Food Security in India
- 12 Sep 2022
- 14 min read
This editorial is based on “The wheat of the matter: Disruption of supply chains due to Ukraine war has implications for India’s food security” which was published in The Indian Express on 08/09/2022. It talks about Food Security in India and related challenges.
India has experienced remarkable economic growth in recent years and remains one of the fastest growing economies in the world. However, poverty and food insecurity in India are still areas of concern in spite of many strides. Food is considered as a basic amenity essential for the sustenance, development and growth of an individual.
Although the Government of India has been actively addressing food security at households for a long time through the Public Distribution System and the National Food Security Act (NFSA) 2013, there are still concerns related to Food Security in India amidst increasing population, climate change and global supply chain disruption (Russia-Ukraine War) that need to be addressed.
What is Food Security?
- The concept of Food Security is multifaceted. Food is as essential for living as air is for breathing. But food security means something more than getting two square meals. It has following dimensions:
- Availability: It means food production within the country, food imports and the stock stored in government granaries.
- Accessibility: It means food is within reach of every person without any discrimination.
- Affordability: It implies that having enough money to buy sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet one's dietary needs.
- Thus, Food security is ensured in a country only when sufficient food is available for everyone, if everyone has the means to purchase food of acceptable quality, and if there are no barriers to access.
What is the Current Framework for Food Security in India?
- Constitutional Provision: Though the Indian Constitution does not have any explicit provision regarding right to food, the fundamental right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution can be interpreted to include the right to live with human dignity, which may include the right to food and other basic necessities.
- Buffer Stock: Food Corporation of India (FCI) has the prime responsibility of procuring the food grains at minimum support price (MSP) and stored in its warehouses at different locations and from there it is supplied to the state governments in terms of requirement.
- Public Distribution System: Over the years, Public Distribution System has become an important part of Government’s policy for management of the food economy in the country. PDS is supplemental in nature and is not intended to make available the entire requirement of any of the commodity.
- Under the PDS, presently the commodities namely wheat, rice, sugar and kerosene are being allocated to the States/UTs for distribution.
- Some States/UTs also distribute additional items of mass consumption through the PDS outlets such as pulses, edible oils, iodized salt, spices, etc.
- National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA): It marks a paradigm shift in the approach to food security from welfare to rights based approach.
- NFSA covers 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population under:
- The eldest woman of the household of age 18 years or above is mandated to be the head of the household for the purpose of issuing ration cards.
- In addition, the act lays down special provisions for children between the ages of 6 months and 14 years old, which allows them to receive a nutritious meal for free through a widespread network of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) centres, known as Anganwadi Centres.
What are the Challenges Related to Food Security in India?
- Deteriorating Soil Health: A key element of food production is healthy soil because nearly 95% of global food production depends on soil.
- Soil degradation due to excessive or inappropriate use of agrochemicals, deforestation and natural calamities is a significant challenge to sustainable food production. About one-third of the earth’s soil is already degraded.
- Invasive Weed Threats: In the past 15 years, India has faced more than 10 major invasive pest and weed attacks.
- Lack of Efficient Management Framework: India lacks strict management framwork for food security. Public Distribution System faces challenges like leakages and diversion of food-grains, inclusion/exclusion errors, fake and bogus ration cards, and weak grievance redressal and social audit mechanism.
- Faults in Procurement: Farmers have diverted land from producing coarse grains to the production of rice and wheat due to a minimum support price.
- Further, there is a tremendous wastage of around Rs.50,000 crore annually by both improper accounting and inadequate storage facilities
- Climate Change: The monsoon accounts for around 70% of India's annual rainfall and irrigates 60% of its net sown area. Changing precipitation patterns and growing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, floods are already reducing agricultural productivity in India, posing a serious threat to food security.
- To increase domestic availability amid low Kharif Crop productivity this year (2022), the Government of India has banned the export of broken rice.
- Supply Chain Disruption Due to Unstable Global Order: At a time when the Covid-19 Pandemic had already impacted food supply around the world in 2020, Russia-Ukraine War in 2022 has disrupted the global supply chain and resulted in food scarcity and food inflation.
- Russia and Ukraine represent 27% of the world market for wheat, 26 countries, mainly in Africa, West Asia and Asia, depend on Russia and Ukraine for more than 50% of their wheat imports.
What Should be the Way Forward?
- Moving Towards Sustainable Farming : For ensuring Food Security in India , improvement in productivity through greater use of biotechnology, intensifying watershed management, use of nano-urea and access to micro-irrigation facilities and bridging crop yield gaps across States through collective approach should be at priority.
- There is also a need to look forward towards establishing Special Agriculture Zones through ICT based crop monitoring.
- Towards Precision Agriculture: There is need to increase the use information technology (IT) in agriculture to ensure that crops and soil receive exactly what they need for optimum health and productivity.
- By adopting precision agriculture with high-tech farming practices, farmers' incomes will increase, input cost of production will be reduced, and many other issues of scale will be addressed.
- Revitalising Aadhaar Seeding of Ration Cards: To speed up the process of Aadhaar linking to ration cards, ground monitoring measures must be taken that will ensure no valid beneficiary is left out of their share of food grains that can give thrust to the aim of zero hunger (Sustainable Development Goal- 2).
- Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) Through JAM: There is a need to streamline food and fertiliser subsidies into direct benefit transfers to accounts of identified beneficiaries through the JAM trinity platform (Jan Dhan, Aadhaar, and Mobile) that will reduce huge physical movement of foodgrains, provide greater autonomy to beneficiaries to choose their consumption basket and promote financial inclusion.
- Ensuring Transparency in Food Stock Holdings : Using IT to improve communication channels with farmers can help them to get a better deal for their produce while improving storage houses with the latest technology is equally important to deal with natural disasters.
- Further, foodgrain banks can be deployed at block/village level, from which people may get subsidised food grains against food coupons ( that can be provided to Aadhar linked beneficiaries).
- Addressing Issues With an Umbrella Approach: By looking at diverse issues from a common lens, such as inequality, food diversity, indigenous rights, and environmental justice, India can look forward to a sustainable green economy.
Drishti Mains Question
Despite various measures to address Food Security in India, major challenges remain. Critically analyse.