THE PROBLEM OF SCARCITY OF FOOD
India is not unfamiliar with starvation and death of tens of thousands, if
not millions, due to famine, natural or manmade. I claim that in a
well-ordered society there should be always prearranged methods of
successful treatment of scarcity of water and food crops. This is, however,
not the occasion for describing a well-ordered society and for showing how
it would deal with the matter. Our concern, for the present, is to see
whether we can, with fair hope of success, deal with the present food
I think we can. The first lesson we must learn is of self-help and
self-reliance. If we assimilate this lesson, we shall at once free ourselves
from disastrous dependence upon foreign countries and ultimate bankruptcy.
This is not said in arrogance but as a matter of fact. We are not a small
place, dependent for its food supply upon outside help. We are a
subcontinent, a nation of nearly 400 millions. We are a country of mighty
rivers and a rich variety of agricultural land, with inexhaustible
cattle-wealth. That our cattle give much less, milk than we need is
entirely our own fault. Our cattle-wealth is any day capable of giving us
all milk we need. Our country, if it had not been neglected during the past
few centuries, should today not only be providing herself with sufficient
food, but also be playing a useful role in supplying the outside world with
much needed foodstuffs of which the late war has unfortunately left
practically the whole world in want. This does not exclude India. The
distress is growing instead of showing signs of decreasing. My suggestion
does not include ungrateful rejection of free supply that any foreign
country may wish to offer us. All I say is that we must not go a begging. It
demoralizes. Add to this the difficulty of internal transport of foodstuffs
from one place to another. We have not the requisite facility for rapid
movement of grains and other foodstuffs from place to place. Further add not
the remote possibility of delivery of uneatable stuff. We dare not lose
sight of the fact that we have to deal with human nature. In no part of the
world it is to be found perfect or even very nearly so.
Next, let us see what possible foreign aid we can get. I am told, not more
than three per cent of our present wants. If this information is correct and
I have had it checked by several experts who confirm the figure, I am sure
the case for reliance on outside help falls to the ground. The slightest
dependence on outside help is likely to deflect us from trying to the
fullest extent our immense internal possibilities in the shape of utilizing
every inch of arable land for growing crops for daily food in the place of
growing money crops. We must reclaim waste land which is capable of being
placed under immediate cultivation.
Centralization of foodstuffs, I apprehend, is ruinous. Decentralization
easily deals a blow to black-marketing, saves time and money in transport
to and fro. Moreover, the villager who grows India's cereals and pulses
knows how to save his crops against rodents. The movement of grain from
station to station makes it liable to be eaten by rodents. This costs the
country many millions and deprives it of tons of grain, every ounce of which
we badly need. If every Indian were to realize the necessity of growing
food wherever it can be grown, we should most probably forget that there was
scarcity of foodstuffs in the land. I have by no means dealt fully with the
fascinating and absorbing subject of growing more food, but I hope I have
said enough to stimulate interest and turn the wise towards the thought of
how every individual can help in the laudable enterprise.
Let me now show how to deal with the three per cent of grains we might
possibly get from outside. Hindus observe a fast or a semi-fast every
eleventh day per fortnight. Muslims and others are not prohibited from
denying themselves especially when it is for the sake of the starving
millions. If the whole nation realized the beauty of this partial
self-denial, India would more than cover the deficit caused by the voluntary
deprivation of foreign aid.
Personally I hold that rationing has very limited use if any. If the
producers were left to themselves, they would bring their produce to the
market and everyone would get good and eatable grain, which today is not
I shall close this hurried review of the food crisis by drawing attention to
President Truman's reported advice to the American people that they should
eat less bread, and thus save the much-needed grain for starving Europe. He
added that Americans would not lose in health by the recommended act of
self-denial. I tender my congratulations to President Truman on this
philanthropic gesture. I must decline to endorse the suggestion that at the
back of this philanthropy there is the sordid motive of deriving a pecuniary
advantage for America. A man must be judged by his action, not the motive
prompting it. God alone knows men's hearts. If America would deny herself
for the sake of hungry Europe, should we fail to do this little act of
self-denial for ourselves? If many must die of starvation let us at least
earn the credit of having done our best in the way of self- help which
ennobles a nation.
H., 19-10-’47, p.3767-77
In Times of Scarcity
He who saves gains as much, that is to say, he produces as much. Hence those
who feel for the poor, those who would be one with them must curtail their
wants. There are many ways. I shall only mention some here. There is much,
too much food eaten and wasted by the well-to-do.
Use one grain at a time. Chapati, rice and pulses, milk, ghee,
gur, and oil are used in ordinary households besides vegetables and
fruit. I regard this as an unhealthy combination. Those who get animal
protein in the shape of milk, cheese, eggs or meat need not use pulses at
all. The poor people get only vegetable protein. If the well-to-do give up
pulses and oils, they set free these two essentials for the poor who get
neither animal protein nor animal fat. Then the grain eaten should not be
sloppy. Half the quantity suffices when it is eaten dry and not dipped in
any gravy. It is well to eat it with raw salads such as onion, carrot,
radish, salad leaves, tomatoes. An ounce or two of salads serves the purpose
of eight ounces of cooked vegetables. Chapatis or bread should not be
eaten with milk. To begin with, one meal may be raw vegetables and
chapati or bread, and the other cooked vegetables with milk or curds.
Sweet dishes should be eliminated altogether. Instead gur or sugar in
small quantities may be taken with milk or bread or by itself.
Fresh fruit is good to eat, but only a little is necessary to give one to
the system. It is an expensive article, and an over-indulgence by the
well-to-do has deprived the poor and the ailing of an article which they
need much more than the well-to-do.
Any medical man who has studied the science of dietetics will certify that
what I have suggested can do no harm to the body, on the contrary it must
conduce to better health.
This is only one way of saving foodstuff. It is obvious. But by itself it
cannot produce much visible effect.
Grain-dealers have to shed their greed and the habit of making as much
profit as possible. They must be satisfied with as little as possible. They
run the risk of being looted, if they do not gain the credit of being
keepers of grain for the sake of the poor. The y should be in touch with the
people in their neighbourhood.
By far the most important part of the work consists in educating the
villagers to keep what they have and to induce cultivation of fresh crops
wherever water is available. This requires widespread and intelligent
propaganda. It is not generally known that bananas, potatoes, beetroot, yam
and suran, and in a measure pumpkin are a food crop easily grown.
They can take the place of bread in time of need.
There is too scarcity of money. There may be grain available but no money to
buy it with. There is no money because there is no employment. This has to
be found. Spinning is the readiest and the handiest. But local needs may
supply other sources of labour. Every available source has to be tapped so
that there is no want of employment. Only the lazy ones need and must
starve. Patient handling will induce even this class to shed their laziness.
H., 25-1-’42, p.12
In the circumstances (of food crisis) the following things should be
attended to at once:
1. Every person should confine his daily wants regarding food to the minimum,
consistent with his or her health requirements; and where, as in cities,
milk, vegetables, oil and fruit are available, grains and pulses should be
reduced as they easily can be. Starch can be derived from starchy roots such
as carrots, parsnips, potatoes, yam, bananas; the idea being to exclude from
present diet and conserve those grains and pulses which can be kept and
stored. Vegetables too should not be eaten as an indulgence or for pleasure,
when millions are denied the use of these things altogether and are now
threatened with starvation due to shortage of cereals and pulses.
2. Everyone who has access to any water should try himself or herself to grow
some edible for personal or general use. The easiest way to do so is to
collect clean earth, mix it with organic manure where possible—even a little
bit of dried cow dung is good organic manure—and put it in any earthen or tin
pot and throw some seeds of vegetables such as mustard and cress etc. and
daily water the pots. They will be surprised how quickly the seeds sprout
and give edible leaves which need not even be cooked but can be eaten in the
form of salad.
3. All flower gardens should be utilized for growing edibles. And in this
connection I would suggest to the Viceroy, Governors and high officials to
take the lead. I would ask the heads of agricultural departments at the
Centre and Provinces to flood the country with leaflets in the provincial
languages telling laymen how and what to grow easily.'
4. Reduction should be taken up not merely by the civilian population but
equally, if not predominantly, by the military. I say predominantly, for
the military ranks being under rigid military discipline can easily carry
out measures of economy.
5. All exports of seeds, such as oil seeds, oils, oil cakes, nuts, etc., should be
stopped, if they have not been already. Oil cakes, if the seeds are sifted
of earth and foreign matter, are good human food with rich protein content.
6. Deep wells should be sunk by the Government wherever possible and required,
whether for irrigation or for drinking purposes.
7. Given hearty co-operation by Government servants and the general public, I have
not the slightest doubt that the country can tide over the difficulty. Just
as panic is the surest way to defeat, so also will be the case when there is
widespread distress impending and prompt action is not taken. Let us not
think of the cause of the distress. Whatever the cause, the fact is that if
the Government and the public do not approach the crisis patiently and
courageously, disaster is a certainty.
8. Above all, black-marketing and dishonesty should disappear altogether and willing
co-operation between all parties should be the order of the day in so far as
this crisis is concerned.
H., 24-2-’46, p.19
Food Shortage and Over-population
If it is contended that birth-control is necessary for the nation because
of over-population, I dispute the proposition. It has never been proved. In
my opinion, by a proper land-system, better agriculture and a supplementary
industry, this country is capable of supporting twice as many people as
there are today.
This little globe of ours is not a toy of yesterday. It has not suffered
from the weight of overpopulation through its age of countless millions.
How can it be that it is in danger of perishing of shortage of food unless
birth rate is checked through the use of contraceptives?
Y.I., 2-4-’25, p.118 & H.,14-9-’35, p.244