‘India matters to world food security’

David Phiri of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) talks to Governance Now


Trithesh Nandan | December 26, 2011

David Phiri, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)
David Phiri, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)

India remains core to world food security plans, says David Phiri, head, policy assistance support service of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). In an interview with Trithesh Nandan, he justifies the high food prices but laments that Indian farmers are not benefitting from it.

Edited excerpts…

What ails Indian agriculture from Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations perspective?

From our perspective, Indian agriculture is very important. India is one of the largest populated countries in the world, so whatever happens in Indian agriculture matters to world food security in general. So it is very important that the progress remained in the Indian agriculture to support large number of undernourished people in the country.

If we see world over, the agriculture pattern is not so rosy, as we have shrinking agriculture land, high food prices and soaring inflation. What efforts are needed to tackle such problem especially the high food prices?

FAO has worked with different ministers of agriculture to find out how countries could exchange information together. It is a G20 initiative. The G20 countries have taken a lead on this issue as the agriculture ministers have agreed on an action plan to deal with volatility in world food prices. FAO is also looking at the policies and its responses on the high food prices and ways to reduce it. 

But when we talk about high prices, we have to be very careful. High food prices are good for farmers. They are not good for consumers. So we should be talking more about affordable food prices. Some countries have banned export of food items which has also escalated the cost. For example, what India does affects the world.  It has also immediate implications on neighbour countries as well as other countries. We would advice countries to look at some of such issues. But every country is sovereign and countries should look for the preparation of world food security.

When you talk about high food prices helping the farmers, do you think that it goes to farmers? There are many middlemen involved who get the real benefit of high food prices.

There has been the differentiation. In the western world, price transmission is good. Here, farmers have gained directly from increased cost of food. In most developing countries, there are structural issues which prevent transmission of food prices. From the world market to the local market there are several issues involved — like infrastructure problems, which tend to be sticky. Yes, it is true that the farmers have not benefitted from the high food prices in the developing countries including India.

What about the statistics problem in India? Do you properly get the kind of data from India?

India has made great strides, given the size of the country. Over the years, the country has improved accommodation and increase of level of statistics. There are problems in some areas. There is sufficient data on food but very little data on livestock, crops and so on. There is need to improve. If there is no good statistics, there is no problem. You can’t define a problem without good statistics and you can’t formulate a policy on what is actual need of the country. So, there is need to improve data availability.



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