THE CONTEXT: The first United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) was held in September 2021 to find solutions and catalyze momentum to transform the way the world produces, consumes, and thinks about food and help address the rising hunger issues. The transformation of the food system is also considered essential in achieving the sustainable development agenda 2030 as 11 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) out of 17 are directly related to the food system. In this context, it is imperative to learn from the success of India. This article talks about the success of food security in India and how the developing world can learn from India.
WHAT IS A FOOD SYSTEM?
It is a framework that includes every aspect of feeding and nourishing people: from growing, harvesting, and processing to packaging, transporting, marketing, and consuming food. To be sustainable, a food system must provide enough nutritious food for all without compromising on feeding future generations.
WHAT IS FOOD SECURITY?
Food security, as defined by the United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security, means that all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life.
Food security is the combination of the following three elements:
FOOD AVAILABILITY: Food must be available in sufficient quantities and on a consistent basis. It considers stock and production in a given area and the capacity to bring in food from elsewhere, through trade or aid.
FOOD ACCESSIBILITY: People must be able to regularly acquire adequate quantities of food, through purchase, home production, barter, gifts, borrowing, or food aid.
FOOD UTILIZATION: Consumed food must have a positive nutritional impact on people. It entails cooking, storage and hygiene practices, individual health, water and sanitation, feeding and sharing practices within the household.
REASONS FOR FOOD INSECURITY
CLIMATE CHANGE: Higher temperatures and unreliable rainfall make farming difficult. Climate change not only impacts crops but also livestock, forestry, fisheries, and aquaculture, and can cause grave social and economic consequences in the form of reduced incomes, eroded livelihoods, trade disruption, and adverse health impacts.
CONFLICT: Food can be used as a weapon, with enemies cutting off food supplies in order to gain ground. Crops can also be destroyed during the conflict.
LACK OF ACCESS TO REMOTE AREAS: For the tribal communities, habitation in remote difficult terrains and the practice of subsistence farming have led to significant economic backwardness.
UNMONITORED NUTRITION PROGRAMMES:
- Although a number of programmes with improving nutrition as their main component are planned in the country these are not properly implemented.
- Lack of coherent food and nutrition policies along with the absence of intersectoral coordination between various ministries.Inadequate distribution of food through public distribution mechanisms (PDS i.e. Public Distribution System).
- An increase in rural-to-urban migration, a large proportion of informal workforce resulting in unplanned growth of slums which lack the basic health and hygiene facilities, insufficient housing, and increased food insecurity.
- Overpopulation, poverty, lack of education, and gender inequality.
- Deserving beneficiaries of the subsidy are excluded on the basis of non-ownership of below poverty line (BPL) status, as the criterion for identifying a household as BPL is arbitrary and varies from state to state.
CORRUPTION: Diverting the grains to the open market to get a better margin, selling poor quality grains at ration shops, and irregular opening of the shops add to the issue of food insecurity.
BIOFUELS: The growth of the biofuel market has reduced the land used for growing food crops.
CHALLENGES IN ACHIEVING FOOD SECURITY
CLIMATE CHANGE AND UNSUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE: Climate change and unsustainable use of land and water resources are the most formidable challenges food systems face today. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has set the alarm bells ringing, highlighting the urgency to act now. Dietary diversity, nutrition, and related health outcomes are another area of concern as a focus on rice and wheat have created nutritional challenges of their own.
PREVALENCE OF UNDERNOURISHMENT: It is ironic that despite being a net exporter and food surplus country at the aggregate level, India has a 50% higher prevalence of undernutrition compared to the world average. The high prevalence of undernutrition in the country does not seem to be due to food shortages or the low availability of food. The Government of India and the States are seriously concerned about this paradoxical situation of being a food surplus and at the same time, having 15% of the population undernourished. They are trying to address other possible reasons for low nutrition through several nutritional interventions. As announced recently, the supply of fortified rice in PDS and Poshan Abhiyan is the two steps among many to address the challenge of undernutrition and malnutrition.
REDUCING FOOD WASTAGE: Reducing food wastage or loss of food is a mammoth challenge and is linked to the efficiency of the food supply chain.
FOOD SECURITY IN INDIA
- Food security concerns can be traced back to the experience of the Bengal Famine in 1943 during British colonial rule, during which about 2 million to 3 million people perished due to starvation
- Since independence, an initial rush to industrialize while ignoring agriculture, two successive droughts in the mid-1960s, and dependence on food aid from the United States exposed India’s vulnerability to several shocks in the food security
- The country went through a Green Revolution in the late 1960s and early 1970s, enabling it to overcome productivity stagnation and significantly improve food grain production. Despite its success, the Green Revolution is often criticized for being focused on only two cereals, wheat and rice; being confined to a few resources abundant regions in the north-western and southern parts of the country that benefited mostly rich farmers; and putting too much stress on the ecology of these regions, especially soil and water.
POSITIVE IMPACTS OF THE GREEN REVOLUTION
TREMENDOUS INCREASE IN CROP PRODUCE: It resulted in a grain output of 131 million tonnes in the year 1978-79 and established India as one of the world’s biggest agricultural producers. The crop area under high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice grew considerably during the Green Revolution.
REDUCED IMPORT OF FOOD-GRAINS: India became self-sufficient in food grains and had sufficient stock in the central pool, even, at times; India was in a position to export food grains. The per capita net availability of food grains has also increased.
BENEFITS TO THE FARMERS: The introduction of the Green Revolution helped the farmers in raising their level of income. Farmers plowed back their surplus income for improving agricultural productivity. The big farmers with more than 10 hectares of land particularly benefited from this revolution by investing large amounts of money in various inputs like HYV seeds, fertilizers, machines, etc. It also promoted capitalist farming.
INDUSTRIAL GROWTH: The Revolution brought about large-scale farm mechanization which created a demand for different types of machines like tractors, harvesters, threshers, combines, diesel engines, electric motors, pumping sets, etc. Besides, demand for chemical fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides, weedicides, etc. also increased considerably. Several agricultural products were also used as raw materials in various industries known as agro-based industries.
RURAL EMPLOYMENT: There was an appreciable increase in the demand for the labour force due to multiple cropping and the use of fertilizers. The Green Revolution created plenty of jobs not only for agricultural workers but also for industrial workers by creating related facilities such as factories and hydroelectric power stations.
- The Green Revolution was followed by the White Revolution, which was initiated by Operation Flood during the 1970s and 1980s. This national initiative has revolutionized liquid milk production and marketing in India, making it the largest producer of milk.
- Over the years the country saw many revolutions such as Yellow Revolution for Oilseeds, Silver Revolution for Eggs, and Pink Revolution for Meat production, taking the country one step ahead in ensuring food security.
- In the recent past, the government has adopted an integrated policy framework to facilitate agriculture productivity which;
- Focuses mainly on rationale distribution of cultivable land, improving the size of the farms, and providing security to the tenant cultivators apart from providing the farmers with improved technology for cultivation and improved inputs like irrigation facilities, availability of better quality seeds, fertilizers, and credits at lower interest rates.
- Aeroponics and hydroponics systems allow plants to be grown without soil. Plants were grown in this way taking in water and nutrients efficiently. These methods are used in the areas of poor soil quality and areas prone to soil erosion.
- Adoption of crops and techniques with lower water requirements, such as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) method of rice production, contributes to resilience by enabling equal or better yields to be achieved with less water withdrawal.
- Crop diversification: Higher profitability and stability in production highlight the importance of crop diversification, e.g. legumes alternative to rice and wheat. The growing of non-cereal crops such as oilseeds, fruits, vegetables, etc needs to be encouraged.
- Strategies for better food storage are also implemented.
INDIA IS A ROLE MODEL FOR OTHER DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
LESSONS FROM INDIA’S TRYST WITH FOOD INSECURITY: The long journey from chronic food shortage to surplus food producer offers several interesting lessons for other developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America in the area of land reforms, public investments, institutional infrastructure, new regulatory systems, public support, and intervention in Agri markets and prices and Agri research and extension.
DIVERSIFICATION OF AGRICULTURE: The period between 1991 and 2015, saw the diversification of agriculture beyond field crops and brought greater focus on the horticulture, dairy, animal husbandry, and fishery sectors. The learnings also encompassed elements of nutritional health, food safety and standards, sustainability, deployment of space technology, and the like.
EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION OF FOOD: One of India’s greatest contributions to equity in food is its National Food Security Act 2013 which anchors the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), the Mid-Day meals (MDM), and the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). Today, India’s food safety nets collectively reach over a billion people.
FOOD DISTRIBUTION: 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 more recently during the COVID-19 pandemic fallout, whereby vulnerable and marginalised families in India continued to be buffered against the food crisis by its robust TPDS and buffer stock of food grains.
National Food Security Mission
- Increasing production of rice, wheat, pulses, coarse cereals (Maize and Barley), and Nutri-Cereals through area expansion and productivity enhancement in a sustainable manner in the identified districts of the country;
- Restoring soil fertility and productivity at the individual farm level;
- Enhancing farm-level economy (i.e. farm profits) to restore confidence amongst the farmers.
Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY)
- Introduced with an aim to provide support to the agricultural sector in achieving 4% annual agriculture growth. RKVY scheme was launched in the year 2007 and was later rebranded as Remunerative Approaches for Agriculture and Allied sector Rejuvenation (RAFTAAR).
Integrated Schemes on Oilseeds, Pulses, Palm oil, and Maize (ISOPOM)
- During the Tenth and Eleventh Plan, Government of India provided support for oil palm cultivation under the Centrally Sponsored Integrated Scheme of Oilseeds, Pulses, Oil Palm, and Maize.
eNAM: To promote uniformity in agriculture marketing by streamlining procedures across the integrated markets, removing information asymmetry between buyers and sellers, and promoting real-time price discovery based on actual demand and supply.
- The government has also taken significant steps to combat under- and malnutrition over the past two decades, through mid-day meals at schools.
- Anganwadi systems provide rations to pregnant and lactating mothers.
- Subsidised grain for those living below the poverty line through a public distribution system.
- Food fortification etc.
- AGRI REVOLUTIONS SUCH AS THE GREEN AND YELLOW REVOLUTION.
- BUILDING CAPACITY FOR STOCK THAT MIGHT BE UTILISED AT TIMES OF CRISIS.
- PUBLIC DISTRIBUTION SYSTEMS AND RATION SHOPS
- TARGETED PDS AND MID DAY MEALS
- THE NATIONAL MATERNITY BENEFIT SCHEME
- THE NATIONAL FAMILY BENEFIT SCHEME
- PROVIDING SUBSIDIES ON FOOD GRAINS AND GAS CYLINDERS FOR MARGINALISED SECTIONS OF SOCIETY.
- MORE PRODUCTION AND AVAILABILITY OF FOOD GRAINS WILL ALSO RESULT IN EASY AFFORDABILITY.
THE WAY FORWARD
- Sustainable Approaches: We must collaborate to invest, innovate, and create lasting solutions in sustainable agriculture contributing to equitable livelihood, food security, and nutrition which requires reimagining the food system towards the goal of balancing growth and sustainability, mitigating climate change, ensuring healthy, safe, quality, and affordable food, maintaining biodiversity, improving resilience, and offering an attractive income and work environment to smallholders and youth.
- Crop Diversification: Diversification of cropping patterns towards millets, pulses, oilseeds, and horticulture is needed for more equal distribution of water, and sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture.
- Institutional Changes in Agri-Sector: Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) should help get better prices for inputs and outputs for smallholders. E-Choupal is an example of technology benefiting small farmers.
- Women’s empowerment is important, particularly for raising incomes and nutrition. Women’s cooperatives and groups like Kudumbashree in Kerala would be helpful.
- Sustainable Food Systems: Estimates show that the food sector emits around 30% of the world’s greenhouse gases. Sustainability has to be achieved in production, value chains, and consumption.
- Non-Agriculture Sector: The role of non-agriculture is equally important for sustainable food systems. Labour-intensive manufacturing and services can reduce pressure on agriculture as income from agriculture are not sufficient for smallholders and informal workers. Strengthening Rural Micro, Small, and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) and food processing is part of the solution.
THE CONCLUSION: Food security of a nation is ensured if all of its citizens have enough nutritious food available, all persons have the capacity to buy food of acceptable quality and there is no barrier to access to food. The right to food is a well-established principle of international human rights law. It has evolved to include an obligation for state parties to respect, protect, and fulfill their citizens’ right to food security. Developing Nations need to adopt a policy that brings together diverse issues such as inequality, food diversity, indigenous rights, and environmental justice to ensure sustainable food security.
Over the coming decades, a changing climate, growing global population, rising food prices, and environmental stressors will have significant yet uncertain impacts on food security. Adaptation strategies and policy responses to global change, including options for handling water allocation, land use patterns, food trade, post-harvest food processing, and food prices and safety are urgently needed. Food security includes analysis of cash transfers, promotion of sustainable agricultural technologies, building resilience to shocks, and managing trade-offs in food security, such as balancing the nutritional benefits of meat against the ecological costs of its production.
“Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos.”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres in 2020
MAINS PRACTICE QUESTIONS:
- “Since independence India has traveled a long road to food security, still much needs to be done to ascertain nutritional security.” Elaborate.
- “With an alarming escalation in global hunger unfolding, reaching the goal of an equitable livelihood is a necessity.” Elaborate.
- “Food is peace”, highlighted the importance of addressing hunger to prevent conflicts and create stability.
- “Given the rapidly growing population, resource constraints, and climate change concerns, it is imperative for developing countries to learn from India to make food security a core policy priority.” Elaborate