BY K.R. NARAYANAN, PRESIDENT OF INDIA, ON THE THEME "FREEDOM FROM HUNGER
& POVERTY" WHILE PRESENTING THE MILLENNIUM BORLAUG AWARD AT
JANUARY 5, 2001
hunger have dogged mankind throughout its existence on earth. No wonder
Christ had said that the poor will be always with us. To-day, even in
the most developed and richest countries of the world, millions of people
live below the poverty line. In the world as a whole it has been estimated
that 800 million people live below the poverty line. The 20th century saw the largest number of deaths due to hunger, more than the
numbers killed by the wars of that war-torn century. If we take into account
the hidden hunger, that is malnutrition, then the victims of hunger will
be much more than the actual deaths it caused. The cruel irony of it is
that it has taken place when science and technology has placed at the
disposal of man enough means to banish hunger and poverty from this earth.
In fact in the 20th century, for the first time in history,
the world has moved from food shortage to food sufficiency.
of poverty is so daunting that in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, even the
God will not dare to appear before a famished and idle person except in
the form of food and wages. But if we broaden the definition of poverty
to include in its scope the deprivations in health, education and other
social entitlements, then God will have to take many other forms, besides
the form of food and wages, to appear before a poor person.
eminently achievable, it is indeed an awesome task to put an end to hunger
and poverty. We need physical availability of food, economic capability
to have access to available food and ecological security for sustained
production. Mankind is now able to have better yield per unit of land
resulting in record food grain production. To feed an ever-growing population
we will require more food. While receiving Nobel Prize in 1970, Dr. Norman
Borlaug had said that the green revolution had won a temporary success
in man’s war against hunger and if the frightening power of human reproduction
was not curbed, the success of green revolution would be ephemeral. Prof.
M.S. Swaminathan therefore talked about ever green revolution and spearheaded
it by not only focussing on productivity but also making it pro-nature,
pro-poor and pro-women. The main challenge in our attempt to achieve freedom
from hunger and poverty is to produce more in an environmentally sustainable
manner and to distribute the product equitably to ensure food security
for all. In other words, our strategy for food production has to be more
cleaner and based on better and efficient natural resource management.
As early as in 1957, our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, in a letter
to the Chief Ministers, had warned that our desire to exploit natural
resources had outrun discretion and we forget the part of conservation.
He also cautioned that, "Too much of insecticides and herbicides
may destroy some insects which might often play some useful role in the
economy of nature". These concerns, articulated almost half century
back, are now being grappled with by our scientists. Increasingly it is
only science, which can show the path for wiping out hunger and poverty.
In twenty-first century it is particularly the biological science, which
will pave the way. Decoding the genomes of plants and human beings have
deepened the understanding of life as such and opened new frontiers for
converting our rich bio-resources into our economic wealth through environmentally
biological technologies. It is therefore time that we remind ourselves
of what Jawaharlal Nehru said over 50 years ago, "It is science alone
that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and
illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast
resources running to waste, and of a rich country inhabited by starving
people. The future belongs to science and to those who would make friends
with science". These words are as relevant today as they were five
from poverty and hunger must go beyond physical survival and security
of an individual to encompass the larger goals of freedom which aims at
removing illiteracy, ill-health, caste and gender discrimination and host
of other social and economic problems. In other words, freedom from poverty
and hunger invest a person with dignity and self-esteem for leading a
fulfilling life. As early as 1939, Mahatma Gandhi referred to an average
Indian villager and poetically said, "…remove his chronic poverty
and his illiteracy and you have the finest specimen of what a cultured,
cultivated, free citizen should be". Again few months before our
independence, he linked removal of poverty as a necessary condition for
real freedom and full flowering of human potentialities.
He very appropriately
wrote, "Unless poverty and unemployment are wiped out from India,
I would not agree that we have attained freedom. Real wealth does not
consist in jewellery and money, but in providing for proper food, clothes
and creating healthy conditions of living for every one of us". It
is the larger problem of redistribution of social and economic opportunities
which remain at the heart of our exertions against poverty and hunger.
Adequate social sector investment is an important step in this direction.
Dr. Anil Agarwal, the winner of the Norman Borlaug Award, has advocated
for drastic improvement of quality of life through housing, water supply
and sanitation for redressing poverty in urban areas.
issue is of crucial significance for addressing the issues of poverty
and hunger. Even if it is acknowledged that women feed the world, the
burden of poverty is highly skewed against them. Dr. Anil Agarwal in his
numerous studies have proved that women’s association with watershed management
programmes and water harvesting programmes in rural areas have helped
in addressing poverty in rural areas, most of the beneficiaries being
women. Since empowerment is a powerful force against the struggle against
poverty eradication, we in India are trying to provide adequate political
representation to women in our legislatures and Parliament. This has been
described by Ms. Joan Holmes, the President of the Hunger Project as,
"…the greatest social experiment of our age…". Already at the
level of local Government, almost one million women have participated
meaningfully in such decision-making bodies giving a new meaning to developmental
work at the village and block levels. As part of poverty eradication programmes,
micro-finance has also enabled women practically in all the States of
our country to address the issues of poverty and hunger.
are central actors in our struggle against poverty and hunger. They are
struggling to change their living conditions. Mahatma Gandhi used to say
that people must get their basic needs through the sweat of their brow.
Poor people are organising themselves and launching movements to overcome
their poverty and hunger. Dr. Anil Agarwal has vividly described the movement
of people against poverty arising out of destruction of forests, land
degradation and depletion of water resources. He himself has remained
in the forefront of many programmes undertaken by poor people to revive
rivers, harvest rain water, reclaim land and stop land degradation. He
is a compassionate crusader for a better common present through a cleaner
environment. I have had the opportunity to watch with admiration and gratitude
Dr. Agarwal’s tireless efforts, in spite of his ill-health, for protecting
and improving our land, water, forests, biodiversity and other natural
resources, as well as for preventing pollution of the atmosphere and unfavourable
changes in climate.
of poverty and hunger is well within our means. It is estimated that the
world requires 60 billion dollars over 15 years to make this world free
of this persisting problem. It is instructive to learn that in 1999 when
the entire world was seized with the problem of making computers Y2K compliant,
300 to 600 billion dollars were spent to avert the potential danger arising
out of malfunctioning of computers. We require much less to wipe out hunger
and poverty, which have plagued all nations throughout recorded history.
If we can achieve this, which I am sure can be done with much less resources,
it will constitute the greatest achievement of mankind, far surpassing
in importance even the exploration of the frontiers of space or the splitting
of the atom.
to-day the capacity to produce more and more of everything including food.
But it cannot produce equitable distribution unless there is a parallel
political organization of society. I should like to go back to Gandhi
in this context. He said once, "if somebody could invent a plough
with which the whole of India could be cultivated, it would be good, provided
all other people can be provided jobs. Otherwise the most of the population
with nothing to do will become dunces". He was not against machinery
but against the craze for labour-saving machinery. "Men go on saving
labour till thousands are without work and thrown on the streets to die
of starvation. I want to save time and labour not for a fraction of mankind
but for all. I want the concentration of wealth not in the hands of a
few, but in the hands of all. To-day machinery merely helps a few ride
on the back of millions". Gandhi wanted not mass production but production
by the masses. Since it is the interstices of the production process that
wealth and individual incomes are produced, he advocated decentralization
of production. The truth of this approach is shown by the recent example
of food surplus in India, our storage places overflowing with foodgrains
while people have no purchasing power to buy the foodgrains.
to-day by its evolution, science and technology has come to stage when
it is possible to enable masses to produce. We have come to a stage when
by intelligent and socially purposeful application of computers and information
technology the masses can be empowered and produce food and other necessities
of life. This is probably the answer to the phenomenon of jobless growth
the world is facing to-day. Gandhiji said, "A certain degree of physical
harmony and comfort is necessary, but above a certain level it becomes
a hindrance instead of help. Therefore the ideal of creating an unlimited
number of wants and satisfying them seems to be a delusion and a snare.
The satisfaction of one’s physical needs, even the intellectual needs
of one’s narrow self, must come at a certain point to a dead stop before
it degenerates into physical and intellectual voluptuousness".
This is not
an argument that we can advance before the poor and hungry but it ought
to be placed before the affluent sections of world society. According
to economic pandits like John Galbraith, the developed societies of to-day
have long passed the stage of satisfying their wants for a decent level
of living. It is, therefore, time the world especially the affluent nations
turned their attention to dealing with the hunger and poverty of the rest
of mankind instead of catering to the endless cravings of their people
to more and more in a frenzy of "physical and intellectual voluptuousness".
That way lies the means of solving hunger and poverty of mankind and at
the same time preserve the environment through sustainable development.
Coromandel Fertilisers, particularly Dr. Bharat Ram and Shri M. Murli
Rao, in organising regularly, during the last 30 years, lectures by eminent
scholars and scientists on themes of national and international significance.
Today’s lecture by Prof. Peter Raven has shown how the future well-being
of all nations is ecologically intertwined irrespective of their political
frontiers. I am glad that all the lectures delivered so far have been
brought together in the form of a book. I commend this publication for
its contemporary relevance for fostering a sustainable future for humankind.