Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Some thoughts on the food crisis

Globally prices of most food commodities and food products have shot up . Most people feel the impact though the degree of impact would vary by a wide margin . For an average urban/middle class family it may mean a cut back on eating out / entertainment / some discretionary expense to off set the increased proportion of income that is spent on food purchases . At reduced income levels - rising food costs directly impact the quantity and quality of food . For millions hunger remains a prolonged experience .

The current state of affairs is a mess of our (mankind's ) own making . No other species embarked on reckless and ill-planned consumption and put the planet and it's inhabitants at risk as a consequence .

Clean water and healthy food are basic essentials for life . Today these are already a worrying concern . Left unaddressed it can grow to catastrophic proportions . If that were to happen it would be a double tragedy because it would have been an avoidable fate .

Planting fruit , vegetable trees in homes and communities -

Rising demand for fuel has led to agricultural land being diverted for bio-fuel crop cultivation.
Bio-fuel needs significant acreage for it to be viable . It is however possible to plant fruit and vegetable ,herb trees , plants in communities . To plant a tomato tree all that is needed is a small patch of soil and care to tend to the plant . That one tree would provide nutrition to a family at no extra cost .

In a recent visit to a village in Central India I noticed that several of the houses though small had little mud courtyards . There was ample space around clusters of houses . The soil is conducive for vegetation . But there were hardly any plants or trees . These were very low income families . Lack of education and awareness coupled with low income has a debilitating effect . Solutions within reach are not then seen or explored .

Planting vegetable and fruit trees in homes and communities could have a side effect of sensitizing a wider cross section of people to nature and fostering closer ties within the community (families sharing / bartering produce ).
Utopian ? Maybe . If we don't dream of a better world we'll never find ourselves in one .

Sharing food -

Many of us can relate with the experience of buying food and having to discard part or all of it simply because it was not consumed before the expiry date . If we make it an active discipline to ensure that food is shared in a timely way it can help alleviate part of the food needs of at least a few .

This can be done at an individual as well as organizational level . e.g supermarkets routinely dispose off food when it exceeds the expiry date . This applies to fresh produce and packaged food . Surely , retailers would have (or can develop ) some mechanism to predict the wastage. And instead of waiting for the food to wait on the shelf until the expiry date they can make an assessment and donate the food while it can still be consumed without any risk. CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility ) then need not be a separate activity isolated from the daily business .

Sharing non-food products like clothing , appliances etc too will help in meeting a need and not burdening the planet further with unused waste .
(Sharing would (hopefully) have the side-effect of reducing the feeling of isolation that many people have)

The solutions possible are significant . What is needed is the passion and discipline to make a difference . As Einstein aptly said ' The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.'

What can eventually save the planet is love , compassion , generosity and creativity which will undoubtedly manifest in physical action - by millions for millions .

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