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The Gathering Global Food Storm

Michael Kugelman Friday, March 25, 2011

NEW DELHI -- In India's vibrant capital, food seems to be everywhere -- from bustling fruit and vegetable markets and greasy kebab stalls, to sumptuous platters in rooftop restaurants and dilli ki chaat, Delhi's ubiquitous street snacks. Poor street vendors and high-end chefs alike offer a multitude of culinary options to keep the city -- and its array of visiting tourists, diplomats and business leaders -- well-fed.

Yet behind this apparent culinary prosperity lies rampant food insecurity. Food-related inflation in India soared above 18 percent in December, sparking street protests over high onion prices. Today, food-related inflation remains high, at nearly 12 percent. In a nation where at least 250 million subsist on less than a dollar a day (.pdf), even modest price rises have a devastating impact on incomes and livelihoods. Yet, when food prices fall, India's small farmers suffer. Already crippled by debt and encumbered by water shortages, 200,000 of them have committed suicide over the past 13 years. ...

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