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Food sovereignty in India has been a topic of concern since the independence period. India is rich in natural resources (land, water, forest, and biodiversity) and is among the top countries in the world in the production of major food commodities e.g. foodgrains, fruits and vegetables, milk, eggs, and fish.
But the country is yet to harness these resources rationally for ensuring the food and nutrition security of its large population, many of them being undernourished and live below poverty line (nearly one- fourth population).
The subject of food for people is of the utmost importance ever since the beginning of humanity. That was the period when an abundance of food with easy access had existed and food security was not an issue. Search for food was the only work at hand for the individuals and the groups of people who used to move as per the availability of food resources that nature has created. As the population increased and naturally produced food resources receded, people out of settling and growing or multiplying food around their settlements. That was the beginning of a household or family system. The communities thus settled, felt the need to become “food secured”.
Demand for food increased with increasing population in spiral mode. Environmental makeup with a package of production technology at a time decides the production capacity of a place or a region and the situation along with the demand for food created by the population combined with access to food determines the level of food security. The world has repeatedly defied the Malthusian theory of population growth and its survival.
The British political scientist Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) in an essay on the principle of the population had propounded in 1978 that population will grow till it surpasses food production, growth resulting infamous, wars and epidemics as a balancing act. In the present world scenario when food shortages are looming large and food riots are reported across the continents the Malthusian theory seems to be gaining some ground.
Food Security in India: An Overview
In 1965, the government supported by Indian geneticists M.S. Swaminathan, known as the father of the Green Revolution started Green Revolution in India focussed on the adoption of modern methods and technology such as the use of high yielding variety (HYV) seeds, irrigation facilities, tractors, pesticides, and fertilizers which resulted into increase in food production.
India during the latter half of the last century (beginning 1967-68) steadily and successfully overcame its macro food security problems at a national level, but before the country could focus its resources to ensure food and nutrition security at household and individual level or micro level the food grains production growth rate stumbled and stagnated during the latter half of the last decade of 20th century and beginning of food first decade of 21st century.
The food grains stocks in the countries been fell around the critical level and food prices shot up beyond the reach of poor sections of the population. The issue of food security has been identified as a major objective to be pursued by the Rome declaration on world food Security and the World Food Summit plan of action convened by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 1996.
The summit emphasized, “the food security exists when all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet the daily needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.
In the case of Kapila Hingorani vs. the State Of Bihar, the Supreme court of India held that-The the Right to Food is about respecting, protecting and fulfilling access to food-producing resources and work.
The insecurity of food can be categorized into
- Chronic food insecurity
- Nutritional food insecurity
- Insecurity caused by lack of food absorption
- Transitory food insecurity.
The chronic food insecurity may be caused by the weakness on demand-side e.g. inadequate purchasing power of the households, high prices of food items and inefficiency and lack of reach of food safety net programs or community support programs. Quite often, the patriarchal society is to be blamed for the neglect of women and girl children in families when it comes to food preference.
Food Production and Productivity
The country’s foodgrain production touched a high record of 281.37 million tonnes in 2018-19. The contribution of livestock to the food basket of India through milk, eggs, and meat is substantial. These food commodities are also a source of much-needed protein to the Indian population. The protein availability in the Indian diet is only 10g/capita/day against the world average of 25g/capita/day.
Even to reach near the world level the protein supply in the Indian diet needs to be increased to at least two more than twofold beginning with nursing mothers and children. Annual milk production in India reached 811.9(Estimated) million tonnes in 2017 and the country has a distinction in being the largest milk producer in the world.
Revolution in milk production across the country is not only contributing towards much-needed food and nutrition security but has provided livelihood to 70 million small and marginal farmers as well as landless labourers. The organized network of cooperative society has substantially reduced the poverty in rural households by providing them with dependable all-season employment. This has emerged as a leading agribusiness in the country.
The country also produced 88 billion eggs during 2016-17. As per APEDA, 2015, total meat production is estimated at 6.3 million tons in India, and India ranks 5th in the world in meat production. Improvement in the production capacity of non-grain food items of the plant as well as animal origin are not only contributing to strengthening food security, but their major contribution is in improving the quality and to be more so in improving its values as a nutritious food.
Having the advantage of the varied climate, India is growing a range of fruits crops. India is the second-largest producer of fruits and vegetables with 10% of the world’s fruit production.
Recent developments in R&D of horticultural crops in India, though have started impacting the fruits and vegetable scenario in the country but a lot more is required to be achieved in view of surging domestic demand not only for the middle-income group and rich in the country but more importantly for the children, women, and men with limited resources who need to improve the nutritious food status.
Despite the production boom and their substantial contribution to the country’s food and nutritional security, horticultural crops have yet to be included in the groups of food commodities that are officially distributed through the public distribution system (PDS).
Horticulture and livestock sectors of food commodities have begun to surface fast as the income level of India’s rising and the dietary preferences are shifting from cereal dominated food to nutrition-rich food. But all these developments shall remain less than halfway unless the benefit of these new changes percolates down the masses below the poverty line and to the end to their food security and nutritional requirement. For bringing this change horticultural and livestock food items should be an integral part of the Public Distribution kit such as that the entire package reaches the Below poverty line(BPL) households who lack in purchasing capacity to buy these expensive foods.
Food and Nutrition Security
The 1994 UNDP Human Development Report promoted the construct of human security, including a number of component aspects, of which food security was only one. The 1996 World Food Summit adopted a still more complex definition:
“Food security, at the individual, household, national, regional and global levels [is achieved] when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.
According to this definition, food security has three primary dimensions: food availability food access, and food absorption. But adequate food production alone is not a sufficient condition for the food security of a country. India has experienced steady economic growth and in recent years managed to achieve self-sufficiency in grain production. Between 2006 and 2016, stunting in children below five years declined from 48% to 38%. Despite this, there are continuing high levels of poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition.
Over the past two decades, the government has also taken significant steps to combat under-nutrition and malnutrition, such as implementing midday meals at schools, Anganwadi schemes to provide rations for pregnant and lactating mothers, and subsidizing food for those living below the poverty line through a public distribution system. The 2013 National Food Security Act (NFSA) seeks to ensure food and nutrition security for the most vulnerable by making access to food a legal right through its related schemes and programs.
This development will improve the nutrition level of nursing mothers and the growing child and along with the public in general. Fisheries contributed to the extent of 12.6 million metric tonnes during 2017-18 to the total food bulk of the country. Besides their contribution as an additional food resource fisheries major contribution is in enhancing the quality and nutrition value.
The availability of food, however, is not a function of food production alone. Population growth has affected food availability adversely. This factor has caused a decline in the per capita availability of food grains continuously. Procurement of food grains and buffer stock building are important means of food availability in the country on which the distribution of foodgrain depends.
Challenges in securing Food and Nutrition security
The availability of food is a fundamental right of all human beings irrespective of their income level. Despite this, several BPL households in India are unable to buy their full requirement of food. People belonging to the lowest 10 percent strata in Indian society are consuming much fewer calories below the recommended level per consumer unit per day compared to all classes of people combine in rural as well as urban areas in various states and union territories of India. This gap obviously will become wider when the people of lowest-income Strata are compared with the highest income group.
Food Security Net like Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) should, therefore, includes the distribution of high-value foods like milk, other livestock products, fruits and vegetables such that a balanced and nutritious diet reaches the rural and urban population below the poverty line at a subsidized rate to minimize the causes of malnutrition and hunger among poor households that do not have adequate purchasing power.
According to FAO estimates in ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2019′ report,194.4 million people are undernourished in India.
By this measure, 14.5% of the population is undernourished in India. This is a matter of great concern and needs attention at the highest level in the government. The problem is getting serious persons with the passage of time, particularly among children and women. Published in ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2019’ report,20.8% of children under 5 are underweight 37.9% of children under 5 years of age are stunted51.4% women in the reproductive age (15-49 years) are anemic.
Another challenge is associated with the Indian monsoon. Production of food is one of the leading concerns associated with climate change. Climate change is having a dynamic impact on food security. It affects crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, and can have significant social and economic implications in the form of reduced wages, diminished livelihoods, disruption of trade and adverse health effects. Due to the dependence of Indian agriculture on monsoon and increasing population pressure, food security in India continues to be highly sensitive. Increasing incidences of floods, droughts due to erratic weather adversely impact the yields of major crops.
There are many wide-ranging consequences of the lack of agricultural research facilities, such as poor implementation of long-term goals, misallocation and resource mismanagement with many economic and environmental externalities. Government subsidies in agriculture in India is primarily dedicated to maintaining low fertilizer and pesticide costs, and cheaper energy and water supplies.
This generally results in overuse and inefficient management of these tools, while generating other adverse environmental effects such as pesticide and fertilizer runoff water pollution. The power and irrigation water supply network in India is also very inefficient, exacerbating the seasonal drought problem and depleting aquifers.
Issues, Policies, and Government Initiatives
The policy framework of a country needs to be dynamic in character so as to respond to the needs and priorities in an appropriate manner. The Indian model of a planned economy has enough scope for required changes and adjustments. The present food and nutrition situation in India warrants a directional change in the strategic food-related policies and action thereon. The opening of the economy and integration of the Global market necessitated a review of the country’s production, market, distribution, commerce, resource management, and environment up-keep policies.
These policies need to be viewed in light of the volatility of the market and domestic socio-political and economic environment. Such a consideration is more necessary for agriculture when the universal issue of utmost importance like food and nutrition security is involved.
Food self-sufficiency, maintaining a reasonable level of food prices in a way that farmers and consumers’ interests don’t clash, raising agricultural export, utilization of science-based techniques and increasing investment for updating production potential in a cost-effective and sustainable model, should be an over-riding concern of a pro-food security policy. Investment in agriculture and appropriate Minimum support price for food grains could be another pro-farmers step to raise today’s food production.
Micronutrient deficiencies are one of the major factors that contribute to malnutrition and poor health, especially among children and women. Pregnant women and lactating mothers are the worst sufferers. The entire below poverty line (BPL) population has hardly any access to a balanced and nutritious diet. This situation is getting worse with the rising prices in the country.
The low-income households are worst hit by the exceptionally high food prices and global economic meltdown. The nutritional deficiencies of vitamin A, Iodine, Folic acid, vitamin B, Vitamin C, vitamin D, and calcium also contribute to malnutrition. This nutrition which required in small quantities in micro or Milligrams but their deficiency in the human body causes serious damage which may even be irreversible and a cause for the disease. Hence adequate nutritional care of pregnant women and lactating mothers is recommended.
The implementation of schemes like Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY), Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY), Soil Health Card, Neem Coated Urea, Rain-fed Area Development under National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA), Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY), National Agriculture Market scheme (e-NAM), National Food Security Mission (NFSM), National Mission on Oilseeds & Oilpalm (NMOOP), Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture (MIDH), Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY), National Mission on Agriculture Extension & Technology (NMAET), facilitation of information through Focused Publicity Campaigns, Kisan Call Centres (KCCs), Agri-Clinics and Agri-Business Centres (ACABC) of entrepreneurs, Agri Fairs and exhibitions, Kisan SMS Portal, etc, doesn’t only helped farmers but also boosted food production in the country.
Setting up of National Nutrition Mission (NNM) with a three year budget of Rs.9046.17 crore commencing from 2017-18 is one of the major initiatives of Govt.of India in the last few years. POSHAN Abhiyaan (National Nutrition Mission) is a flagship program of the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD), Government of India. More than 10 crore people will be benefitted by this program which aims to reduce the level of stunting, under-nutrition, anemia, and low birth weight babies.
Integrated child development services (ICDS)scheme is another important nutritional support program in the world. It caters to the poor sections of the Indian society by supplementary nutrition with primary health care and pre-school education to children. The target group of ICDS includes children in the age groups for up to 6 years, pregnant and nursing women from the poorer sections of the population in rural areas.
Midday Meal is an initiative of the Ministry of Human Resource Development launched on 15th August 1995 to benefit students in the primary School Students in class 1 to 5 in the government primary school as well local bodies are covered in this scheme. Foodgrains are supplied free of cost @ 100 gram per child per School day to serve a cooked meal with a minimum content of 300 calories and 8-12 grams of protein each day of school for a minimum of 200 days in a year.
Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) is one of the oldest and largest food safety nets operating in India as a social welfare and poverty alleviation program by the Government of India, particularly for price stabilization of food grains in the domestic market. Under TPDS subsidies on food are provided to the poor to enhance their accessibility to food.
Satisfying the hunger of each individual through a nutritious balanced diet all the year around meets the challenge of food security. An important shift in policies pertains to thoughtful privatization in various aspects of production, consumption, investment, and technology including its dissemination. The role of the state in this process of changing socio-economic scenarios based on the nation-wide debate has to be ascertained. Renewed efforts in the public and private sectors have to be revamped.
Food security depends on seed security, as well as ensuring the timely availability of quality seed in the correct quantity at the right time at the right price to farmers. The Indian state program is quite comprehensive as it comprises of Central and state governments, and the private sector. A public sector that deals mainly with foodgrains crop seeds, supplies about 80% of the country’s seed requirement, whereas the Private sector plays an important role in the production and distribution of hybrid seeds. The government and private enterprises should ensure better access to the best of seeds and farming practices to Indian farmers.
Self-sufficiency in food grains is the most important issue for India, with its large population and declining Total factor productivity.
There are several deficiencies in the production system like an irrational use of natural resources, improper application of farm technology, weak links in the input supply chain, information and knowledge in capacity with the farmers, investment apathy in the agriculture sector, inadequate infrastructure in rural India, price volatility in agricultural commodities, collapse of extension services and lack of appropriate technology for small and marginal farm holdings, which accumulatively end in food and nutrition insecurity and hunger in rural areas and urban slums.
These problems need to be sorted out along with the integration of practices like multiple cropping, intercropping and integrated farming systems for ensuring sustainable food and nutrition security.
By: Nisheeth Chandrachoor,
Law Centre-I, University of Delhi
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