Inflation and intuition | Sunday Observer

Inflation and intuition

2 October, 2022

Everyone knows that it was inevitable there would be some food insecurity as a result of the economic meltdown and its repercussions. Even so it’s not a problem that has been deeply analysed.

For starters, there hasn’t been enough time to identify all the factors that contributed to high food inflation, apart from the obvious reasons of course.

Well, apart from the obvious reasons what else is there, it may be asked? Food inflation resulted from the dollar-crisis and the lack of home produced staples such as rice. Rising inflation was partly as a result of the runaway dollar that gained and gained, and still gained a notch more, against the rupee in an upward run that lasted months.

Food inflation skyrocketed along with inflation in general — it was a case of ‘show me which commodity didn’t go up in price.” But with food inflation we had every possibility to make the solution ‘home grown.’ Quite literally we did.

Except of course truth be told, time was not on our side. There was no way we could get back to any state close to the previous period of self-sufficiency in rice, because we had missed the seasons during the chemical fertiliser debacle.

But yet, with regard to food-security, we had the fastest route to normal. But we haven’t got anywhere near it. Why hasn’t there been a plan for food security and self-sufficiency that would at least get us to previous levels of food-sufficiency in, say, one year’s time?


It’s probably because everyone, in particular all the policymakers are interested in the major issues of debt restructuring and the IMF-aided reset. That’s all well and good because we need to get our finances in order after the greatest ever financial debacle in our post-independence history. No arguments on that score, period.

But in the meantime if we forget where it hurts the common man most — the stomach — there is a reason to believe that the policy is too muddle-headed or at least too tied up in the major concerns of the day, to relieve the very real pressure on the masses due to food insecurity.

A food-security roadmap could factor in all of the issues that are causing food insecurity in a country in which it should not be an issue at all. We have always been self-sufficient in rice, be in ancient times or in the very recent past.

We have the land, we have the human resources, and we have the infrastructure and the other resources. We have folk that are willing and able. But yet, there are major problems with regard to efficient use of land, and with regard to maintaining the quality of soil, and striking that necessary balance between organic fertiliser, and the chemical variety.

As far as we can tell, just some of these issues are being addressed, though. Others such as the land use issues and problems concerning the fragmentation of cultivable plots, deforestation and so on are once more, in the back burner.

It’s because the policymakers have bigger fish to fry. They are worried about economic revival and balance of payments.

It’s as if some have forgotten that when they are hard pressed having to furnish the house due to a lack of funds, that there is a bed in knocked-down condition in the attic that only needs to be assembled and used.

So they place orders for new beds and give dire warnings about sleeplessness that may result if the order for new beds doesn’t come through.

In part of course this is sadly akin to what’s happening with regard to agriculture and food production worldwide. There were concerns about desertification in the 80s.

Now, the word ‘desertification’ is hardly used because over time the desertification issue was forgotten due to the usual prioritisation of other so called important issues.

Subsequently, when it became clear that food production is seriously threatened because of the value of soil is degrading — and due to so many other similar reasons that were related to bad agriculture practices — the same issue that was earlier labeled desertification, is brought back under a different rubric and nomenclature.

Food production and agriculture are not politically loud and conspicuous concerns such as say war or a culture war, and the policymakers of the world are for political reasons of course drawn to these other issues ahead of ensuring food security for ordinary people.

Having said that, this seems to be the global norm. But yet, it’s still important to remember that the people of this country are facing a food security problem of unprecedented proportions.

People are simply not having enough to eat in some cases, for the simple reason that if they purchase the previous quantity of food that was at their disposal they would not be able to get on with their normal lives because they wouldn’t have enough money left for the other basics, such as transportation etc.

The problem though perhaps difficult to address no doubt in the immediate term, cannot be ignored in the longer term for the simple reason that there are solutions that could address the issue adequately, say by the early months of next year at least.

But there doesn’t seem to be the inclination to look at the problem holistically and relate it to all the germane issues such as soil quality, land usage and deforestation and so on.

It’s all left to the cultivators in other words — the very lot that’s been badly mistreated due to a misguided fertiliser-policy that tried to do away with chemical fertilisers with one asinine directive.

That it was doomed was a foregone conclusion. But, there was no due cognizance of the fact that it’s the cultivator that had been serially mistreated. The cultivators faced withdrawal of fertiliser subsidies and so on in several instances, under various dispensations. There has never been a policy that was friendly towards the hard-working folk that put the rice or the vegetables on the table.

So searching for food security without addressing these issues is not wholesome and not a move that would guarantee results even though the immediate issues that caused the food crisis granted may be due to a whole host of reasons combined.

But ignoring the fundamental problems of agricultural production in this land is not going to be the best approach to solving the food security issue in the long term, and perhaps the short term as well.

Those issues are fundamental to food security in this country, even though the focus is currently on how much dollars we have/don’t have to import rice.


But that’s to look at the symptom when the underlying disease is not addressed at all.

It would be shortsighted policy, especially on the part of the experts that are supposed to advice the Government.

It’s expected that the major players are focused on how to obtain the bailout and address the debt issue, but those that are looking at specific policies have no excuse. They have known the problems for so long that they should be able to identify them with a cursory look.

As it has often been said by some politically wise sages, it’s insanity to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.

This country’s food security issues are dependent to a great extent on the basics of soil and land management, subsidies extended to cultivators, and the art of striking a fine balance between organic farming and the need for higher yields, using the chemical fertiliser and pesticide options. If all that is ignored and there is this magical wait for the next season when everything would return to normal that seems to be the next-level of misplaced optimism.

The country needs a plan but most importantly a very specific plan for agriculture and for setting us on the road to self-sufficiency when this is the best time to make such a reset work from the brass tacks, and when we are compelled to re-think our food security from scratch.