Food security in India and its challenges- Explained, pointwise


With a reduction in COVID-19 infections as the second wave weakens in India, it is important to focus on the pandemic’s disruptive impact on the food security and livelihoods of the poor and marginalized.

There was a ‘dramatic worsening’ of world hunger in 2020, much of it likely related to the fallout of COVID-19. While the pandemic’s impact has yet to be fully mapped, a multi-agency report, ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World’, estimates that around a tenth of the global population – up to 81.1 crore persons – were undernourished last year.

The government’s measures to tackle food security during the COVID-19 pandemic were effective to some extent. But to achieve food security in the future, India needs to take certain proactive steps.

India’s food production capacity

India has made enormous progress in food production over the years, with an inspiring journey towards self-sufficiency in food production marked by the Green Revolution.

In 2020, India produced over 30 crore tonnes of cereals and had built up a food stock of 10 crore tonnes. The country has registered record harvests over the last few years. India exported a record 1.98 crore tonnes of rice and wheat in FY21.

Read more: Relation between Agri exports and water stress – Explained, Pointwise
Impact of the pandemic on Food Security

Recently, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has released the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021 report. The key findings are,

  • Dip in people’s affordability of healthy food: There is a significant dip in people’s affordability for healthy food due to a loss in income. The pandemic led to an additional 141 million people being unable to afford a healthy diet in the countries studied.
  • Loss of income & rise in food prices: The primary reason for a dip in affordability is the loss of income. But food price rise has made the situation more acute. By the end of 2020, global consumer food prices were the highest in six years. In the first four months of 2021, they continued to rise.
  • Healthy diet costs more: The cost of a healthy diet was 60% more than a diet that just meets “requirements for essential nutrients” and almost five times as much as a diet that just meets “the minimum dietary energy needs through a starchy staple”.
  • Undernourishment: The increase in the number of undernourished during the pandemic was more than five times greater than the highest increase in undernourishment in the last two decades.

Further, Oxfam International‘s “The Inequality Virus report also highlighted the increasing inequalities in India during the time of the Covid pandemic.

Government measures to improve food security during the pandemic
  • Vulnerable and marginalized families in India continued to be buffered against the food crisis by its robust Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS).
  • Key measures initiated by the Union government included allowing the States to lift their allocations for six months in one go. This was done in anticipation of a surge in demand for food grains. As data shows, there was an unprecedented spike in the uptake of subsidised and free foodgrains during the lockdown. The public distribution system became a lifeline for millions hit by the pandemic.
  • The Government of India also increased the entitlements given to National Food Safety Act (NFSA) beneficiaries in 2020. For instance,
    • Under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), 81.3 crore NFSA beneficiaries received an additional 5 kg of foodgrains per person per month and 1 kg of pulses per family per month, free of cost, for eight months from April to November 2020.
      • The scheme was reintroduced this year for the third phase implementation for two months till June and later extended till November under the fourth phase.
    • Under the Atmanirbhar Bharat package, 8 crore migrants were provided 5 kg of foodgrains per month, free of cost.
  • The government also allowed NGOs/civil society organisations to buy rice and wheat at subsidised prices directly from nearby Food Corporation of India (FCI) warehouses.
  • The introduction of the One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) scheme is an innovation that can be a game-changer, allowing beneficiaries to access their food entitlements from anywhere in the country.
Challenges to food security
  • The scale of India’s public food distribution systems is immense and has gone through constant navigation and improvement, which is commendable. But more needs to still be done to improve access and inclusion among the missing vulnerable population. Such as single women-led households, transgender persons, HIV-affected persons, displaced persons, refugees, and orphan children, etc.
  • Climate change will continue to affect agriculture and food security, and the impact on the poor and vulnerable can be devastating.
  • A third of all food produced is wasted. Lost or wasted energy used for food production accounts for about 10% of the world’s total energy consumption. Further, the annual greenhouse gas emissions associated with food losses and food waste reach around 3.5 gigatonnes of the CO2 equivalent.
  • The Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey 2016-18 revealed that over 40 million children are chronically malnourished, and more than half of Indian women aged 15-49 years are anaemic.
  • In India, more than 86% of farmers have less than two hectares of land contributing around 60% of the total food grain production and over half the country’s fruits and vegetables.
    • Intensified food production systems with excessive use of chemicals and unsustainable farming practices cause soil degradation, fast depletion of groundwater table and rapid loss of agro-biodiversity.
Suggestions to improve food security
  • Massive efforts are needed towards programs that focus on building resilient agriculture that is adaptive to changing weather.
  • India also needs an introduction of newer varieties of crops, efficient irrigation systems, and the promotion of crops as per the agro-climate zones.
  •  To reduce food waste and food loss there should be enhanced efforts to prevent losses. India should include Food wastage as a core component of its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Summit. This will place great accountability and motivate the country to take more concrete and innovative steps.
    • Currently, only 11 countries mention Food waste as part of their NDCs.
  • Fostering rural-urban economic linkages can be an important step towards ensuring food security. It can be done by steps such as,
    • Enhancing and diversifying rural employment opportunities
    • Enabling the poor to better manage risks through social protection

The outcomes of the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit, the Nutrition for Growth Summit, and the COP26 on climate change will also shape the actions of the second half of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition. India has a central role to play in this transformation and offering experiences and solutions to address the thought processes and models for a resilient, equitable, and food-secure world.

Source: The Hindu

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