Policy |

Moving Towards Food Security in Developing Nations such as India

What is food security?

Food security is the ability to assure at all times the physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets the population’s dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. The basic elements of food security are food availability, food accessibility and food adequacy.

Food availability comprises total food production and total food import. Food accessibility encompasses both economic and physical accessibility and affordability without compromising any other basic need. Food adequacy means that the acquired food must satisfy dietary needs with good nutritional value and it should be safe for consumption. Also, the effective biological utilisation of food besides mere availability and accessibility of food resources has been accounted for in the understanding of food security. Likewise, environment related factors like proper sanitation and availability of safe drinking water that hampers the absorption of nutrition from food are integral part in realisation of food security.

Why is food security important?

The attainment of food security for any nation is imperative as right to adequate food is among the most basic human rights laid under any circumstances. But a confounding question that needs to be asked is whether the developing nations and more importantly India is food secured in the face of recent rapid economic growth. The 2016 Global Hunger Index (GHI) published by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI, US) shows that the level of hunger in developing nations as a whole has decreased by 29 per cent since 2000. However, the disparity in hunger among the countries is still wide. The highest numbers of hungry people still remain in Africa south of Sahara and South Asia (IFPRI, 2016). India saw an impressive growth rate in its agricultural sector in recent years with high production of food grains yet still shows poor records in food security and nutrition.

India has a large population of 1.2 billion that continues to reel with a huge challenge of attaining food security. Around 190 million people are undernourished who are mostly in the vulnerable sections like the elderly, lactating women and children. The 2016 Global Hunger Index (GHI) ranked India in the 97th place out of 118 countries on the basis of three indicators – child wasting, stunting in children under 5 years and proportion of undernourished in the population. The ranking is way lower than many developing countries with poor economic growth. Moreover, National Family Health Survey-4 for 2015-16, estimates 53 per cent of women between 15 to 49 years of age and 58.45 per cent of children between 6-59 months are anaemic and 35.7 per cent of children less than five years are underweight in India (IIPS, 2016). The country’s statistics is said to have improved since the last decade – however it is marginal in relative with the country’s overall economic growth.

Food Security in India

Source: Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates of 2016 given UNICEF, WHO and World Bank Group.

Another striking concern is the limited dimension of food security in most developing countries, which generally excludes nutrition security and its importance. According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the physical and economic access to nutritionally adequate food does not automatically translate into their nutritional well being. Nutritional security includes sufficient knowledge and skills to acquire, prepare and consume nutritionally adequate food; access to health services and a healthy environment to ensure effective biological utilization of the foods consumed; and time and motivation to make the best use of their resources to provide adequate family/household care and feeding practice (FAO, 2000). The holistic attainment of food and nutritional security should be the ultimate aim. In simple words provision of diets that are both adequate in quantity and quality is required to build a healthy and productive society.

What are the problem areas?

Since the Green Revolution India’s foodgrain production has increased five-fold and the country is one of the largest producers of food staples like rice and wheat. As per the Second Advance Estimates for 2016-17 released on February 2017, total foodgrains production in the country is estimated at 271.98 million tonnes which is a new record (Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, 2017). Table 1 gives the crop-wise details of foodgrains production. Thus, India produces enough food to feed its population. However, a large part of rural India is still limited in terms of food access.

Table 1 Crop-wise details of foodgrains production during 2016-2017

Crop Production in million tonnes
Rice 108.86
Wheat 96.64
Jowar 4.75
Bajra 9.42
Maize 26.15
Coarse cereals 44.34
Tur 4.23
Gram 9.12
Total Pulses 22.14
Total food grains 271.98

Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, 2017

The National Food Security Act (NSFA) which was enacted in 2013 has three sets of entitlements- subsidised food from the public distribution system (PDS), nutritious meals for children through mid-day meal scheme and maternity entitlements. The act specifies mandatory coverage of the PDS in 75 per cent of the rural areas and 50 per cent of the urban areas at the national level. Antyoda Anna Yojna (AAY) is an entitlement under NFSA which was launched in the year 2000 that ensures 35 kg of foodgrains per family per month to the poorest households and families which come under the Priority Households are entitled 5 kg of foodgrains per person per month. Moreover, safety net programmes/schemes for farmers like Soil Health Card, promotion of Neem Coated Urea, Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana, National Agriculture Market,  Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima etc.are under implementation to boost agricultural productivity and reduction of farming costs.

Nonetheless, the bigger challenge remains the effective local implementation of these schemes/programmes in rural areas. Various factors like corruption, leakages and inequitable food access in food distribution system are widespread because of which food did not reach the target locations. The estimated diversion ratio of food from the PDS to unidentified places is reported to be very high in many states. In 2009-2010 it was reported to be as high as 41 per cent (Narayanan, 2015). This clearly suggests that more emphasis should be given on improvement of food distribution system rather than food production.

Another serious concern is food price inflation over the last few years that are attributed to short supply due to decreased production and poor management of food stocks. Thereby, economic accessibility of food is hindered for the poorest section of the population. Moreover, a significant amount of food is lost and wasted during distribution and consumption stages due to inefficient supply chain management. It is estimated that nearly one third of the world food production for human consumption gets lost or wasted which amounts about 1.3 billion tons per year (FAO, 2017).

Climate related stress such as changing climate pattern, water scarcity, soil nutrient deprivation, pest infections and diseases, weeds etc. are reported to decrease agricultural productivity. Therefore, tackling climate change is a complication in the efforts to improve the efficiency in agricultural sector and threat to global food security.

Way forward

The foremost action that could be taken up is the systematic implementation and stringent monitoring of the already existing schemes and policies related to food distribution systems. It could be done effectively through the local level involvement- proper governance, accountability in the distribution system through local supervision, prevention of commodity leakages before reaching the target area and proper utilisation of data regarding food distribution systems.

Meanwhile, adequate focus should be given on increasing food productivity as well to ensure food security. It could be assured by educating the farmers with innovative and sustainable farming techniques like proper irrigation system, investment on high yielding seed varieties, moderate use of fertilizers for long term benefit, diversification of cropping, hydroponics, precision farming, relay farming etc. Also, key issues like development of farmer friendly food supply chain and proper food storage facilities need to be enhanced. Finally, the agricultural research system should grow to challenge the emerging climate change impacts on agriculture.

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