Wednesday, January 30, 2013


It is a laudable effort on the part of organizations like World Health Organization of the United Nations to promote healthy foods and scientific dietary practices. If health has become the single most critical issue when food quality is considered, there is a strong logic to it. Advent of modern food technology has unleashed a glut of processed foods which are increasingly becoming more and more unhealthy causing many life style disorders like CVD, hypertension, Diabetes, Kidney diseases, cancer etc and the much abused food industry does not seem to be sensitive about the clamor for healthier foods from its clients, viz the consumers, in stead placing more emphasis on profitability and economic viability of their operations. A society stressed out because of inaccessibility to healthy foods, attention is being turned to food materials which are more nutritious than white rice, refined wheat flour or corn flour and grits. Food grains like millets including Ragi, Bajra, Jowar, Oats, Quinoa etc are considered much more healthy and there is a large surge in demand for these grains from the consumers who are willing to pay any price for getting hold of them. What consequences such a pull for these grains from the rich man in the wealthy countries on the poor man living in poverty ridden undeveloped countries which produce these foods has never occurred to the world community! Here is a commentary on this sad situation that exists in a country like Peru because of snatching away of the staple food grain Quinoa from there by consumers in America, Europe and other wealthy countries.

"But there is an unpalatable truth to face for those of us with a bag of quinoa in the larder. The appetite of countries such as ours for this grain has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities, and fuelled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture. In fact, the quinoa trade is yet another troubling example of a damaging north-south exchange, with well-intentioned health and ethics-led consumers here unwittingly driving poverty there. It's beginning to look like a cautionary tale of how a focus on exporting premium foods can damage the producer country's food security. Feeding our apparently insatiable 365-day-a-year hunger for this luxury vegetable, Peru has also cornered the world market in asparagus. Result? In the arid Ica region where Peruvian asparagus production is concentrated, this thirsty export vegetable has depleted the water resources on which local people depend. NGOs report that asparagus labourers toil in sub-standard conditions and cannot afford to feed their children while fat cat exporters and foreign supermarkets cream off the profits. That's the pedigree of all those bunches of pricy spears on supermarket shelves".

In a unified world, evolving without any national borders and globalized marketing environment, it may be some what specious to argue that exports from one country to the other is causing social tension or depredation of the local people. But can such large scale trade be insensitive to human misery? Probably the countries which indulge in reckless export of their staple foods for the sake of earning a few dollars must think about such consequences. Blaming the buyers can never be logical since money power can introduce such distortions. However there are still some countries, though rich, still look at agricultural trade from a social angle. Examples include Palm oil trade, Cocoa trade and a few others where there appears to a consensus that users must insist on sustainable cultivation and harvesting practices without destroying forests or without use of child labor. Of course this is a complex area of international logic and logistics for which global community must find a solution.


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