The Right to Food: Lessons from India.

– Elvis –Wura Towolawi

On Monday 2nd of September, 2013, India took steps away from the table of poverty and acute malnutrition by passing the Food Security Bill which is to subsidize wheat, rice and cereals for over 800 million people – the hungry poor. This epoch-making Bill when assented to by the President will “guarantee to citizens a legal entitlement and right to food”. India is a land of economic paradox: with a fast growing economy driven by technology, yet saddled with the worst specie of poverty in the world; with “two –thirds of its 1.2 billion people poor and half of the country’s children malnourished”. (See:www.vyot.org). It would be no praise – mongering if one say that the Bill which seeks to cover two-third of the second largest population in the world and provide “5kg of subsidized food grain per person per month “came with a great deal of financial strain and political will and energy to reduce hunger amongst the people. What’s more, women seem to be a major arrow head and beneficiary of the Law because it makes women head of families in order to take delivery of the food; covers pregnant women and lactating mothers; the elderly as well as destitute. Clearly, the Law focuses on the vulnerable and debased people of the Indian society.

There is no wool covering one’s eyes about the fiscal implication of such lofty and socialist policy: $200 billion. Many critics have argued that such whooping sum of money will unsettle the country’s GDP and increase debt-load. Others have expressed worries about the distribution channels which are regarded as manned by corrupt state officials thereby likely to cause the food not to reach the hungry mouths, rot or even end up in the market to be resold at a prohibitive price. To be candid, these views are well-founded as corrupt practices and waste could water down the effectiveness and implementation of the Law and still leaving the hungry hungrier in the face of plenty food, rotting and wasting away in some officials storehouse!

However, the Law to one’s mind is a quantum leap forward and a plus in securing the right to food which stands at the primal fountain of human rights. Now, what dignity of person is there for a man who cannot provide akara (bean cake) for his crying children when akara sellers flood the street with the ware? To such an impoverished man, human rights no matter the “sacredness” of the proclamation and pronouncement and paper upon which it is enshrined would mean nothing. Echoing a similar sentiment, Barack Obama once posited, “For what does it profit a man to sit at an integrated lunch counter if he can’t afford the meal?” Dignity begins in the belly. Principally, the right to food and its variations is a human right protecting the right for people to feed themselves in dignity, implying that people should have the means to access it, and that it adequately meets the individual’s dietary needs and at all times (See: http://www.en-wikipedia.org). Nonetheless, one must note here that this right does no necessarily place an obligation on the State to place food on the tongue of an idle, lazy and sluggish citizenry; but it demands the State to create an environment where food is accessible, affordable and adequate to support a meaningful standard of living for the citizenry. Here states are required under the International Convenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) 1966, a part of the International Bill of Rights to “pursue” the goal of making life livable standard for its citizenry within the capability of their budgetary muscle. Also, States are expected to strive toward the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations. The MDGs represent railroads for accelerating sustainable development in many developing states of the world; and a benchmark for assessment of efforts of development. It also promotes respect for and compliance with human rights. And interestingly, the MDGs have as Goal One – “the Eradication of Extreme Hunger and Poverty”. Like Siamese twin conjoined by brain, hunger and poverty go together – hunger breeds poverty, and poverty births indignities, underdevelopment and backwardness which leads in the end to gross violations of human rights. Let’s look at Nigeria’s hunger index.

Nigeria is a nation of vast natural resources and human endowment. It ranks as the 6th producer of crude oil in the world; and has the largest population in Africa. Yet, many Nigerian children and citizens can barely feed themselves. The Federal Ministry of Health Report, July 2013 states that 41 percent of Nigerian children under age five suffer stunted growth as a result of malnutrition; with the worst cases in the North. (See: allAfrica.com/Nigeria). The situation has assumed humanitarian dimension as a result of the conflict and insurgency in Northern Nigeria where her citizens are wasting away in hunger unnoticed. But how did the acclaimed “Giant of Africa” get trapped in this hunger circle? Are there exit route out of this dark, in human and humiliating isle of hunger? What lessons can she learn from her peer – state India?

The rain of hunger and food shortage started beating Nigeria from the day she despised her capacity in Agriculture and depended on oil dollar and imports from abroad to feed her exploding population. Nigeria is characterized by high reliance on food imports (See: http://www.ifpri.org/publication); wastage and profligacy in handling the trillions she earns from oil export. It would beat the shrewdest of minds how a seemingly self-sustaining agro-economy at independence slipped to become a net importer of food produce. The World’s largest producer of yam and cassava has its citizenry groaning at the price of garri. One may add here that over half of the food produced in Nigeria are lost and frittered away due to inaccessible markets, bad infrastructure, low agro-industrial activities, soaring price and lack of innovation etc. Thus, it is Nigeria’s inattention that makes soap foams to sting her children’s eyes in a flowing stream of water.

All hope is not lost. For Nigeria to overcome the mountain of hunger and acute malnutrition she must decidedly strive to attain food autarchy by extolling and showing the virtue of self-reliance in agriculture; large-scale mechanized farming should be encouraged through interest – free loans and other incentives in agro-allied industries. Besides, the Nigerian government with its’ excess’ petro – dollar could borrow a leaf India by giving teeth to the provisions in Chapter II of the Constitution. Why should most of those “real rights” be made non-justiciable and unenforceable? What budgetary implication is Nigeria scared of in a country where billions of Naira are lost to official thievery? Why protect the right of life, liberty and dignity without paving the way for a minimum bar of dignifying living? To my mind, human rights can only make sense to the common people when they feel that their ‘welfare’ is at the heart of Government. Therefore, there is need for Nigeria to wake up from her gluttony-induced slumber and bridge the gap between the belly-fulls and empty-bellies. It was Plato who once said, “a well-fed state is a well-governed state”; and this certainly reflects modern day condition in most third world countries, Nigeria inclusive – Hunger and Bad Governance are in alliance. This unholy alliance has stripped the flesh of dignity and personal development off the lives of millions of people living in bottom-bottom of lack and state –inflicted basic deprivations. People don’t eat and grow on crude oil; people eat and grow on food!

#India #MDGs #righttofood

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