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.
India is not alone in this story. Just a few years removed from the 2007-2008 global food crisis, the world is once again experiencing the telltale drivers of acute food insecurity: rising prices of both food and oil, low agricultural yields, destructive weather and unquenchable demand. Once again, nations are banning exports in an effort to keep prices down at home -- even as such policies drive up food costs in global markets. The consequences can be seen from Bolivia, where top government officials are hoarding food in their homes, to the Middle East, where the rising cost of basic foodstuffs has become a rallying cry for revolution.