May 5, 2008

Who moved my chapati?

A furore has been raised in India, due to the recent comments emerging from the US administration:

In India, in many places, it's considered bad etiquette to count what the another person is eating, sometimes it bad to count your own intake as well. So such an accusatory finger pointed at the India food plate is bound to raise strong responses.

Perhaps a good factual counter-response comes in an article that my father sent me.

Total foodgrain consumption — wheat, rice, and all coarse grains like rye, barley etc — by each person in the US is over five times that of an Indian, according to figures released by the US Department of Agriculture for 2007.

Each Indian gets to eat about 178 kg of grain in a year, while a US citizen consumes 1,046 kg.

In per capita terms, US grain consumption is twice that of the European Union and thrice that of China. Grain consumption includes flour and by conversion to alcohol.

In fact, per capita grain consumption has increased in the US — so actually the Americans are eating more. In 2003, US per capita grain consumption was 946 kg per year which increased to 1046 kg last year.

By way of comparison, India’s per capita grain consumption has remained static over the same period. It’s not just grains. Milk consumption, in fluid form, is 78 kg per year for each person in the US, compared to 36 kg in India and 11 kg in China.
Another important point has been raised by one of India's eminent economists, M. S. Ahluwalia:

I don't agree that there is a global food crisis because of India and China. There is an increase in food production too in both the countries."

"The increase in production and use of biofuels might be the cause why cultivable area is limited.
This small blame-game most likely comes out of a larger pattern taking place. Due to the equalization of purchasing powers of the economies worldwide, the perception in the west will increasingly be that their standard of living is falling as it is rising in the developing countries. When balance is found, it will probably be at a disadvantage for the developed world and advantage for the developing world.

The UN and world financial bodies have pointed to an oncoming food crisis. Food riots in vulnerable countries like Haiti, Yemen and even Egypt may become more widespread. The sudden inflation is linked more to the rise in energy prices such as oil than anything else. Countries with self-sufficient food production will try to guard their stock, but higher energy prices will contribute to inflation nevertheless.

Time to tighten your grocery budget even further.