India’s Hunger For Rice Is Now Just A Memory

According to the FAO, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, India became the world’s biggest rice exporter in 2012. This title transcends pure statistics, and does not appear to be simply the result of the size of the country’s population. Rice is the basic element of nutrition for three billion people, concentrated primarily in Southeast Asia. Economic prosperity, survival, the stability of governments, even the continuation of entire dynasties depends on the cultivation of rice. Its cultural significance supplements its commercial and nutritional value. This combination of qualities means that India’s new supremacy is a reason for national pride. It confirms that the country has been making great strides in the long struggle against malnutrition, and in fact India has also had a surplus of wheat and corn. New Delhi lifted export restrictions in 2011, introduced three years earlier when the value of rice on the international market was so high that it drove producers to sell it abroad, depriving the domestic market. Now that the situation has improved, India can afford to start exporting again. Flooding in Thailand, the worst in 50 years, dramatically reduced the output of the world’s traditional top producer of rice. Vietnam has made progress exporting to international markets, while Myanmar has long since lost the honor of being Britain’s main supplier. International market contingencies aside, the statistics show that India seems to have solved its problem of nutritional self-sufficiency. At the very least, in its complexity – and with the admission that there are still large areas of poverty and malnutrition – the images of hunger and international assistance are starting to fade. Agricultural output has grown faster than the population in the last 50 years, despite the fact that 1.2 billion people now live in India. After the tempestuous years following India’s independence from Britain in 1947, the government dedicated substantial resources to the development of agriculture. The “Green Revolution” introduced new cultivation techniques, rationalized the use of land, improved irrigation, and therefore mitigated the erratic monsoon rains. The problems that remain are related to the slenderness of subsistence farming, the limited capacity for processing crops (only a small fraction of unconsumed fresh food gets processed), and the lack of a distribution network. Good results have been achieved, even though not without great tragedy. The availability of rice – confirmed by its exportation – should have relegated these memories to the history books.