THE BANYAN TREE: VOLUME II : BRINGING CHANGE - APPROPRIATE NUTRITION : ITS ROLE IN HEALTH
( By Editor : Carol Huss )

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1- Hunger as a Social Problem

In any society where people are hungry or where many children are malnourished, food ought to be the major concern for people working in health. Poor nutrition due to lack of food leads to bodily weakness which in turn leads to greater susceptibility to illness and dealth. Thus poor nutrition, as caused by hunger and poverty, is probably the major crippler of poor peoples and probably the major cause of death today in young children.

It appears to be a paradox that we have more malnourished children today than ever before in human history -- this despite so much technological progress, rapid communications, the Green Revolution, the public distribution system, the ICDS programmes and national and international bodies constantly discussing how to grow more food. The real reasons for hunger and poor nutrition are not however difficult to seek. Poor people have low food availability because of the unequal distribution of land, resources and political and socio-economic power. Yet it is surprising that most national and international programmes that claim to attack malnutrition or for that matter, most educational programmes claiming to teach nutrition, do not examine the causes of hunger and poverty and the resaons for unequal distribution of resources. (see 'A Village near Arawal').

Table 1 explores this connection further, summarising the popularly held myths about agricultural practices and the food system. World hunger and therefore, undernutrition and malnutrition, are as explained in Table 1, not technical problems but social problems. It exists not so much because of shortage of land, food or wealth, but because these are very unequally distributed. "The number of hungry children in a country or a community may be one of the most accurate measures of social justice and human rights."

 

Table 1 Agricultural Practices and their Connection to Hunger
Myths TruthAction to Counter the Myths
1.People are hungry because of scarcityThere is more than enough food to feed everyone. In Mexico, with 80% undernourished children, livestock often consume more basic grains than the country's entire rural population Every country in the world has the resources necessary for its people to free themselves from hunger. Teach people this truth
2.Hunger results from over-populationChina has merely half the cultivated acreage for each person that India has Yet in only 20 years the Chinese people succeeded in eliminating visible hunger while so many Indians still go hungry

Brazil has more cultivated acreage per person than the U.S.A., yet in recent years the percent of people undernourished has increased from 45% to 72%. Hunger is rather from the needless under and misutilization of food producing resources -- with land, and marketing systems controlled by a few, out of the control of the landless and share- croppers. The real barriers to greater production are not physical but political and economic. The wealth of any country is people and the economic security of a nation depends not so much on rich natural resources but on how effectively its people can be motivated and their labour utilized. Poverty hunger, and high birth rates are symptoms of the same disease -- monopolizing of productive assets by a few.

Address the root cause of hunger and high birth rates: The insecurity and poverty of the majority results from control over basic national resources by a few. Organize people to confront this and take back their power.
3. To solve the problem of hunger, the top priority be on growing more food On the whole the food production per person in under developed countires is above the level of 20 years ago. Yet there is more hunger. It is due to
  • Unlimited private control of resources
  • Inequalities in control over resources.
  • In 83 countires approximately 3% of all landlords have come to control almost 80% of the land
  • Inequality of access to credit money lenders lend at usurious rates as high as 200%
  • New agricultural machinery that displaces poor people and robs them of employment
  • The percentage of rural work force that is landless has doubled in India.
  • In Northwest Mexico the average farm size has jumped from 200 to 2000 acres with over 3/4s of the rural labour force now landless.
  • The issue is technology at whose interest. Even the smallest scale appropriate technology can undermine the position of the poor if the society is structured again them.
Hunger is only made worse when approached as a technical problem. Work with people to transform the social structures so that they can directly participate in building a democratic economic system.

Teach and use collective leadership - work at participation and shared responsibility through value education sessions.
Help people internalize values of cooperation, participation, compassion for others, and justice and peace.

4.Increased food production can only come at the expense of the ecological integrity of our food producing resources. Pesticide use will have to be stepped up and farming pushed on to marginal lands at the risk of irreparable erosion.The alternatives to chemical pesticides -- crop rotation mixed cropping mulching, hand -- weeding, hoeing, collection of pest eggs, manipulation of natural predators and so on -- are numerous and proven effective. The first step is spraying only in response to a specific outbreak rather than the blind, scheduled spraying recommended by pesticide manufactures.
  • In Haiti, the rich valley lands are in the control of the elities (and their First World partners) whose concern is not food but cash to pay for an improved life style. These fertile lands produce largely low nutrition and feed crops (Sugar, Coffee, Alfalfa for cattle) exclusively for export.
  • The Amazon is rapidly being deforested to protect large estates controlling 43% of Brazil's farm land MNCs get massive government subsidies to bull doze hundreds of millions of acres of forest to produce beef, rice, and wood for upper income domestic and foreign markets.
  • The environment is destroyed by land monopopolizers that export nonfood and luxury crops forcing the rural population to marginal lands; by colonial patterns of cash cropping that are reinforced by elites today and a system that promotes utilization of food producing resources simply according to profit-seeking criteria.

Cutting the world's population in half tomorrow, would not stop any of these forces.

Work with people to care for their environment, organic gardening. local seed varieties, local breeds of animals protecting the forests, cleaning up rivers and wasteways, etc. Use herbal pesticides, and natural remedies.

Work with people for equitable share of wet land ownership.
Work to stop deforestation and toward building up forest cover, conserve water catch rainwater.
Grow staple diet locally. Work so all people get a fair share of land.

5.Hunger is a contest between the Rich World and the Poor World.The reality is of stratified societies in all countries with poverty and hunger in the lower rungs of all peoples.
Hunger is the result of social process.
Many of the oligopolistic food corporations are now shifting production to under developed countires where land and labour cost is as little as 10% of those in developed countries.
These multinational agribusiness firms are busily creating a Global Farm to serve a Global Supermarket with food auctioned off to highest bidder. This has led to bands of women (forced by hungry children at home) raiding the supermarkets at night to feed their children!
  • When USA imports 1/2 to 2/3s the principal winter and early spring vegetables it puts US farmers and food processing workers out of work.
  • This policy result in increasing impoverishment in UDCs.
The hungry are allies not enemies Join people all around the globe to increase power to the poor to gain food production control.
Boycott packaged food products and MNCs products. Refuse to work for MNCs at low wages. Start locally needed food production units.
Educate yourself and others on the World Hunger truths and what action to take.
Locally grown and eaten fresh is best-- live by this dictum
6.Export agriculture is the enemy.Unless the poor have control over their country's food- producing resources, hunger and poverty will continue Export agriculture does cause commodity prices to go up, tenants and self provisioning farmers are threatened with loss of their land as big landholders expand their holding also overall inflation leads to less real income for the poor. Export-oriented agricultural operations invariably import capital-intensive technologies and whatever is produced is exported to pay the import bill -- a vicious circle of dependency.
This lead to exploitation of labour, especially women and children.
Owners and export oriented governments will stop at nothing to crush workers efforts to organize themselves
Basic food needs should be met locally. Basic self reliance to prevent famine is a must.
Export only after local staple food security is ensured.
Do not let more land get into the hands of large landlowners.
Work for redistribution of land to the poor.
Use only simple appropriate technology that is labour intensive.
Be sure women receive equal pay and privileges.
Work so all children can study and need not work.
Work for strength by unions and other collectives so the poor control the productive resources to insure food security
7.The need to produce food conflicts with the goal of greater justice; redistributing control over resources would undercut productionThis antidemocratic food system where a few are in control underuses and misuses food producing resources -- it leads to waste.
Throughout the world larger land-holders consistently produce less per acre than the small producers.
When a few control the land, credit and marketing system as much as 1/2 to 3/4s of the value of agricultural production is not returned to the development of the area's agricultural resources, but squandered on luxury consumer items or "invested" in urban areas.
Inequality in control over productive resources thwarts people's motivation to develop these resources. It also thwarrs the cooperation among people that is essential to development.
Justice and production are to be controlled by the many, not a few elites -- work for this.
8.Societies that have done so only by denying people's rights There appears to be a trade-off between freedom and ending hunger. We must distinguish between theoretical and effective freedoms
In India or Mexico people have the freedom -- to organize and to vote -- but more people are losing control of their land find it hard to get jobs, and experience increasing levels or poverty and hunger. The elite quickly squash efforts to bring justice. The goal must be to achieve a society where the individual's legitimate self interest and the community's needs are more and more complementary.
Participation and collective leadership will increase production as seen in China collectives.
The need is for community based but society wide planning.
Work for and educate people to participate in decision making. The elite will have to limit their style of life so there is enough for all. Work for this
Educated people not only to stand for their rights, but also to safeguard the rights of others.
Work to remove the obstacles in the way of people's efforts for self determination
9.To help the hungry, we should improve and increase First World foreign aid programmesAid is not answer
First World must stop military sales and assistance programmes to Third World countries
To repay loans is impossible and they help only infrastructure projects, especially highways, dams, electrification. Mainly loans go to governments with strategic military location and "open door" policies for MNCs.
The main reason for poverty is lack of economic and political bargaining power and no Aid Programme can give that . The only hope for poor rural people is to organize themselves and press for change
Financial aid, food aid and food-for-work projects do nothing to change the ownership and power structures that produce unemployment in the first place.
No governments will be willing to give 'aid' for changing big landlord-tenant structure!
Work to halt military and counter insurgency assistance to under developed countries; it is used against those working for the changes necessary for abolishing hunger.
Work to end all support for agribusiness penetration into food economies abroad from government and multilateral lending agencies and through tax incentives.
End foreign assistance to governments working against the food security of their people.
Work to limit foreign assistance only to those countries where a genuine redistribution of power over productive assets is underway.
Work to build a democratically controlled food, selfreliant economy in Western countries.
Support unionization of farm workers and worker-managed production units i.e. family farms and co-operatives.
Promote investigative research.
Educate -- conscientization -- awareness raising. Counter despair with hope -- knowledge heals.
10.Peasants are so underfed, so, ignorant of the real forces oppressing them and and conditioned into a state of passivity that they are beyond the point of being able to mobilize themselvesIn every country in the world the poor are turning their energies into eradicating hunger building the basis of genuine food securityPeople have the resources of solve the the problems once they are aware of it.
Bring awareness, consciousness and hope -- they'll do the rest by participation and collective leadership.
Source : Excerpts taken from "World Hunger : Ten Myths" in Contact No.68, June 1982, pp. 1-14, which was an abridged version of a booklet by the same title by Francis More Lappe and Joseph Collins, published in May 1979 by the Institute for Food and Development Policy in USA. Adapted and revised for this book by authors.

A Village near Arawal

Madan singh ka Tola is a rural settlement located at a distance of about 5 kms, from the small town of Arawal, the scene of a recent massacre which received nationwide attention. It is located in Arawal block of Jehanabad sub-division, Gaya District. As the real causes of the police firing at Arawal go beyond the relatively small land dispute that preceded it and should be traced to overall agrarian unrest through which this region has been passing, it may be useful to look at the condition of the poor in a nearby village. Incidentally several persons of this Tola were present at the Arawal gathering on which the Police opened fire on April 19, and many of them were injured.

Most of the land in this village (nearly 80 bighas) is concentrated in the hands of a single family. About half a dozen other families own around 5 to 10 bighas of land. Nearly 50 other families are more or less landless although they do get 5 to 10 kathas of land for cultivation from those land owners, in this and neighbouring villages, on whoe fields they toil as labourers (one acre = 32 kathas, one bigha = 20 kathas). The daily wage rate is 1.25 kgs of foodgrain (rice or wheat/flour)per day, for work almost throughout the day. In addition a little food is given to the worker and a small piece of land generally about 5 to 10 kathas of land is given to him for cultivation. Ths low wage lead workers to indebtedness. These debts plus the obligation of receiving a small piece of land make it more or less binding on him to do a certain minimum work for a particular land owner irrespective of the fact that work at higher wages may be temporarily available elsewhere. At harvest time one bojha out of the 17 bojhas harvested is given to worker. As this has also to be carried to the threshing floor another day without any extra payment, in real terms the wage rate at harvesting time is not much higher than at normal times (one bojha yields about 6 kgs of grain).

Sometimes workers are employed only for half-day on the wage rate of half kg. for half day but as they do not have a watch, they suspect that sometimes they are made to work for a longer period. Sometimes they are asked to work without any wage for an hour or so.

Women are paid at roughly the same rate that the male wokers receive. Children are employed for cattle grazing and related work. They are generally given only some food and old clothes. When the workers ask for higher wages, land owners say that in that case they will be deprived of the small plots they are given at present. They have to pay interest rate of 25 to 30 per cent per annum on the loan taken by them.

Occassionally some work on higher wage on the roads and canals is available.

On the social side, the people of this Tola, mostly Harijans are belonging to some backward castes, live in terror of landowners surrounding their settlement. While ther can be no question of the people of this tola mixing with them on an equal footing or sitting withthem on a cot, even when some of them were sitting on a cot in their own basti and a landlord happened to pass by, he was so angered by this 'daring 'of harijans to sit on a cot before him that he overturned the cot.

Hunger and malnutrition are an inseparable part of the existence of the people of this Tola. Food scarcity is chronic, but reaches its peak in the months of September and October. Pulses are consumed rarely, local seasonal vegetables are available more frequently but on several days it is roti with salt. Woolens or blankets are not available in any labourer families, or at least to none of those to whom we talked in a group. Their kutha houses are built of mud walls and khaprail. Examining the house of a typical labourer household this reporter noticed that it had two small rooms ...one of roughly 10x8 feet and the other 8 x 5 feet, and an even smaller verandha of about 7x5 feet. Into this is squeezed a family of seven and when necessary, its animals. Some families also carry on a little basket-weaving work in these huts, for which they have to purchase bamboos from landlords.

As for benefits from Government's loan-cum-subsidy schemes for the poor, out of the over 20 persons to whom we spoke only one claimed to have received a loan for a buffalo, but he had to spend so much time and money in running around and paying bribes that according to him, he has received no benefits from the sanctioning of this loan.

At the time of elections these persons are not allowed to exercise their franchise. They are terrorised and prevented from voting. Bogus votes are cast in their names in all probability. In fact the men of this Tola to whom we talked said that they have never voted either in Vidhan Sabha or in Lok Sabha elections.

As if all this was not enough this village is highly flood-prone and its condition has worsened following the construction of a canal on one side. This settlement is caught between the river and this canal and flood water comes in rushing in all too frequently. They have had to rebuild their huts several times. All their pleas for giving them alternative accommodation at a safer place have fallen on deaf ears. This despite the fact that community land is available and has been illegally encroached by powerful villgers.

This, then, is the life of people in a typical hamlet of agricultural labourers not far from the scene of the Arawal massacre. The people here assured us that the life of their brethren in other settlements of Arawal block is not much different. This, however,is one of the relatively developed area of Gaya District irrigated by the Sone Canal. (This report was written in June 1986).

Source : Bharat Dogra, cited in text.

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