Essay on food problem in India


Although man does not live by bread alone, yet without bread, man cannot live at all. Earning his bread has always been man’s principal occupation. He may have to earn it by the sweat of his brow, or by employing his brains or, by living upon the labour of others, or by consuming ancestral property, but he must earn it all the same.

In the past when men were nomadic tribes, roving from one place to another with no settled habitation, they hunted animals for food. But as they settled down to agriculture and developed communal life, they began to cultivate the soil and make- the earth yield food for their livelihood.

They, however, depended more on willing co-operation of Nature, and they relied on fate, rituals of religion, to bring about this co-operation. When the soil proved fertile, and the supply of water was sufficient and the rainfall steady, their trouble was not great. But sometimes these were insufficient; the supply of water failed, and the result was failure of crops, and starvation.


They then submitted to their misfortune patiently and tried to appease an angry god and waited for better days. Will the growth of knowledge, of science and technology, confidence and mastery in man’s power over Nature increased? Yet there was a belief that man was bound by certain fixed laws.

The Malthusian doctrine, that— ‘population increased faster than food’—became a basic concept in political economy. These were looked upon as biological necessities; life has to be destroyed, in order to preserve life.

Then another period came:—trade developed; science developed. Men learnt to bring food from other countries to make up for deficiencies. They also learnt to improve agriculture by scientific processes. The incidence of famine was controlled.

Flood was both a curse and a blessing,—curse while it lasted, but a blessing there after as it left the soil richer than before with silt. But now there were two other forces which could yet create troubles. First, there was the capitalist; he would appropriate food crops, hoard it in days of plenty, to sell it at a high price in times of distress. The burden of high prices oppressed the poor. It increased poverty and want.


Secondly, there was war. War holds up import of food grains; diverts labourers from agriculture to factories; makes larger demands on the agricultural population for the benefit of the armies. When the needs of the profiteer and the military combined, disaster was bound to ensue. Bengal had bitter experience of this during the last war, leading to an appalling famine that took the toll of 35 lakhs of lives in 1943.

If the shortage of food had been the log of India, nothing would have happened. But it occurred on a wide scale. Russia managed to live and live fairly well. They had wanted of food but no famine.

In our country “Grow more food” became an empty slogan; while the war lasted, land must be examined, classified and plotted out; fertilisers must be distributed; labour must be pooled and organized and supplemented by machinery; where possible a permanent source of water-supply must guard against the incidence of drought. Science, not chance, must regulate agriculture. An all out drive is needed. This is the implication that underlies a “Grow more food” policy.

The Multi-purpose River Valley Schemes are steps in the right direction. These have minimised the incidence of floods and ensured storage of water in artificial Jakes. The nationalisation of land and instruments of production have a twofold effect. In the first place, it dispenses with the fragmentation of land, which is economically unsound. The giant fertiliser factories are now working at full blast.

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