Reimagining food systems with lessons from India

Synopsis: Given the worsening situation of global hunger, ensuring food security is the need of the hour.


The first United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) 2021 was held in September 2021. It was conceived in 2019 by UN Secretary-General António Guterres to find solutions to transform the way the world produces, consumes, and thinks about food and help address rising hunger.

The food system transformation is essential in achieving the Sustainable development agenda of 2030. This action agenda also covers 11 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) out of 17.

What is the need for this summit?

Global food systems – The networks that are needed to produce and transform food, and ensure it reaches consumers, or the paths that food travels from production to plate – are in a state of crisis. The flaws in food systems are affecting nearly 811 million people in the world, who go to bed hungry each night.

The COVID crisis further exposed the vulnerabilities of the global food systems. An alarming escalation in global hunger was reported in the world hunger in 2020, much of it likely related to the fallout of COVID-19.

How does the summit help?

The summit created a mechanism for serious debates involving UN member states, civil society, non-governmental organisations to evolve transformative ideas for reimagining food systems. The summit also provided a historic opportunity to empower all people to leverage the power of food systems to drive our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

How has India contributed to the summit?

India constituted an inter-departmental group with representatives from the Ministries of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Rural Development, and other agencies namely the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) , the World Food Programme (WFP), and the International fund for Agricultural Development(IFAD).

This group conducted national dialogues with various stakeholders of agri-food systems to explore national pathways towards creating sustainable and equitable food systems in India.

How is India helping the developing world?

India’s long journey from chronic food shortage to surplus food producer offers several interesting lessons for other developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. They can learn lessons from the steps taken by India in the area of land reforms, public investments, institutional infrastructure, new regulatory systems, and intervention in Agri markets and prices and Agri research and extension.

Further, the period between 1991 and 2015, saw the diversification of agriculture towards horticulture, dairy, animal husbandry and fishery sectors.

India’s greatest contribution to equity in food is its National Food Security Act,2013 that spearheads the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), the Mid-Day meals (MDM), and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) .

Food safety nets and inclusion are linked with public procurement and buffer stock policy. This was visible during the global food crises 2008-2012 and during the COVID-19 pandemic fallout. The vulnerable and marginalized families in India continued to be saved from the food crises by its robust TPDS and buffer stock of food grains.

What should be the way forward for ensuring equity and sustainability?

The world is on the cusp of a transformation to make the world free of hunger by 2030. This will require strong cooperation and partnership between governments, citizens, civil society organisations, and the private sector.

Source: This post is based on the article “Reimagining food systems with lessons from India” published in The Hindu on 4th October 2021.

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