(Narayan Prasad Neupane)
Kathmandu, Nov 14: Two decades have passed by since the country signed the International Convention on Right to Food, but still 3.6 million people are grappling with the problem of food shortage.
The Interim Constitution of Nepal, 2007 provides for the right to food and food sovereignty. However, this constitutionally-guaranteed right is far from implemented even after seven years of the promulgation of the Interim Constitution due to the inability to formulate the required laws for the same.
Moreover, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), established with the objective of eradicating poverty from South Asia, has completed 30 years. Statistics shows that 15.8 per cent of the total population of the SAARC region is still living in conditions of hunger and malnutrition.
A strong voice has been raised for including the right to food as fundamental right in a new constitution as the country prepares to write one.
The food rights activists have also called for having provisions for legal redress in case the citizen’s right to food is violated.
Likewise, experts have suggested the upcoming 18th SAARC Summit, due in Kathmandu on 26 and 27 of this month, should prioritize the topic of food security and food sovereignty as the region is home to a large population living in abject poverty and food shortage.
Similarly, the commitment expressed by the government in the Agriculture Perspective Plan to provide 264 kilogrammes food grains to every person is limited to paper only.
Although women play a paramount role in food production, they have less access to natural resources and most often it is the women who are the most-affected lot due to hunger for their poor economic status, according to the World Food Programme data.
Every person getting quality and adequate food as per his/her culture is food right. The government has not been able to implement this right in practice to the desired extent and the consumers themselves seem not aware of this.
But it is not that food deficit has resulted due to the less production of food grains in the country. It is due to the lack of facilities for long-term storage and the ignorance about what constitutes a balanced diet.
In fact, the country produces 789,890 metric tonnes more food grain than required. But 30 districts including five in the Terai region are food deficit districts, spokesperson at the Ministry of Agriculture, Udaya Chandra Thakur, said.
Despite the government’s claim that some districts have surplus food grain production, people from the poor, indigenous nationalities, dalits and women lack access to food and only those who have the purchasing power have access to food grain, according to some non-governmental organisations.
The national need for food grain to feed a population of 27 million 835 thousand and 982 is 5,295,886 metric tonnes.
In the fiscal year 2013/2014, Nepal produced 6,085,886 metric tonnes food grain. But this production too could not abate the food shortage. That people in the remote districts have to queue up for hours to get one or two kilos of rice grain says it all about the food crisis.
According to the World Food Programme (WFP), 98 per cent of the 805 million people who are suffering from hunger in the world are from the developing countries.
Half the population facing hunger is that of farmers and of this 20 per cent are landless. The problem of the landless farmers not been able to cultivate is as it is since they have no land and there is also lack of incentives.
One hundred and forty six million children in developing countries are said to be under-weight due to the shortage of food grain. Even their parents have to go without two square meals a day. That in Nepal also children are malnourished is a fact which cannot be concealed.
Fifteen million people in the developed countries are also grappling with hunger. A third of this population lives in the rural area, according to WFP data.
SAARC member countries have started stocking food grain to immediately tackle the food grain shortage that might occur at times of natural calamities as famine, earthquake, flood and landslide and the like. The SAARC Food Bank is the measure that the SAARC member countries have come up with as a collective contingency plan to alleviate food shortages at such times.
India has agreed to contribute 153,200 metric tonnes, Pakistan and Bangladesh 40,000 metric tonnes each, Nepal and Sri Lanka 4,000 metric tonnes each, the Maldives 200 metric tonnes, Bhutan 180 metric tonnes to the SAARC food bank.
INGOs like Oxfam have emphasized the need of simplifying the implementation process of the SAARC Food Bank and the seed bank.
Many children in South Asia are malnourished mainly because of the food deficiency. The efforts towards decreasing hunger are not effective and data shows that two-thirds of the world’s hungry are in Asia. Of the total population in South Asia, 15.8 per cent is facing food shortage, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) states in its report.
Lack of exact figures on the number of homeless, landless and poor people; farmers living near the buffer zone areas of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries not getting compensation for their crops damaged by wild animals;failure of the state to resettle the people displaced from their homes and who have become landless due to flood, landslides and the embankment construction and other such problems have increased the number of people deprived of their right to food, Yuba Raj Koirala, Programme Coordinator of Food-First Information and Action Network (FIAN), an NGO working in the food rights sector, said.
On the other hand, there are instances in which farmers using high-yield hybrid seeds have to bear huge losses due to crop failure and the government not providing them any compensation.
The problem of food deficit and citizens being deprived of food rights would not abate until the government addresses these problems in time formulating the required laws.