Highlighting “Covid, conflict and climate” as the three big challenges to food security, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Thursday that “de-risking” the global economy requires more decentralised production.
Addressing a luncheon event jointly organised by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, and the Ministry of External Affairs for Delhi-based high commissioners and ambassadors as part of a pre-launch celebration of the International Year of Millets 2023, Jaishankar said, “If there are three big challenges which we have experienced and continue to experience, they are to my mind, the three Cs — Covid, Conflict and Climate. Each one of them in some way has actually impacted food security.”
“We saw during Covid, for example, that if you had very concentrated centres of production and something happened because they got disrupted, then the entire global economy was at risk because there were problems in one particular geography,” said Jaishankar, citing the example of supply of food to the Gulf countries during Covid-19 lockdown in 2020.
He said, “There were actually periods when the only planes which were actually taking off from some of our airports were actually planes to the Gulf carrying food supplies.”
“So, Covid was a period which reminded us what a pandemic could do to food security… This pandemic could have been even worse and if there are future pandemics, how do we prepare for the food security implications of pandemics,” he said.
Discussing the impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on global food security, Jaishankar said one of the biggest concerns was what would happen when production is disrupted in two major food producers. “Ukraine was the leading producer by far, leading exporter of wheat,” he said, pointing out that when disruptions happen in such countries, it leads to escalating food prices and shortages.
“So again, if you have concentrated centres of food production and food export, we are utterly and totally dependent on that for the stability of global markets. What happens if something goes wrong there?” Jaishankar asked.
He expressed hope that the Ukraine conflict would come to an end soon.
“We would hope that this conflict comes to an early end and that there are no more,” he said.
On the impact of climate change on food security, Jaishankar said, “We are seeing more and more of extreme climate. In fact, it is a double whammy — it can lower production and it can disrupt trade.”
“So, if you put Covid, conflict and climate together, I would suggest that perhaps in international relations, we should all be giving much greater attention to food security,” he said.
Jaishankar said that millets are grown by 130 countries across the world, and have increasing relevance in the world today in the wake of the big challenges.
“So, as we look at the world today. I think de-risking the global economy requires more decentralised production. It requires more self-reliance, it requires certainly a willingness on the part of countries to not only do more for themselves but to help each other out. And that is the message of the International Year of Millets.”
“That is why we would like all of you in your respective countries, really to absorb and transmit this message that in this International Year of Millets, we would like to take it forward as a truly global partnership. We would like to certainly propagate the consumption of millets. We would like to encourage the production millets, we would like, even the countries who may not directly be consuming or producing them to look at them as part of a larger global food security scenario,” he said.
Addressing the occasion, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said, “The time has come for the Public Distribution System to shift the focus of distribution programmes from basic calories to provide a more diverse food basket that includes millets to improve the nutritional status of pre-school children and women of reproductive age.”
Tomar said that through the International Year of Millets, India’s aim is to increase the domestic and global consumption of millets.
Tomar said the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare is working in mission mode to increase millet production and consumption in collaboration with other central ministries, all state governments and other stakeholder organisations.
Considering the nutritional value of millets, the government had notified millets as a nutritious cereal in April, 2018, Tomar said.
Minister of State for External Affairs Meenakashi Lekhi, Secretary (Economic Relations) Dammu Ravi, Secretary, West, Sanjay Verma and about 100 high commissioners and ambassadors based in Delhi and senior officials of the Agriculture Ministry and External Affairs Ministry were also present on the occasion.