India’s godowns are overflowing. So why are people starving?

Source: Indian Express, Down to Earth

Relevance: Understand the challenges of food security in times of COVID


Undernourishment has been a global challenge over the last few decades. This has been further highlighted by the state of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report released by the UN.

Findings of the SOFI report
  • The prevalence of moderate to severe food insecurity in India rose by about 6.8 percentage points in 2018-20.
  • In 2020, over 237 crore people were grappling with food insecurity globally, an increase of about 32 crores from 2019.
  • In India, this happened despite the government having an unprecedented 100 million tonnes of food grains in its godown — larger than the food stocks of any country.
Indicators of food security

The SOFI report is based on two globally accepted indicators of food insecurity:

  • The Prevalence of Undernourishment (PoU), which estimates the proportion of people suffering from a chronic deficiency of calories
  • Prevalence of Moderate and Severe Food Insecurity (PMSFI).

PoU estimates

  • Since consumption surveys are not available every year, POU captures changes in per capita food supply and is not sensitive to capture disruptions in the food supply.
  • Hence, the increase in the prevalence of hunger captured by PoU — from 14 percent in 2019 to 15.3 percent in 2020 for India — is likely to be an underestimate

PMSFI estimates

  • They are based on data collected through surveys that capture people’s experiences of food insecurity.
  • PMSFI estimates show that there was about 43 crore of moderate to severe food-insecure people in India in 2019.
  • Gallup (commissioned by FAO) collect data on the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES).
  • Since GOI has not conducted the survey since the outbreak of the pandemic and has not accepted Gallup results, there are no India data in the report.
Causes of food insecurity in India
  • Despite food availability, there is hunger because of widespread economic distress, high unemployment and high levels of inequality.
  • A large proportion of the poor is dependent on the informal economy, where income is low and uncertain.
  • High food prices and high inflation have further added to food insecurity.

Food insecurity and Women in India:

  • Indigenous women, who play a crucial role in eradicating hunger, suffer due to a lack of recognition of their rights and discrimination in the household.
  • Women farmers are disproportionately more impacted by climate change, as stated by the IPCC report.
  • Covid-19 has aggravated the crisis further due to increased poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition.
  • So, gender equity is badly needed to achieve food security as highlighted by the UN in Food Systems Summit in September 2021.
    • Dimitra Clubs in the rural regions of sub-Saharan Africa have been driving women’s leadership for over a decade. This can be implemented in India.

Way Forward

  • Government should establish systems for regular monitoring of food security.
  • Universalization of public distribution system.
  • Fight malnutrition by challenging dietary taboos, mobilise resources to meet environmental challenges.
  • Adopt policies that eliminate barriers to access to fundamental services, ensuring food security. For example, the right to food, shelter and health, etc.

Terms to Know:

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