Tracking Hunger
Arvind Iyer pointed me to this. Essential viewing for urban Indians.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
Here is a number of links relating to various aspects of the discussion in this thread:

Statistics of 'consumption imbalance' the world over : This infographic lays bare the world-level disparities in food consumption. The dramatic difference between 'calories consumed' and the 'income spent on food' tabs, makes these data a useful case study to perhaps study Engel curves.

Consciousness-raising online : is a recent consciousness-raising initiative of the sort that may have some utility even when it is not involved in explicit fundraising and distribution.

Proof-of-concept for urban agriculture and window-farming : This inspirational TED talk by Britta Riley shows how an open-source, crowd-sourced, 'copyleft' model of urban agriculture has recorded promising success stories.

Policy initiatives to improve post-harvest management and waste prevention: This Guardian article expresses a far from unanimous view that the Indian cabinet's decision to invite more FDI in retail may in fact help fix currently wasteful food supply lines.

Archive of a discussion on the Food Security Bill at 'Nirmukta Politics'

OP (AI) :
Quote:In this interview that is essential viewing for every conscientious Indian citizen, Prof. Amartya Sen and Prof. Jean Dreze attempt to raise consciousness in the apathetic citizenry about how large-scale malnutrition in India needs to be treated as a national emergency and a national shame. They also make a strong case for food security legislation and implementation. It maybe a worthwhile exercise for us to discuss the Right to Food Bill from perspectives of fiscal responsibility, child nutrition and of course, quality controls and safeguards.

Your Call with Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze, NDTV

SS :
Quote:I can't watch the video right now, but I am aware of some of their arguments because they both have made the same in a few of their books (some coauthored) which I have read.

While there is no denying that the food security bill is vital, our fiscal deficit is a key cause of India's inflation. However, I believe there is room for such expenditure if mechanisms such as expenditure cuts (of subsidies, etc) and the prevention of tax-avoidance through SEZs are adopted.

Also, RE the conversation on the Grievance Redressal Bill. Because of the nature of India's deficits, we can't expand the administrative setup. Since our priority is social welfare (as it should be), such Bills will not be properly effective until there is internal administrative reform.

AI :
Quote:Direct Cash Transfers have been proposed as a more leakage-free and fiscally prudent means of dealing with the food crisis. Is there a hard-nosed assessment of that available somewhere, or is it simply a textbook libertarian line being bandied about?

SS :
Quote:Direct cash transfers is an idea that is held in the welfare economists' tradition. Studies show that it is indeed a very efficient way to deal with poverty. However, it is politically not feasible ("hey, they're bribing in order to get votes!") and if done incorrectly, it can lead to perverse outcomes such as people moving out of the labour force and surviving on whatever little they get.

There's plenty of research available on cash transfers, although I don't know if you will be able to access it. (abstracts only) (pg 45 onwards)

A case for cash transfers in India:

AI :
Quote:Thanks for the resources. Interesting to note that while direct transfers are a welfare economist's prescription; an analogue of the idea in the education sector, namely 'school vouchers' rather than subsidized education itself, is actually a talking point of Republicans rather than Democrats in the US [1,2]. Critics of the voucher system (like supporters of the current Food Security Bill) argue that thanks to direct transfer, funds may end up being diverted for non-food/non-education related expenses by the recipients.

Yes, concerns about cash transfers being counterproductive are many as well, especially given patriarchal setups where these handouts will be cornered by men, and alcoholism that is rife in rural India.


SS :
Quote:Ah yes. The American political discourse is so extremely skewed. Vouchers to encourage school attendance is supported by a few welfarists in India too. However, I have not studied the results of this extensively to comment properly.

Can anyone really live on Rs. 26 a day, the income of the officially poor in rural India? Two youngsters try it out.

Late last year, two young men decided to live a month of their lives on the income of an average poor Indian. One of them, Tushar, the son of a police officer in Haryana, studied at the University of Pennsylvania and worked for three years as an investment banker in the US and Singapore. The other, Matt, migrated as a teenager to the States with his parents, and studied in MIT. Both decided at different points to return to India, joined the UID Project in Bengaluru, came to share a flat, and became close friends.

The idea suddenly struck them one day. Both had returned to India in the vague hope that they could be of use to their country. But they knew the people of this land so little. Tushar suggested one evening — “Let us try to understand an ‘average Indian', by living on an ‘average income'.” His friend Matt was immediately captured by the idea. They began a journey which would change them forever.

To begin with, what was the average income of an Indian? They calculated that India's Mean National Income was Rs. 4,500 a month, or Rs. 150 a day. Globally people spend about a third of their incomes on rent. Excluding rent, they decided to spend Rs. 100 each a day. They realised that this did not make them poor, only average. Seventy-five per cent Indians live on less than this average.

The young men moved into the tiny apartment of their domestic help, much to her bemusement. What changed for them was that they spent a large part of their day planning and organising their food. Eating out was out of the question; even dhabas were too expensive. Milk and yoghurt were expensive and therefore used sparingly, meat was out of bounds, as were processed food like bread. No ghee or butter, only a little refined oil. Both are passionate cooks with healthy appetites. They found soy nuggets a wonder food — affordable and high on proteins, and worked on many recipes. Parle G biscuits again were cheap: 25 paise for 27 calories! They innovated a dessert of fried banana on biscuits. It was their treat each day.

Restricted life

Living on Rs.100 made the circle of their life much smaller. They found that they could not afford to travel by bus more than five km in a day. If they needed to go further, they could only walk. They could afford electricity only five or six hours a day, therefore sparingly used lights and fans. They needed also to charge their mobiles and computers. One Lifebuoy soap cut into two. They passed by shops, gazing at things they could not buy. They could not afford the movies, and hoped they would not fall ill.

However, the bigger challenge remained. Could they live on Rs. 32, the official poverty line, which had become controversial after India's Planning Commission informed the Supreme Court that this was the poverty line for cities (for villages it was even lower, at Rs. 26 per person per day)?

Harrowing experience

For this, they decided to go to Matt's ancestral village Karucachal in Kerala, and live on Rs. 26. They ate parboiled rice, a tuber and banana and drank black tea: a balanced diet was impossible on the Rs. 18 a day which their briefly adopted ‘poverty' permitted. They found themselves thinking of food the whole day. They walked long distances, and saved money even on soap to wash their clothes. They could not afford communication, by mobile and internet. It would have been a disaster if they fell ill. For the two 26-year-olds, the experience of ‘official poverty' was harrowing.

Yet, when their experiment ended with Deepavali, they wrote to their friends: “Wish we could tell you that we are happy to have our ‘normal' lives back. Wish we could say that our sumptuous celebratory feast two nights ago was as satisfying as we had been hoping for throughout our experiment. It probably was one of the best meals we've ever had, packed with massive amounts of love from our hosts. However, each bite was a sad reminder of the harsh reality that there are 400 million people in our country for whom such a meal will remain a dream for quite some time. That we can move on to our comfortable life, but they remain in the battlefield of survival — a life of tough choices and tall constraints. A life where freedom means little and hunger is plenty...

Plenty of questions

It disturbs us to spend money on most of the things that we now consider excesses. Do we really need that hair product or that branded cologne? Is dining out at expensive restaurants necessary for a happy weekend? At a larger level, do we deserve all the riches we have around us? Is it just plain luck that we were born into circumstances that allowed us to build a life of comfort? What makes the other half any less deserving of many of these material possessions, (which many of us consider essential) or, more importantly, tools for self-development (education) or self-preservation (healthcare)?

We don't know the answers to these questions. But we do know the feeling of guilt that is with us now. Guilt that is compounded by the love and generosity we got from people who live on the other side, despite their tough lives. We may have treated them as strangers all our lives, but they surely didn't treat us as that way...”

So what did these two friends learn from their brief encounter with poverty? That hunger can make you angry. That a food law which guarantees adequate nutrition to all is essential. That poverty does not allow you to realise even modest dreams. And above all — in Matt's words — that empathy is essential for democracy.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
[+] 1 user Likes Sajit's post
Here's another batch of links:

Ending world hunger is possible – so why hasn't it been done? (Guardian article) : (Link)

Josette Sheeran's TED talk 'Ending hunger, now' in Hindi (Link)
This is a minuscule attempt at consciousness-raising among wider Indian audiences, along the lines of this earlier discussion on translation efforts.

How agronomist Norman Borlaug fed and saved the world. (Link)
This is useful reading for reflexive opponents of any agriculture that is not 'organic'.
(03-Apr-2012, 09:55 PM)arvindiyer Wrote: How agronomist Norman Borlaug fed and saved the world. (Link)
This is useful reading for reflexive opponents of any agriculture that is not 'organic'.

I am very curious about the whole organic-food fad that seems to have a sizable number of votaries among the urban middle-class. Organic food is more expensive than the 'non-organic' kind. The fact that organic crops require no fertilizers or chemical inputs is quite baffling. Why then the considerable increase in their prices? Is it meant to make city-dwellers feel better about themselves?

Vandana Shiva ( associated with the Navdanya Movement) is an articulate advocate of this school of thought. What do you think about her views and ideas? At times, I find her promoting some very fusty notions. Her establishment at Dehradun ( been there) has an Ayurveda section where they extol the virtues of herbs and roots over scientifically researched,rigorously tested medicine. She talks about concepts like 'the power of mother Earth' and 'life force' which, to me, sound a bit like flimflam.

As a gardener myself, I have observed that the almost utopian method of 'pure organic farming' may be sustained only on small-sized family plots and kitchen gardens. I tried the no-fertilizer,no-pesticide method in my kitchen garden for more than a year. I used only natural stuff ( garlic juice, turmeric,vegetable oil etc.) for killing off bugs and pests. The exercise did not have a satisfactory outcome. Almost all the leafy vegetables I grew had traces of aphids. My pumpkin creepers died of infection. Mercifully, we have no locusts where I live. Imagine a fully-fledged farm meant for hardcore food-production. I shudder at the prospect of the unmitigated disaster an uncontrolled ( or 'organically controlled') bug-population could unleash.

I still use some of the old tricks ( garlic juice etc.) for minor problems but go for the recommended chemicals whenever I detect something serious. I avoid pesticides unless absolutely necessary, but fertilizers have worked wonders so far as the yield is concerned( and since the plants are healthier and have more nutrients, they respond robustly to challenges like infections and infestations) Thus, I try to gauge the my own limited way.

‎"Everything Organic" band wagoners will soon reach developing countries like India, to promote their "overly expensive" agricultural and meat products, creating a pseudo-scientific wedge between theirs and traditional products.

Just be a skeptic before you open your wallet.

Citizens in India already pay a substantial portion of their earnings on "food" rather than on items that increase the "quality of life".

"Irrational" belief that anything organic must be healthy and nutritious will lead people to spend a large portion of their income on food which would be highly counter productive.

We have to become skeptics before we comply to open our wallet; check if better cooking practices will safeguard our health rather than spending money on expensive food products.
September 5 at 5:10pm · Edited · Like

JV ‎
//Data Synthesis: 17 studies in humans and 223 studies of nutrient and contaminant levels in foods met inclusion criteria. Only 3 of the human studies examined clinical outcomes, finding no significant differences between populations by food type for allergic outcomes (eczema, wheeze, atopic sensitization) or symptomatic Campylobacter infection. Two studies reported significantly lower urinary pesticide levels among children consuming organic versus conventional diets, but studies of biomarker and nutrient levels in serum, urine, breast milk, and semen in adults did not identify clinically meaningful differences. All estimates of differences in nutrient and contaminant levels in foods were highly heterogeneous except for the estimate for phosphorus; phosphorus levels were significantly higher than in conventional produce, although this difference is not clinically significant. The risk for contamination with detectable pesticide residues was lower among organic than conventional produce (risk difference, 30% [CI, −37% to −23%]), but differences in risk for exceeding maximum allowed limits were small. Escherichia coli contamination risk did not differ between organic and conventional produce. Bacterial contamination of retail chicken and pork was common but unrelated to farming method. However, the risk for isolating bacteria resistant to 3 or more antibiotics was higher in conventional than in organic chicken and pork (risk difference, 33% [CI, 21% to 45%]).

Limitation: Studies were heterogeneous and limited in number, and publication bias may be present.

Conclusion: The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria//
Annals of Internal Medicine | Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier Than Conventional Alternatives?:.
From Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, Palo Alto, California; Divis...See More
September 5 at 6:51pm · Like

Spending disproportionate amount of income on basic FOOD is a hallmark of the third world. Look at the exorbitant price Indians and Pakistanis pay for food.

Traditional farming practiced all over the world in the 20th and 21st century involves pesticides and insecticides. I know people are concerned on the chemicals that they "could" imbibe, but are they really going to shorten your lifespan as they fear ?

Organic producers charge overly expensive price because of "expensive farming practices" some of them if you hear, sound utterly ridiculous and stupid, they make no use of modern scientific advances (whats the benefit of farming in 21st century ?) to reduce farming cost.

Organic is a vice that is steadily gaining ground in Developed countries and is bound to reach the third world much sooner than ever due to Globalization.

Here is a sample of exorbitant prices, Americans pay for Organic products. Leave Walmart, it is going to be Organic Chains like "Whole Foods" who are going to drain your wallet when they land in India.

My beef with Organic consumers is are you "sure" that going "everything organic" is the right choice with the information that you have ?

Can better cooking practices be an alternative for folks in the developing world ?

Trends and brands are easily set, thats why many would tend to buy expensive NIKE shoes that could have been manufactured locally (a competitive product at lower cost might still be available in the market) but charged American Consumerist prices.

Before you blink, restaurants will start charging a premium for using Organic products, affecting even non-organic consumers. I know my efforts are futile, but still it is worth a shot to spread the word.

S , JV : Could you archive your well-researched comments above to this long-running thread on related topics?
September 6 at 12:07pm · Like · 1

food is expensive does not mean that people are buying expensive food. food is expensive due to inflation and various other reasons.
unfortunately, the developing world does not focus on food and nutrition. //malnutrition is much higher than either economic growth or improvements in farming would suggest it should be. India's income per head grew more than fourfold between 1990 and 2010; yet the proportion of underweight children fell by only around a quarter// (
from a developing world perspective, the main threat from organic food would be less access to cheap regular( hate to use non-organic) food stuff. when the developed world tried to use ethanol blended fuel, the resultant switch in crop cultivation pattern was devastating in various parts of the world. the same risk is present for organic food cultivation. if substantial farmers switch to organic food cultivation, the less-affordable and below poverty line citizens would be hit hard with inflation. this in turn would raise the cost of regular food and increase malnutrition and hunger.
having said all of this,
* one of the reasons attributed for CCD(colony collapse disorder) was pesticides(though, it only one amongst many and the jury is still out on a concrete verdict on the same).
* the antibiotic usage in husbandry has been blamed (partially) for increasing antibiotic resistance in humans( ;
proponents of organic food come in various shades from vanity to ethical to health to pesticide averse etc etc
a fair chunk fall under
* averse to residual pesticides/antibiotics. (
* averse to impact of runoff pesticides on aquatic and animal( (, ;
* averse to raise in antibiotic resistance due to urban/industrial/residential waste runoff
given the mixed signals on these topics. a consumer making a call to use organic, does not necessarily imply ill-informed judgement. ( though finding actual 'organic' material is a different challenge)
September 6 at 7:27pm · Like

Dr. Steven Novella from JREF (James Randi Educational Foundation) demolishes the health benefits of organic produce, which is the number one reason given by consumers for buying organic.

He had nicely worded the status quo as "triumph of marketing over scientific reality".
Science-Based Medicine » No Health Benefits from Organic Food
A recent review of 240 studies has concluded that: The published literature lac...See More
Friday at 5:01pm · Like ·

this is my favorite article (so far) on organic farming. it's a kind of mythbusting:
[+] 1 user Likes neo_theone184's post
(11-Sep-2012, 07:25 AM)neo_theone184 Wrote: SD
‎"Everything Organic" band wagoners will soon reach developing countries like India, to promote their "overly expensive" agricultural and meat products, creating a pseudo-scientific wedge between theirs and traditional products.

Just be a skeptic before you open your wallet.

There is already an ad-hominem attack on this Stanford study. The argument is that Big Agro Business funded the study so it must be partisan.

Anyway I find the question "Is organic food healthier than intensively farmed food?" a bit irrelevant.

More relevant question is "Is eating organic food more ethical than intensively farmed food?". Even if organic food is proven to be healthier than intensively farmed food an ethical case can be made against organic food if certain other benefits of intensive farming out weighs organic farming.

The engineer in me makes me think that a pound of organic food will take in more resources (water, fossil fuels, etc.) and will be slower (productivity per sq ft should be low) to produce than a pound of comparable intensively farmed food thanks to technological innovations (pesticides, fertilizers, genetic engineering, etc.) in agriculture. Given that we live in a world where hunger is still an unsolved problem, intensive farming seems to be the way to go.

But to my dismay I found that Peter Singer argues that organic farming is more ethical than intensive farming after taking the externalized costs in to account in his book The Ethics of What We Eat. Not sure if I agree with Singer here.

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