Frontiers of law in china

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VOL. 11 JUNE 2016 NO. 2



The Past, Present and Future of Rule of Law
Towards a Human Dignity Based Approach to Food Security: Lessons from China and India
Nandini Ramanujam, Stephanie Chow


Despite almost halving the proportion of the world’s undernourished over the past two and half decades, the number of undernourished people in the world remains staggeringly high. Efforts to address the global state of food insecurity must target China and India, which are home to the world’s highest and second highest number of undernourished people. This paper analyses the comparative experiences of tackling food security in China and India and adopts an inter-disciplinary approach, which melds legal, economic and human perspectives to food security. Both China and India have made concerted efforts to improve food security of vulnerable populations in the past three decades. These efforts have historically focused on actively promoting grain production which have been largely successful in achieving grain self-sufficiency and secure adequate availability of food for their populations. However, the contemporary challenges to food security are now increasingly driven by unsustainable dietary patterns and are exacerbated by growing populations, increasing wealth and the globalisation of food supply chains. As a result, the cause of food insecurity is no longer fundamentally food supply, but rather about the extent to which marginalised populations are empowered with the rights, freedoms and capabilities that enable them to attain healthy and productive lives. China and India apply markedly different approaches to address the issue of people’s access to food. In India, the right to food movement has gained momentum through the work of civil society actors and there is now a legal right to food. In contrast, in China the right to food is neither stipulated in Chinese law, nor referenced in the official policy rhetoric as the country seeks to ensure access to food by focusing on poverty alleviation more generally through an income transfer program and non-food based social safety net to help the poor. At the same time, the Chinese population’s high educational levels provides enormous potential for effective interventions and education on nutrition and health. A comparison of the approaches to food security in China and India ultimately reminds us that efforts to tackle food insecurity must centre on human dignity which requires more wide-ranging investment in enhancing people’s capabilities, combined with effective enforcement of the right to food..


Introduction 5

I. Why Compare China and India? 7

II. The Move towards a Human Dignity Approach to Food Security 10

III. Approach to Food Security in China and India 14

A. Securing Food Availability 14

1. India.— In India, the government promotes food availability by offering agricultural subsidies and providing market price support for food grains. Input subsidies make up the “most expensive instruments of India’s food policy.” The prices for fertilizers, electricity and irrigation water sold to farmers are set by the government of India and are generally lower than the market price charged. For example, in the 2008-9 the government’s fertilizer subsidy reached US$16.9 billion. The government also sets Minimum Support Prices, which seeks to ensure that remunerative prices are paid to growers for their produce in order to encouraging higher agricultural investment and production. Minimum Support Prices are announced and fixed each year based on the recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices and cover 24 important crops. The Food Corporation of India has been set up since 1965 to undertake the procurement, storage, movement, transport and distribution of food grains. In addition, the government holds buffer stocks of food grains based on surpluses produced in good production years for use in case of situations of food scarcity which may arise from crop failures. These policies, coupled with the success of the Green Revolution which took place in the 1960-70s and introduced high-yield crop varieties and adopted modern agriculture techniques, has meant that India has become largely self-sufficient in food grain production for the past four decades and the “threat of famine has been eliminated.” This is no small feat for a country with more than 16 per cent of the global population, but only 2.5 per cent of the global land mass. 15

2. China.— In China, food availability was a massive problem prior to the 1980’s. Following the 1978 economic reforms, the introduction of a household responsibility system in 1979 allowed farmers to sell surplus produce grown on their land allocated to them by the collective, once they met their centrally imposed quota of staple food and livestock production. This provided an incentive to individual farmers to expand and diversify their agricultural production. The reforms resulted in a rapid increased of staple food productivity, with vegetable production increasing six fold between 1978 and 2010. Food availability improved dramatically as collective farming and people’s communes were abandoned. 15

B. Diverging Approaches to Ensuring Access to Food 18

1. India.— In India, the “most important intervention made by the government of India towards achieving food security” has been the Public Distribution System. The Public Distribution System is a rationing mechanism, first established in 1939 as a war-time rationing measure, which entitles poor households to a specific quantity of food and non-food staples, such as rice, wheat, edible oil, kerosene and sugar, at subsidized prices. Closely intertwined with the state’s Minimum Support Prices program, the Food Corporation of India, which oversees both programs, buys food grains from farmers at allocated prices. Food grains are then sold on to consumers at subsidized prices through a network of 460,000 Fair Price shops. Up until 1997, the Public Distribution System was “universal” in most parts of the country and was available to all households, both urban and rural, with a residential address. Households were given a ration card which entitled them to buy a fixed ration of selected commodities. The system has since switched to a “targeted” approach and access is now limited to income-poor households. The system now follows a two-tiered pricing structure. Households classified as below the poverty line continue to receive rice and grains at highly subsidized prices which are far below the market value. Households which are classified as above the poverty line, receive a lower amount of rice and grains are supplied at a much higher cost which is closer to their market price. The switch to a “targeted” system has been seen as “extremely detrimental to the nation’s food security.” It has not only led to “high rates of exclusion of needy households from the system,” but has negatively impacted the viability of fair price shops, whose success relies on economies of scale as the transportation and distribution of smaller quantities of commodities make the shops less economically viable. Furthermore, it is commonly believed that the Public Distribution System is subject to widespread leakage and waste, with an earlier study finding that as much as one third of the food grains and sugar and half of the edible oils going into the system did not reach the intended user. The system is “beset by pervasive corruption” with estimates that around 36 per cent of the foodgrains distributed were diverted onto the black market. There are also significant differences in effectiveness of the Public Distribution System across states, which has been attributed to the divergences in the quality of governance. The system has been found to work best in states known to have higher transparency and accountability of local government officials. The recent introduction of Aadhaar, a biometric identification card, is expected to combat corruption in the system. 18

2. China.— China and India apply quite different approaches to helping poor consumers gain access to food. Unlike India, China does not use price-based instruments to provide subsidies to poor households on food grain purchased. Instead, it has increasingly used direct income transfers and other social safety net instruments targeting poor and vulnerable consumers to strengthen access to food. Beginning in the 1990s, China began experimenting with a Minimum Living Guarantee Program (dibao) for poor rural residents. By 2007, the program was adopted nationwide and has been extended to poor urban residents. By the end of 2013, it was estimated that the dibao programme covered 20.6 million urban residents and 53.9 rural residents, reaching 4 per cent of the country’s urban population and 6 per cent of the country’s rural population. Implementation of the program remains decentralized as eligibility thresholds, beneficiary selection and transfer payments are determined locally. 20

C. Increasing Focus on Food Use 21

1. India.— The importance of adequate nutrition “came to the policy forefront” in India in the mid-1990s when the government adopted the 1993 National Nutrition Policy and the 1995 National Plan of Action on Nutrition. By the early 21st century, the country’s tenth Five Year Plan marked a paradigm shift to directly tackle the emergence of the dual burden of persistent undernutrition and inadequate dietary intake amongst one segment of the population, coupled with over-nutrition and low physical amongst another segment of the population. The tenth Five Year Plan, which covered the 2002 to 2007 period, focused on comprehensive interventions which targeted not only food, but also nutrition security. The Plan moved the country’s food security policies away from untargeted food supplementation towards screening people from vulnerable groups and identifying those suffering malnutrition to make appropriate interventions. The Plan also focused on the prevention of over-nutrition and obesity via the promotion of healthy lifestyles and appropriate dietary intakes. In addition, the Plan emphasized the need to strengthen nutrition and health education amongst the population and listed concrete targets to reduce the prevalence of underweight children, increase the level of breastfeeding, reduce the prevalence of anaemia and eliminate Vitamin A deficiency. In September 2003, the Prime Minister set up the National Nutrition Mission aimed at improving coordination between different Ministries who deliver nutrition related interventions. The Mission also launched a pilot project in 51 ‘nutritionally deficient districts’ to distribute food grains free of charge through the targeted Public Distribution System to adolescent girls and pregnant or lactating women, who have long been recognized as nutritionally vulnerable segments of the population, and are classified as below the poverty line. 21

2. China.— In China, the State Council issued the National Plan of Action for Nutrition in 1997. In addition to alleviating hunger and food shortages, the National Plan of Action placed a significant focus on the need to eliminate micronutrient deficiencies, improve the general nutritional status of people and prevent diet related non communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular diseases and cancer through proper guidance on dietary behaviours and the promotion of a healthy lifestyle. The National Plan of Action has been accompanied by the publication of Dietary Guidelines for Chinese Residents and the Balanced Diet Pagoda, similar to the American food pyramid guidance system and a number of nutritional education campaigns have been held throughout the country, mainly in the form of nutrition education sessions for health workers. Efforts have also taken place to shift the cultural norm on academic achievement, by promoting physical education in schools. However, it has been suggested that there are “very few direct nutritional interventions” in China, and “information dissemination concerning nutrition is limited in scale and usually unorganized” as it has been noted that thus far no mass-media campaign or systematic national education program on nutrition has been launched. Instead, policies target the supply side to provide incentives for farmers to grow more health foods with the government relying on adjustments and subsidies to increase the production of soybeans and vegetables. 24

Conclusion 25

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