According to the Economic Survey (2018-19), India needs to take major initiatives to improve its food security as it faces supply constraints, water scarcity, small lands, low per capita GDP and inadequate irrigation.
What is Food Security?
Food security, as stated by the United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security, means that all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs to live an active and healthy life.
Food safety is a combination of the following three elements:
- Availability of food: Availability of food means that food should be available in sufficient quantity and on a continuous basis. It takes into account the stock in a given area and the ability to bring food from elsewhere through production and trade or assistance.
- Access to food: Access to food means that people should be able to receive a sufficient amount of food on a regular basis through purchase, domestic production, exchange, gift, borrowing or food aid.
- Food Consumption: The food consumed should have a positive nutritional effect on people. These include cooking, storage and hygiene practices, individual health, water and sanitation, indoor food and distribution methods.
Food safety is closely linked to household resources, disposable income and socioeconomic status. It is also strongly linked to other issues, such as food prices, global climate change, water, energy and agricultural growth.
Whereas, nutritional security can be defined as “a state of adequate nutrition at all times in terms of proteins, energy, vitamins and minerals and thus more than food security in theory”.
Why food security is important to the nation?
- To promote the agricultural sector.
- To control the prices of foodstuffs.
- For economic growth and job creation which leads to poverty reduction
- For business opportunities
- To enhance global security and stability
- For improved health and health care
Despite all efforts, India is a food insecure country. Although food grain production increased from 50.82 million tonnes to 209 million tonnes, malnutrition has declined by only 20%. Due to low productivity, there is widespread micronutrient deficiency.
Although the state has promised to increase the level of nutrition and living standards through Article 47, it has not yet achieved the target of reaching everyone. The green revolution increased production but the problem of stockpiling surplus stock remained. Buffer stocks are proving beneficial to help with food security; It has helped in times of food scarcity and low productivity.
But in the last few years, the problem of food storage has caused many problems. India does not have adequate go-down and storage facilities to store large quantities of surplus, which causes it to rot after the season. There has been a constant struggle for India to manage the two goals of food and nutrition security.
Statistics suggest that despite the huge buffer stock, there are still 8% of Indians who cannot take advantage of meals twice a day and every third child born is underweight. It was observed that simply improving the availability of grains does not help in achieving nutritional security. The major concerns are the micronutrient deficiency and hunger problem in India.
Food and Nutritional Security
To make the nation food sustainable, it has to achieve two important goals of food security as well as nutrition. India is somehow lagging behind in providing good nutritional security to the people. Although it goes beyond the definition of food security only caloric requirement, it has not been able to cope with nutritional loss.
The green revolution of the 1960s paved the way for a variety of high yielding seeds and bumper crops of rice and wheat but it did not provide a loss of nutrients like calories, protein and fat.
Nutritional security here not only deals with the availability of food rich in these nutrients but also makes it affordable for the people and it is also of good quality that can be consumed and absorbed.
It also addresses the problem of poverty where people lack basic health and hygiene. When people take out private healthcare, they face huge out-of-pocket costs that allow them to control their costs for other basic amenities including a good quality food and grain.
Along with a diet rich in all nutrients, there should also be unrestricted access to better education, health and hygiene facilities and other basic human needs that ensure that children are vaccinated, a healthy environment free of pathogenic bacteria and viruses.
The Sustainable Development Goals of 2030 (SDG II) come with the practice of sustainable agriculture with zero hunger and no poverty. Sustainable farming involves agricultural methods of protecting soil quality, air and water pollution, using good seeds. These include the integration of economic profitability, environmental health and social and economic equality.
This requires not only the input of the resources used but also the farmers who use these resources adequately and efficiently. There should be proper planning of land used for cultivation which can be achieved by crop rotation and change of mixed land use pattern and modern farming methods which are deprived of its basic properties.
Water quality must be maintained by water harvesting systems, by water conservation, encouraging farmers to choose drought tolerant crops, irrigation sprinkler system, reduce the use of fertilizers to prevent increased water salinity, investigating and maintaining groundwater levels by planting beans that regulate nitrogen levels in the soil and also help maintain groundwater levels.
The next goal is to ensure quality air by not cultivating in or near industrial areas where air quality is poor or polluted. It also includes controlling agricultural burning fumes.
This can be improved by incorporating crop residues into the soil, planting the right level of tillage and wind break. Soil quality should also be checked for sustainable practices that can be achieved by reducing soil erosion through terrace farming, low water flow and minimal irrigation methods.
Combination of Food Security & Sustainable National Development
Food security was a lot of work for India to achieve due to poor infrastructure, poor supply link and poor storage facilities and failed distribution system.
Although India is reaching out to its farming community through schemes like Kisan Dhiran Yojana, television broadcasting, huge agricultural subsidies on irrigation and fertilizers, etc., the question of whether it is leading to sustainable agriculture and food security worries us today.
India was the largest producer of milk (108.5 MT) and fruits and vegetables (97.6 MT) in 2008-09, it also exports large quantities of rice and other cash crops but has failed to deliver good quality foodgrains to its own population.
The public distribution system emerged to alleviate hunger in urban slums during the civil war in the 1960s when it was revised in 1992 and PDS was launched in 1997 to give food safety to the poor population.
While evaluating the PDS system, we can say that while it helps the poor to buy foodgrains at a much cheaper price and make a living, it also leads to poor supply chains, diversion of foodgrains and distorted distribution.
Although the TPDS government aims to produce crude grains such as millets, horticulture and fish and make them available to its beneficiaries, it still faces poor supply chains and inadequate storage systems.
Buffer stock rots until they find good buyers; it falls until the farmer can make a profit from it. Sustainable agriculture also needs a good supply chain and distribution system to make it accessible to everyone to make food security and zero hunger a reality.
Challenges to Food Security
- Climate Change: Farming becomes difficult because of higher temperatures and unreliable rainfall. Climate change affects not only crops but also livestock, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture and can have serious social and economic consequences in the form of declining incomes, declining livelihoods, disrupting trade and adverse health effects.
- Lack of access to remote areas: For tribal communities, living in remote difficult areas and practicing subsistence farming has led to significant economic backwardness.
- The increase in rural-to-urban migration results in unplanned development of slums resulting in large numbers of informal workers with a lack of basic health and sanitation facilities, inadequate housing and increased food insecurity.
- Overpopulation, poverty, illiteracy and gender inequality.
- Inadequate distribution of food through Public Distribution System (PDS).
- Eligible beneficiaries of the subsidy are excluded on the basis of non-ownership of below poverty line (BPL) status, as the criteria for identifying a family as BPL is arbitrary and varies from state to state.
- Biofuels: The development of the biofuel market has decreased the land used for growing food crops.
- Conflict: Food can be used as a weapon, by cutting off the enemy’s food supply to gain ground. Crops can also be destroyed during conflict.
- Unsupervised Nutrition Programs: Although a number of programs have been planned in the country as their main component of improving nutrition but they are not being implemented properly.
- Lack of food and nutrition policies consistent with lack of inter-departmental coordination between various ministries.
- Corruption: Diversion of foodgrains to open market for good margins, sale of poor quality foodgrains at ration shops, irregular opening of shops increases the problem of food insecurity.
Recent Government Initiatives
National Food Security Mission
- This scheme was launched in 2007 and is sponsored by Centre.
- It aims to increase production of rice, wheat, pulses, coarse grains and commercial crops, expand area and increase productivity.
- It works towards restoring soil fertility and productivity at the individual farm level and boosting the economy at the agricultural level.
- It aims to increase the availability of vegetable oil and reduce the import of edible oil.
Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY)
- It was started in 2007, and allowed the states to select their own agricultural and allied sector development activities as per the district / state agricultural scheme.
- It was also converted into a centrally sponsored scheme in 2014-15 with 100% central assistance.
- The Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) has been named as the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY-RAFTAAR) for three years i.e., from 2017-18 to 2019-20.
Objectives: To make agriculture a profitable economic activity by strengthening the farmer’s efforts, reducing risk and promoting agribusiness entrepreneurship. In addition to promoting agri-entrepreneurship and innovation, the main focus is on pre- and post-harvest infrastructure.
Integrated schemes on oilseeds, pulses, palm oil and corn (ISOPOM)
Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana
- E-Marketplace: The government has created the Electronic National Agriculture Market (eNAM) to connect all the controlled wholesale product markets through the All-India Trading Portal.
- Large scale irrigation and soil and water storage program to increase the total irrigated area of the country from 90 million hectares to 103 million hectares by 2017.
- The government has taken significant steps in the last two decades to combat under- and malnutrition.
- Introduction to lunch (mid-day meal) in schools. It is a centrally sponsored scheme covering all school children studying in I-VIII of government, government aided schools.
- Anganwadi system for giving rations to pregnant and lactating mothers,
- Subsidized foodgrains for people living below the poverty line through the public distribution system.
- The National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013 is legitimately responsible 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population being provided subsidized foodgrains under the targeted public distribution system.
- Under the Act, for the purpose of issuance of ration card, the eldest woman of the household aged 18 years and above is required to be the head of the household.
India ranks 97th out of 118 countries in the Global Hunger Index measured by child abuse, stunting and malnutrition. With food security almost achieving, it has become possible for India to eliminate major problems related to hunger and reduce the incidence of stunting but it is still a goal far from being fully achieved.
Nutritional security can produce young and healthy individuals who can sustain the nation with high literacy, good education and a large number of employed people. Post-harvest losses, inadequate storage facilities and poor supply chain issues are to be viewed by India in terms of governance.
Along with supply side factors, demand side factors such as changing consumption patterns and per capita consumption also need to be given equal attention.
The current need is zero hunger attained through not only food security but also nutritional security that can be achieved through sustainable agriculture Which creates a good atmosphere, economic profitability and Healthy farming practices that reduce pollution, makes greener and productive lands, provides food to all assisted by a good distribution channel which reduces hoarding practices, black marketing, rotting of food and making it available, inexpensive and accessible for everything of good quality that can be well absorbed by individuals.
Building a healthy population with access to basic education and finance and other human needs strengthens the nation economically, socially and culturally; in this way it contributes to the sustainable development of the nation with less inequality, zero hunger and more accessibility and availability of food for all and sundry.