotomies that are inbuilt in India’s food security approaches—“The first dichotomy is the belief that producers are different from consumers, even though the largest numbers of consumers are also food producers. So we want to create a food security model where some producers are producing for a lot of consumers. This purpose has centred on moving people from agriculture to other sectors.”

“The second dichotomy is to think that certain pockets of the country will produce food for certain other pockets. Thus in the process of creating some intensified agriculture pockets we have decimated both—the pockets which have gone for green revolution as well as those that come under neglected areas. We have decimated farming and food systems in both these pockets.”

Forests As Food Producing Habitats

“The third dichotomy is around food security, which is centred on two grains only—rice and wheat. The Indian government admits that we are off track in tackling under nourishment and hunger and that there is a declining calorific intake in this country. Yet, we have not caught up with the neglected aspects of food security that look beyond agriculture for food production. Neither civil society nor state discourses have started looking at forests as food producing habitats.”

Kavitha shared the results of one of her studies which revealed that, “There are many adivasi (tribal) communities who draw a diverse variety of uncultivated food from forests that are not only organic and rich in micro nutrients, but are also free of cost and addresses even gender equity and household equity dynamics. Upto 25%--50% of the food that these people consume is food that is uncultivated and obtained from the forest-- tubers, mushrooms, wild berries, fruits, and leaves. The cultural and ecological linkage, which they have with their forests, prevents them from cutting down fruit producing/bearing trees.  We can have a win-win situation with communities protecting forests and also drawing food for themselves from there.”

Kavitha stressed upon not looking at agriculture only in terms of production and yield. One must think of sustainable farm livelihoods and not just sustainable agriculture. Sustainable agriculture practices and technology should be an inbuilt tool and centred more around small holder farmers, especially women farmers. Although big farmers produce the largest quantum of food in India, they do so by using unsustainable practices. So with big farmers sustainable agriculture is next to impossible. Having small landholders, especially women landholders, will result in ecological agriculture. Many market related reforms will also have to be taken up so that they become more remunerative and farmer- controlled.

Shobha Shukla, Citizen News Service (CNS) 
25 August 2014
(The author is the Managing Editor of Citizen News Service - CNS. She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA and received her editing training in Singapore. She has earlier worked with State Planning Institute, UP and taught physics at India's prestigious Loreto Convent. She also co-authored and edited publications on gender justice, childhood TB, childhood pneumonia, Hepatitis C Virus and HIV, and MDR-TB. Email:, website: