Man has many basic and fundamental needs to survive. These include air(oxygen) for respiration, water to carry out all the activities of life, nutrition and food and security from external life threatening agencies as well as the pathogens that intrude the human body through diverse routes. Nutrition and food, as such, is one of the basic and fundamental requirements of human life, like it is for any other life form. If we move down to the cellular and sub-cellular level of existence a person cannot live for a moment without food and nutrition.
Man, from the very outset, has been aware of this fact, instinctively or otherwise and has always tried to keep ready the supplies of food for all the times of need. In order to accomplish this, man has moved from hunting and gathering to the settled agriculture. Initially, he could satisfy his hunger by hunting other animal life forms and gathering wild fruits, seeds and vegetable varieties. But, with the growth and spread of human population these methods proved inadequate to satisfy the nutritional needs of men. Moreover, hunting and gathering were not secured and safe means of getting food and, so the need to find alternatives was felt and these alternatives were discovered and practiced subsequently, which proved successful.
The settled mode of agriculture made it possible for man to live in one place and gave rise to the development of human habitations. The habitations changed from the tribal type to the modern city and metro city level of existence. In each of these types of habitations, due care was taken, and is being taken, to provide the provisions of food in adequate supplies. If they are not produced locally, they are imported from the other places in exchange of the products and services produced at these places. No compromise is made to keep the supplies stored and available to all.
In the contemporary times, advanced modes of communication and transportation has made it possible for people to procure food from anywhere in the world at affordable prices if people are able to produce commodities and services that can be exchanged for the food items. In the adverse case, a human habitation could be insecure which does not produce enough of food and at the same time is not producing exchangeable commodities and services.
Human population in a few decades may cross the 8 billion mark, which is a humongous figure with gargantuan requirements in terms of food resources. True, so far these requirements are met with relative ease and food items are produced in plentiful in the world courtesy the Green Revolutions in most parts of the world due to the advancement in agriculture related technologies and improvement in genetic constitution of various crops. Proper soil testing, programming of crops and improved irrigation facilities and inclusion of barren land under cultivation are other factors which give security to humans in terms of food resources.
These advanced techniques and methods have their own limitations: they yield higher returns up to a point and beyond that there is either no quantitative improvement in production or even the production falls. Plus, the demerits associated with the genetically modified foods raises many questions regarding the health of people. So, genetic engineering could help in providing food and nutrition to the growing population for longer times but, the safety concerns and other limitations might prove it insufficient eventually. Many ethical, moral and religious issues make genetic engineering, and genetically modified food, not readily acceptable modes of food production across diverse cultures and religious denominations.
Another pressing issue which threatens the prospects of food security is the loss of fertile land for non-agricultural and commercial purposes. Here, when on the one side of the spectrum man is trying his utmost to bring more and more barren lands under cultivation but on the other side huge swathes of farms are converted for non-agricultural purposes. In some regions, like Kashmir, of the world this conversion is being allowed with impunity and it has already gained alarming shape. The misuse of fertilizers and other chemicals, pesticides also result in reduced fertility and or loss of produced food items.
In terms of Kashmir, the conversion of agricultural land for non-agriculture purposes has already dented food security greatly. The greed of the people to earn easy money has increased so much that nobody bothers about the security of food. They think the food resources will keep flowing to this place whatever the conditions and circumstances outside. For us the supply lines will never be snapped even if there are droughts, floods or depleted food production outside the state. This attitude has made agricultural land, and agriculture as one of the main casualties of the greed of the local people.
The areas which once were blooming gardens and agricultural farms and orchids are now concrete jungles. The life giving areas are now life consuming structures. These areas have been converted from productive lands to consumers of food and other natural resources. Thereby food security of this place has turned into food insecurity pure and simple. This food insecurity is our collective accomplishment, in its negative form, which if not checked might prove too costly one day.
Fresh water, which is fundamental for food productions, exists in limited quantity on the face of the earth. Human consumption of water for non-agricultural and industrial purposes has increased which has put pressure on availability of water for agriculture. This precisely is the reason why many water surplus regions in terms of the water for irrigation are facing the scarcity of this water. It is by no way good news for food security. The growing population needs adequate water supply for irrigation but the irrigational water level is falling which could prove damaging in the near future if the corrective measures are not initiated and initiated soon.
The cumulative effects of environmental degradation and pollution have changed the weather and climatic patterns of many areas. This could have direct repercussions on agriculture and related activities in those areas. The emergence of new and so far unknown diseases to crops is one of the many outcomes and adverse consequences of environmental pollution. It has enhanced the dependence of agriculture on chemical sprays, and many sprays. The bio-accumulation of these chemicals makes the foods so produced unsafe for human consumption which is never good for a healthy population. Additionally, the disturbed weather and climatic conditions result in erratic productivity where for some year there is a bumper crop and for the rest there is no production at all.
These issues of agriculture mentioned in the foregone analysis are more or less global phenomena. They are witnessed individually or collectively in almost all the countries of the world. But, there are many areas where they have caused more damage to food security than others. Kashmir, the reference of which has already been given above, is one such region where almost all the factors causing food insecurity are present. This place is insecure in food items even when all the food items remain stored for human consumption.
The latter condition is because of the fact that we hardly have any impression about the safety of the food items that we consume. Whether the items are fit for human consumption or not that is of our no concern because we have to consume the same very items anyhow. What if they are not fit and are not giving us adequate nutrition, we have to eat them only and so the security could also be insecurity.
The loss of agricultural land, the depleted availability of water for irrigation, over use and misuse of fertilizers and other chemicals along with the changed climatic and weather patterns have cost dearly to food security of this place. Moreover, the failure of regulatory mechanisms to keep agriculture and related areas producing adequate quantities of food has dented food security even more. Agricultural land, if at all, it requires to be changed for non agricultural activities, it needs to be done in a scientific manner where anyhow the production of food items should not be allowed to fall but unfortunately nothing of that sort is done by the agencies duty bound to maintain minimum levels of food security.
All the indicators in respect of Kashmir suggest that the prospects of food security are bleak and getting bleaker with each passing day. The surprising thing is the attitude of people who seem least bothered about this great loss. Nowhere the need for food security is realized and acknowledged. Our enlightened human intellect, as we like ourselves to possess, somehow turns blind when it comes to food security. The result of all this is that we are moving towards food insecurity. We have already caused enough of food insecurity for this place and the people of the place and the way things are moving the times ahead seem challenging and tough.
Somewhere the urgency of the matter, it is hoped, needs to be realized. We cannot leave things to go too far, a place of no return. It is about time is to reverse the process and if we are able to gain only a semblance of food security it would be a great service towards this state and a great feat as well.
As the growing human population, the world over, is concerned, providing food to all should be the first priority. Living with security of food should be the prime objective.
—The author can be reached at: fayaz.greatstep@gmail