Indian Food Systems: Distributive Justice in Access to Natural Resources and Food

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5th July, 2021


The United Nations is organising a Food Systems Summit in this year, 2021. Although, this Summit intends to launch bold new actions to deliver progress on all 17 SDGs, the underlying agenda has been questioned by civil society. There have been criticisms of the UNFSS for its ties to big businesses and exclusion of small rural food producers. Corporate capture of this Summit was evidenced by the alliance between Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and CropLife International, the industry association of the world’s leading pesticide manufacturers. Companies, multinational NGOs, governments and financial companies are organising this Summit very enthusiastically, with the intention of bringing change that benefits them.

With the objective of organising a counter-summit to the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), people’s movements and civil society organizations around the globe launched the Global People’s Summit (GPS) on Food Systems, on the occasion of World Environment Day, June 5, 2021. The People’s Summit is a call to struggle against corporatization of food systems, wherein a handful of corporations control land and productive resources and the way we produce our food, with harmful techno-fixes that have long been discredited. Global People’s Summit believes that at the heart of genuine food systems transformation is the right to food, people’s food sovereignty and agroecology—all of which the UNFSS leaves out.

In India, not much debate has happened on the UN Food Systems Summit and its counter summit, Global Peoples Summit. India in the past few years has been witnessing thrust in public policies towards corporatisation of agriculture. The 3 Indian agricultural laws brought out on June 5, 2020, have been flagged for their pro-corporate content and intent. Even though farmers have been protesting against these laws, in Delhi and various other places, Indian government has not heeded their advice in scrapping these laws. There are various other measures that are intended to increase corporatisation of Indian agriculture. Implications of such corporatisation of agriculture on food and nutrition access to communities in India need to be analysed. Food systems, the way they are built, do also impinge on access to land, water, food, nutrition and sustainability. Ownership of natural resources becomes a critical issue.

The current global food system is broken, exposed by COVID-19. Food systems, and particularly industrial animal agriculture and monoculture farming, are the principal drivers of biodiversity loss, climate change and pollution. Food system reform must be transformational, and based on systemic change to address underlying root causes and drivers.

Recent years have highlighted the vulnerabilities and inherent lack of sustainability of our current commodified, export-based food system. India needs to move away from treating food as a commodity, an export commodity and a contributor of GDP. We need to rebuild reliable systems of regenerative, humane and sustainable local food production/consumption to ensure food security and food equity. Addressing food sovereignty, as in:

Food sovereignty emphasises ecologically appropriate production, distribution and consumption, social-economic justice and local food systems as ways to tackle hunger and poverty and guarantee sustainable food security for all peoples.

Monopolies in food production have to be broken. Communities have to be empowered with resource ownership, decision-making, knowledge and skills. Ecological restoration should be primacy. Financialisation, investment-centric, profit-oriented food production cannot be encouraged.

These changes will need to be made based on “just transition”, protecting the public good and human rights, and prioritising the wellbeing of people, nature and animals over infinite economic growth. To succeed, there will need to be repurposing of subsidies and support, and regulation of the market to hold companies accountable for harmful practices.

The current food and agriculture system is not sustainable into the future. The natural resource base is already showing worrying signs of degradation and environmental impacts are catastrophic.

In addition to the impacts on the environment and natural resources, the failure of our food system has taken an enormous toll on the livelihoods of small-scale producers, indigenous people and local communities; on the lives and welfare of animals; and on human health and safety. Meanwhile, climate change is posing new and urgent challenges to ecosystems, human communities, and other species. The effects of climate change are already placing an additional burden on food security, with unpredictable and erratic weather systems including prolonged droughts and floods, and these impacts are expected to deepen.

Industrial agriculture is one of the main causes of deforestation, land degradation, climate change, and biodiversity loss. Intensive monocultures – including livestock and crops for animal feed – deplete soil and leave it vulnerable to erosion and also detrimentally impact biodiversity, leading to declining populations of birds and beneficial insects. Herbicides and insecticides harm wildlife (including insects and pollinators) and can pose human health risks, while chemical fertiliser runoff and industrial animal agriculture wastes create oxygen-deprived “dead zones” in major waterways.

Intensive livestock production contributes to negative impacts on the environment (through land and water use and water, soil and air pollution), human health (including through antimicrobial resistance, emerging diseases and non-communicable diseases), social structures (through rural abandonment, poor working conditions and low wages) and animal welfare (through indoor confinement, crowding, poor handling, routine mutilations and severe constraints on animals’ natural behaviours),

Food waste is another dimension of this problem. Waste is high in the case of animal and aquatic products. Non-human life, animals and aquatic life are put to immense suffering, in addition to the large environmental impact incurred in the production of these products, without feeding any of the hungry people. Besides consumer food waste, the opportunity cost of feeding human-edible crops to animals to produce meat and dairy products is flagged. Food loss and waste impacts food security and environmental sustainability. Contribution of meat and animal products to the land footprint of food loss and waste is substantial.

Finance is a key driver of food systems. The present system is untenable as it involves public subsidies to industrial food production, which harms the environment, animals and people. This kind of food production threatens food safety, poverty, livelihoods and equity. Such a system of food production, bound together with global supply chains, forces food consumers to pay in 3 modes–through taxes (subsidies), cost of buying the food, and the cost of detrimental impacts which have not been internalised (health costs, environmental damages etc.).

It will not be easy to change both diets and food production systems, as these are often based on entrenched economic forces, habits and cultural attitudes. It requires coalition and cooperation among civil society organisations, with mobilised support from the masses.

We require:

  • Transformation towards regenerative, agro-ecological systems, which prioritise the food and nutrition needs of hungry, informal workers , disadvantaged, marginalised and deprived sections of India.
  • This transformation should be humane, sustainable, and include good agricultural practices.
  • Animal welfare is addressed in food production
  • Improving aquaculture systems towards sustainable production.
  • Dietary change – education, awareness and behavioural change to move consumption towards primarily plant-based products, eating primary foods, and reducing consumption of meat and dairy products in particular.
  • Including environmentally-friendly, healthy, safe and nutritious food/agriculture in educational curricula and medical training and practice.
  • Improved food labelling, to include information on climate change and other environmental impacts, and animal welfare practices.
  • Urgently tackling food loss and waste, throughout the food chain.
  • Improved soil enrichment, manure and land management.
  • Public procurement to support and promote dietary change, and healthy, humane, sustainable, and environmentally-friendly food options.
  • Public investments and agricultural infrastructural facilities  , including subsidies, to support food production and distribution
  • Dismantle all public policies, programmes and legal framework that favour corporate forms of food production.
  •  Encourage local, seasonal food consumption
  • Encouraging the spread of local initiatives such as farmers markets, community vegetable gardens (including in schools), land allotments, private vegetable and herb gardens etc.
  • Genuine agrarian reform where those who till and enrich the land for food production have effective control and ownership over land and other agricultural resources.

The following organisations endorse the statement :

  1. A P Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union – APVVU
  2. PAN-India
  3. Joint Action for Water
  4. National Center for Labour, (An apex body of unorganised workers Unions in India)
  5. Telengana Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union – TVVU
  6. National Alliance of Agricultural workers Forum – NAWF
  7. AP Matyakarula Union (APMU)
  8. Caritas Nepal
  9. Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas/Peasant Movement of the Philippines (KMP)
  10. National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW)
  11. North South Initiative (NSI)
  12. Ponlok Khmer (PKH)
  13. Roots for Equity
  14. Sagara Education and Development Society (SEDS)  
  15. Social Work Institute
  16. Shikkha Shastha Unnayan Karzakram (Shisuk)
  17. Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) 
  18. Youth for Food Sovereignty (YFS)
  19. Peoples Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS)
  20. Mongolian People’s Coalition for Food Sovereignty
  21. Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD), Mongolia
  22. Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria (AGRA) , Indonesia
  23. Institute for National and Democracy Studies (INDIES), Indonesia
  24. Organisasi Penguatan dan Pengembangan Usaha – Usaha Kerakyatan (OPPUK), Indonesia

This statement was endorsed at the following event: