for National Geographic News
Part 12 of a special series that explores the local faces of the world's worst food crisis in decades.
The continuing surge in global food prices is throwing India into a vexing dilemma: how to cement its status as a rising economic superpower while providing for its millions of underfed citizens.
According to the World Food Program, the country is home to 350 million malnourished people—almost half the world's hungry—which puts particular pressure on the fast-developing country to reign in food prices.
The country's public food distribution scheme—the largest food aid program in the world—has so far managed to keep tensions from spiraling out of control despite a 30 percent increase in rice prices in recent months.
(Related video: "World Food in Crisis.")
The Food Corporation of India (FCI), a wing of the public distribution ministry, last year provided almost 38 million tons of subsidized rice and wheat to hundreds of millions of people living below or near India's poverty line of around 30 U.S. cents a day.
Subsidized rice prices have remained constant at around 6 rupees (about 15 cents) a kilogram for the past four years despite a 20 percent rise last year in procurement costs, said Alok Sinha, FCI's chair and managing director.
Keeping Rice at Home
One of the steps India has taken to keep prices in check has been an export ban on all rice except the luxury variety basmati.
Though observers have leveled criticism at such restrictions for exacerbating global prices, proponents say it is important for India to tend to its own needs before sharing its agricultural bounty.
Local merchants have had mixed reactions.
"As a farmer, I want my paddy to sell for the highest price, so exports are good," said Sanjay Pal, an organic rice farmer in India's eastern agricultural state of West Bengal. "But when I am a consumer buying rice grains in the market, I want those same prices to be as low as possible."
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