(Gist of Kurukshetra) Food Security in India: Sustainability, Challenges and Opportunities

The Gist of Kurukshetra: Food Security in India: Sustainability, Challenges and Opportunities

India is a proud nation having attained food security for its 1.3 billion populations despite several food sand challenges. According to Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations, food security is a situation when all people at all times have sufficient food to meet their dietary and nutritional needs to lead a healthy and productive life. In this sense, food security necessary includes nutritional security. Soon after independence, especially in post-Green Revolution era, India strived for 'Food for AII' by developing technological interventions, supporting policies and strategies and a vast network of public distribution system. These initiatives enabled the country to increase the production of food grains by 5-fold, horticultural crops by 6-fold, fish by 12-fold, milk by 8-fold, and eggs by 27-fold since 1950-51. Such steep enhancements improved per capita availability of major food commodities and made a visible impact on national food and nutritional security. Food security also implies food affordability, that is, an individual's capacity to purchase proper, safe, healthy and nutritious food to meet one's dietary needs. Realising the wide-spread poverty as a major threat to food security, Government of India launched several social welfare schemes which ensure food to poor and 'poorest of poor' sections of the society.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research, through its vast network, provided leadership to ensure national food and nutritional security by promoting in disciplinary, system-based, knowledge intensive and problem-solving research. As a result, India could harvest more than 252 million tonnes of food grains in 2015-16 crop years despite deficient rainfall and its consequences (as per third advance estimate). The estimate includes rice production (103.36 million tonnes, wheat production (94.04 million tonnes) and production of coarse cereals (37.78 million tonnes). Output of pulses and oilseeds are estimated at 17.06 and 25.9 million tonnes respectively. The impressive production figures are mainly attributed to preparedness for facing drought-like conditions and other natural calamities.

Schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana, e-NAM, Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana and Kisan Credit Card Yojana are playing a very important role in technological and financial empowerment of small and marginal farmers who are major contributors to national food security. Of the total land holdings in the country, 85 per cent are in marginal and small farm categories of less than two hectares. The small farms though operating only on 44 per cent of land under cultivation, are the main providers of food and nutritional security to the nation.

Government of India launched a strategic mission in 2007 for augmenting and sustaining food grains production to maintain long term food security. Implemented as National Food Security Mission, it envisaged to increase the production of rice, wheat and pulses to the tune of 10 million tonnes, 08 million tonnes and 02 million tonnes respectively during the 11th Five Year Plan period (2007-2012). The mission was implemented in 371 districts of 17 states with an outlay of Rs. 4882.48 crore. Active involvement of all stakeholders with promotion and extension of improved technologies resulted in significant expansion of area and productivity.

Overall production of selected crops increased more than the targets. The success story prompted Government to continue the mission during 12th plan period (2012-2017) with revised target of raising the food grains production by 25 million tonnes. Coarse cereals, sugarcane, jute and cotton were included in the mission which now covers all districts of all the states. However, pulses are being given top priority and major allocations due to widening demand and supply gap. Large scale technology demonstrations at farmer's fields are being conducted across the country to promote improved production technologies and improved varieties.

Moving further, Government has notified the National Food Security Act, 2013 to provide food and nutritional security to its people as a legal right. However, the Act does not disturb the structure and provisions of the Antyoday Ann Yojana. The Act also has a special focus on the nutritional support to women and children. It provides meals to pregnant women, lactating mothers (upto six month of child birth) and children upto 14 years of age. Nutritional meals are provided to this target group as per the prescribed nutritional standards. So far, the Act has been implemented in 32 States and Union Territories, and out of these, Chandigarh and Puducherry are implementing the Act through cash transfer of food subsidy to the beneficiaries.

Taking an innovative step, Government of India launched an unique 'Mid Day Meal Scheme' in 1995 with a view to encourage enrollment and attendance in primary schools along with improvement in nutritional levels of the children. Initially, the scheme was implemented in 240 blocks of the country, but the overwhelming success and popularity of the scheme prompted Government to cover all blocks by the year 1997-98. Simultaneously, the coverage was also extended to upper-primary schools and the nutritional standards of the meals were also improvised. Now, the meals of students of upper-primary classes have been standardized as 25 to 30 grams pulses, 65 to 75 grams vegetables and a moderate quantity of oil (7.5 gram). The scheme is ensuring nutritional security of 11-12 crore school children along with educational benefits. Government of India is also operating an Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) since 1975 to provide a sound base for overall development of children which includes nutritional security.

Indian food and nutritional security is being challenged by many social, economic and environmental factors such as increase in the population, increasing urbanization and increasing demand of food due to rising income. In addition, dietary preferences such as high demand for livestock products and consumption of more processed foods are also creating pressure on the food supply system. The population of India is projected to be 1.65 billion by 2050 with an average income of Rs. 401839/cap, up from the level of Rs. 53331/cap in 2010-11, with 50 per cent people residing in the urban areas. Various studies indicate the demand for food grains will grow by about 50 per cent in 2050, if the growth rate in national GDP sustains at 7 per cent per annum. At the same time, the demand for fruits, vegetables and animal products will be more spectacular (100-300 per cent) due to higher incomes and increased availability of these commodities. It is projected that by 2050, the calorie consumption will reach 3000 keel/cap, with rise in the share of animal-based calories from the current level of 8 per cent to 16 per cent. To sustain food and nutritional security in this scenario, India will have to raise its food grain productivity from 25000/kcal/ha/day in 2005 to about 46000 kcal/ha/day by 2050. Considering many other factors, it is estimated that the country will require nearly 450 million tonnes of food grains by 2050 to sustain the food security.

Corresponding increases in pulses, edible oils, fruits, vegetables, milk, meat and eggs are also indicated. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research has formulated a strategic framework as 'Vision 2050' to promote excellence in agricultural research, education and extension for sustained food and nutritional security. The research initiatives will aim at: zero net land degradation, 20 per cent increase in total food supply-chain efficiency; reducing losses and wastages from field to fork; 20 per cent increase in water and nutrient efficiency in agriculture; more nutrition and crop per drop; and enhancing food safety.

Declining and degrading land resources also pose a serious threat to food security as the availability of per capita land is declining sharply due to increase in population (0.13 ha land/cap in 2010-11 to 0.09 ha/per cap). Further, in some cases, agriculturallan9 is being diverted to other uses such as infrastructure development, urbanization, and industrialization negatively affecting to agricultural production. Land is getting polluted with toxic waste waters and there is a large scale of degradation due to water and air erosions. Growing water scarcity and degradation in its quality are other factors which are creating numerous water management challenges in both reverse and ground water across the country. Biodiversity of plants and livestock, which is very crucial for sustaining long-term productivity, is under threat. The rate of extinction is alarming, as only four crops provide about 60 per cent of global food, causing declines in genetic diversity among cultivated species. Pandemic pest and diseases in animal population increase the production risks and present a major challenge for ensuring food security in the country.

The power and potential of science and innovation promises hopes for sustainable food and nutritional security through enhanced production and productivity of crops and livestock including fisheries. Genetic enhancement of plants/animals/fish is considered to be a major option to sustain the food security by increasing productivity. Biotechnological advances in agriculture may improve soil productivity and may provide a safety net to food production through employment of environment friendly tools for insect and pest management. Mechanization of agriculture and food production systems may enhance the overall productivity to save labour and cut down the production cost. Currently, India is lagging behind in food processing sector and consequently, high losses are being registered across supply chains. Therefore, to sustain food security a substantial increase in food processing sector is suggested by increasing investment, infrastructure and facilities. The issue of energy development and management in agriculture sector requires urgent attention as it is crucial to both food production and processing. A core program in the efforts to secure national food security is the promotion of gene revolution aiming at lowering the net production costs, raising the yields and net farm incomes, reducing the use of pesticides and herbicides, and thereby lowering the consumer prices. Agricultural research preparedness needs support of strategic framework and supporting policies for maintaining long-term food security, Government policies regarding agricultural pricing, agricultural marketing, land use and investment in subsidies in agriculture need to be reoriented and repositioned to meet the food demand in future. Policy institutions have initiated the proceedings in this direction by deliberating various critical issues among stakeholders. It is hoped that these endeavors

will take care of India's concern for national and household nutritional and food security, reducing poverty at a rapid rate, and achieving accelerated growth of agricultural sector, and in turn of the whole economy.

To further strengthen the efforts to address the food security of the people, the Government has enacted the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013. It marks a paradigm shift in approach to food security - from a welfare to rights based approach. The Act legally entitles upto 75 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of the urban population to receive subsidized food grain under Targeted Public Distribution System. About two-thirds of the population therefore, will be covered under the Act to receive highly subsidised food grain. There is a special focus in the Act on nutritional support to pregnant women and lactating mothers and children upto 14 years of age by entitling them to nutritious meals. Pregnant women will also be entitled to receive cash maternity benefit of Rs. 6, 000 in order to partly compensate her for the wage loss during the period of pregnancy and also to supplement nutrition.

NFSA provided for a period of one year after the commencement of the Act, i.e. up to 04.07.2014, for identification of eligible households for receiving subsidized foodgrains under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS). All 36 states/UTs implemented the act since November 2016. Aspects which need focused attention of State Governments and UT Administration relate to beneficiary identification in a fair and transparent manner so as to avoid errors on inclusion and exclusion, delivery of foodgrains up to door-steps of fair price shops computerization of TPDS operations, strengthening of the mechanism of Vigilance Committees at various levels and effective grievance redressal mechanism. Such reforms measures are crucial to ensure a leakage and diversion free PDS and also to ensure that no needy person is denied benefits.

During 1952-53, 102.09 million hectares were covered under food grain. The total food grain production achieved in 1952-53 was 59.2 million tonnes with a per hectare yield of 580 kilograms/hectare.

Between 1952-53 and 2014-15, only 20.6'1 million hectares were added to the existing area under food grain cultivation. However, due to the impact of Green Revolution and the use of modern agro services, the total production increased from 59.20 million tonnes in 1952-53 to 253.16 million tonnes in 2015-16 and yield increased from 580 kilograms/hectare to 2070 kilograms/hectare in the intervening period. Table 1 also indicates that since 2003- 04, the area under foodgrain has remained more or less stagnant with a relatively stagnated yield rate.

The average yields of major crops have shown impressive growth over the decades from 1970-71 to 1990-91 as shown in Table 2 but the percentage change in average yields has been fluctuating. From 2010-11, the percentage changes in average yields of rice, wheat and pulses are showing declining trends, which is a cause for concern. In the absence of a continuous follow upto the green revolution of 1960s and the dearth of a suitable technological breakthrough in Indian agriculture in the post-Green Revolution era, there has been a continuous decline in the total factor productivity of Indian agriculture. Annual rate of growth in GDP in agricultural and allied production reduced from 4.9 per cent in 2007-08 to -0.2 per cent in 2014-15 (RE).

The long established PDS has played a vital role in partially meeting the essential food and fuel needs of households in India. The operation of the PDS is supplementary in nature and does not meet the entire food requirements of any household. However, it does effectively protect the household by providing a basic entitlement at affordable prices and at convenient locations through its wide network of Fair Price Shops. The proportion of food grains accessed through the PDS in the total household consumption provides an indicator of the effectiveness of the PDS in ensuring food security in India.

NFSA mandates Central Government to procure from the Central Pool. State Governments are responsible for further distribution. Decentralized Procurement System (DCP) was introduced in 1997-98 in view of the practical difficulties faced by the Central Government/ FCI to procure on its own. Under DCP, States were invited to assist in the procurement and distribution of foodgrains under the TPDS. This experiment has been quite successful in Madhya Pradesh & Chhattisgarh as far as augmenting the level of procurement is concerned. NFSA seems to be suggesting a retrogressive step of going back to centralized procurement model which was found unsustainable in the first place.

Food subsidy bill represents the basic direct cost incurred by the central government on procurement, stocking and supplying to various food based safety nets such as PDS. During the last ten years, food subsidy has more than quadrupled from Rs. 23071 crore ino2005-06 to Rs crore 105509.41 in 2015-16 at current prices. As a percentage of agriculture GDP, it has increased from 4.5 per cent to 13.2 per cent during the same period. Increasing economic costs of handling foodgrains, record procurements in recent years and widening difference between the economic cost of foodgrains and the central issue price have been the major factors leading to the ballooning food subsidy.

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Courtesy: Kurukshetra