Meals On Wheels

By Malini Shankar

Digital Discourse Foundation

2021 – Target (f): “Substantially enhance international cooperation to developing countries through adequate and sustainable support to complement their national actions for implementation of the present Framework by 2030”: UNISDR’s THE SENDAI SEVEN CAMPAIGN - 7 Targets, 7 Years (2016-2022)

When I wrote about Meals on Wheels to battle against malnutrition in my Picture E Book: Preparing for the Day After ( in 2014 I hardly expected that OBOR will be a real plan in 2017.

But now that India has firmly opted out of the prospect of One Belt One Road – also called Belt and Road Initiative - proposed by China as a new silk route connecting Pakistan’s Arabian Sea port of Gwadar to Beijing and even parts of Siberia in Russia - India can and ought to consider an appropriately challenging and ambitious response. Besides as the lead paragraph of this blog clearly states, the UNISDR’s the Sendai seven campaign - 7 Targets, 7 Years (2016-2022) calls for emerging economies to sustainably engage in disaster risk reduction.

In the age of global competition and constructive economic initiatives nothing should stop the dynamic Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi to complement this vision with an equally dramatic and promising parallel… Mr. Modi can not only say thumbs up to a new Avatar of TPP, but lace the Quadrilateral Highway across South East Asia with economic prosperity bearing his stamp!

How about a railroad and maritime route dedicated wholly to agricultural trade starting from Mumbai through South / South East Asia to Manila and another route from Mumbai to Melbourne on the lines of the Trans-Siberian Railway Mr. Modi? 50% of the train if dedicated to agricultural trade and the other 50% to tourism becomes ipso facto self-sustaining. The tourism potential as also the potential for inter regional trade across ASEAN can be a game changer. © Vishal Shresth (

Shipping lines can converge to augment terrestrial rail links which will contribute to boosting agricultural trade – catering to agriculture, fisheries, sericulture, horticulture and tourism. This will boost investment in infrastructure, augment trade livelihood, food security and boost tourism in a very self-sustaining way.

One dedicated agricultural trade train can link up Mumbai to Kolkata, Dhaka, Mandalay, Bangkok, Phnom Penn, Ho Chi Minh City. A connecting ship can link Ho Chi Minn City to Manila. Another branch of the train / feeder train can connect Mandalay to Mon, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore Sumatra, right through Indonesia to Papua New Guinea, ship to Darwin in Northern Australia and onwards to Melbourne by train.

Shipping lines connecting Singapore to Kuching, Kota Kinabalu to Manila with complementing sea lines connecting hubs like Port Blair to KL, Kuching - KK, KK to Manila will not only augment regional economic ties but defend maritime lines from piracy, migration, illegal fishing, and illicit drugs cartels.

Terrestrial rail link to augment regional agricultural trade from:

1. Banda Aceh to Medan, Riau to Bengkulu to Padang in Sumatra;

2. Bandung - Magelang - Jakarta in Java,

3. Denpasar in Indonesia to Dili in Timor Leste to Lahad Datu in Sabah Malaysia.

4. Pontianak in West Kalimantan, Indonesia and

5. Kuching in Sarawak Malaysia to Banjarmasin City in South Kalimantan,

6. Borneo, Indonesia, Samarinda City in East Kalimantan to Labuan in Brunei

will augment agricultural trade, and food security by husbanding bio and agro diversity.

Complementing but dedicated shipping lines catering solely to agricultural trade can also connect

1. Lakshadweep to Lanka,

2. Minicoy to the Maldives to Makassar,

3. Trincomalee to Banda Aceh,

4. Makassar City to Surabaya,

5. Singapore to Kuching,

6. Sorong in West Papua to Taipei, and

7. Port Moresby to Manila.

Another dedicated ship cum rail network from:

1. Mumbai to Kolkata,

2. Kolkata to Dhaka – Mandalay – Mon - Kuala Lumpur – Singapore - Jakarta - Surabaya, Bali – Flores – Dili - Port Moresby

3. A train by sea link to Darwin, - Brisbane - Melbourne.

4. This network can be complemented by dedicated shipping lines to Micronesia like:

5. Vanuatu - Marshall Islands - Tuvalu - Tonga Bougainville - New Caledonia - New Zealand and French Polynesia.

6. Seoul to Shanghai and by road / rail to Pyongyang can mitigate malnutrition in North Korea.

Existing rail networks need to be augmented with signals, standardising rail gauges, double lining, dedicated carriages, port facilities like freezers, food processing plants, seamless tax regimes, connectivity to agricultural cargo for this line from dedicated ships.

Quotas for fresh perishable agricultural cargo will boost the economy, infinitely in these ASEAN and South Asian countries.

The potential for boosting economic ties is manifold:

I. Employment opportunities,

II. Agricultural trade,

III. Disaster mitigation,

IV. Prevention of trafficking, poaching and migration. Surely Interpol will be a part of it!

V. Shipping dependent Island states of French Polynesia and Micronesia in the South Pacific will also be able to buffer gaps in delivery especially in the day and age of climate change.

VI. The sheer biodiverse variety of a single cereal – rice in Indonesia – has the potential to mitigate malnutrition right across ASEAN.

Remember Cyclone Pam and the havoc it wrought on Islanders’ food security?

Other natural resources like natural gas, minerals in these resource rich regions can do with sustainable exploitation. Mighty navigable rivers like Mekong, Ganges, Irrawaddy, Sepik in Papua and Kapuas in Kalimantan are perhaps the only navigable rivers can be sustainably utilised for the economic sustainability of people from all walks of life. “The Mahakam River basin contains numerous lakes, producing annual catches of up to 35,000 metric tons. This area is the second most productive hydrocarbon basin in Indonesia, containing nearly three billion barrels of oil and thirty trillion cubic feet of gas reserves” according to the World Atlas website:

Inland navigation in rice rich countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia and Sri Lanka will boost agricultural trade and regulate sustainable markets for the manifold varieties of rice alone. Coupled with vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, lentils, pulses, cereals, dairy, cash crops, spices, fish and poultry the markets for such goods will be robust and can become a game changer for agriculture.

Typical agricultural commodities for trade on this train cum ship route must include raw agricultural produce like grain, fruits, vegetables, mushroom, fisheries and sea food, silk produce, textiles, besides processed foods, animal feeds, fertilisers, veterinary medicines, meat, minerals etc. This will give an infinite boost to tourism too as resorts, hotels, and land transport, employment opportunities to tourist guides, transport providers, translators, writers, photographers and media all gain. Infrastructure like fish landing centres, ports, freezers, warehouses, water and sanitation, health care and insurance, maritime police are all strengthened.

It is an opportunity for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to become a global statesman and make a difference in the global challenges that still stare at humanity seven decades after the Empire was humbled by a the sheer moral tenacity of a political saint that some called a half-naked Fakir - the likes of who never since strode the planet.

There can be no better colonial revenge for all former colonies in the South (India, Sri Lanka, Nepal Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, North and South Korea, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, Bougainville, Tonga, Fiji, French Polynesia and Micronesia) than to prosper constructively with inclusive growth.

That should appeal to the nationalistic sentiments of the Far Right Hindu nationalist party in power in India surely! It also holds the prospect of eliminating terrorism from South and South East Asia since there will be inclusive horizontal economic growth and reduce the probability of war in nuclear power South Asia.

Ofcourse protective measures need to be taken on the trains and ships against smuggling of wildlife derivatives, trafficking of vulnerable women and children as also of illicit psychotropic drugs. The trains and ships should not become easy locos for illegal economy and not burden the overburdened customs and immigration officials everywhere.

Eco sensitive economic development is the key to disaster risk reduction. Inclusive employment generation portends horizontal economic growth and inherently builds resilience in vulnerable communities.