“There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread” —Mahatma Gandhi In India, more than 60% of the population depends upon agriculture in one form or the other for making a living. The present Indian population is about 1280 million which is expected to stabilize at about 1600 million by the middle of present century. This trend of population growth has created alarming situation as far as the availability of food is concerned as the scope of increasing area under cultivation is very limited. That means India’s farmers will somehow have to squeeze vastly more productivity out of existing farmland and reduce their environmental footprint. Despite the good economic performance of India on various economic indicators since 1990, still there are around 200 million people who are food insecure. India is home to the largest number of hungry people in the world. In the ranking of the Global Hunger Index 2014 it covers position 55 out of 76 ranked countries and has a serious food security situation. The major problem in the country is the high prevalence of underweight children under five, which is a result of availability of low nutritional food and educational status of women. It is estimated that one in four of the world's malnourished children is in India, more even than in sub-Saharan Africa.Factors causing Food Insecurity in India Till late 1960s India needed international food aid to feed its hungry people. Just after independence between 1947 and 1967, efforts at achieving food self-sufficiency were not entirely successful in India. Efforts until 1967 largely concentrated on expanding the farming areas. But the population was growing at a much faster rate than food production. This called for drastic action to increase yield. The action came in the form of the Green Revolution that began in India in the 1960s, through the introduction of high-yield crop varieties and application of modern agricultural techniques, and led to an increase in food production in India. India saw annual wheat production rise from 10320 MT in the 1960s to 95910 MT in 2014. Despite the much progress in the agricultural production in India, there are several reasons due to which considerable amounts of its people are struggling for two meals a day. I am trying here to highlight a few reasons that are causing food insecurity in India which are not always linked to the food production.
- Drought and other extreme weather events - Water insecurity and climate change, is arguably the most impactful factor on India’s food security. At the present rate, India’s total water availability per capita is expected to decline by 2030 to the extent that it would be declared water scarce by the World Bank. Increasing temperatures have also hastened the rate of melt of the Himalayan glaciers, upon which major Indian perennial rivers depend and are the main source of irrigation in northern plains. The effect of climate change on monsoons in India will cause them to become more erratic, arriving earlier or later and lasting for shorter, more intense periods of time. India’s farming communities depend mainly on the monsoon rain, as their cropping patterns are built around it. The combined effect of climate change and over exploitation is violating the water cycle, degrading aquifers and eroding ground water resources.
- Poor Post-harvest infrastructure and high Food Wastage - The lack of proper infrastructure in post-harvest management is responsible for the wastage of food, estimated to be about 40 per cent of the total production. Wastage is more in case of perishable items such as vegetables, fruits and fisheries. We don't have well-developed cold chain systems and refrigerated vans with different chambers and temperatures. Food worth $8.3 billion, or nearly 40% of the total value of annual production, is wasted. India is world’s largest milk producer and grows the second largest quantity of fruits and vegetables, but it is also the world’s biggest waster of food. As a result, fruit and vegetable prices are twice what they would be otherwise, and milk costs 50% more than it should. A focus on post-harvest management could save the country 25 million tonnes of food-grain from spoilage yearly, about a tenth of the yearly output.
- Rapid population growth – India’s total population will reach 1.45 billion by 2028, similar to China’s, and 1.7 billion by 2050. Given that India is already struggling to feed its population, its current food crisis could worsen significantly in the coming decades despite the growth in food-grain production
- Faulty food distribution system - Inadequate distribution of food through public distribution mechanisms is also a reason for growing food insecurity in the country. The often inaccurate classification as above poverty line and below poverty line categories had resulted in a big decline in the off take of food grains. Besides this, low quality of grains and the poor service at PDS shops has further added to the problem.
- Unmonitored nutritional programs - Although a number of programs with improving nutrition as their main component are planned in the country but these are not properly implemented. For instance, a number of states have yet to introduce the mid-day Meal Scheme. In states such as Bihar and Orissa where the poverty ratio is very high, implementation of nutritional programs has a significant impact on food security.
- Implementing measures to improve agricultural productivity and food storage - The government policy needs to adopt an integrated policy framework to facilitate the increased use of irrigation and newer farming techniques. The measures should focus 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. The government should also look for investment in food storage and transportation and create refrigeration chains to avoid spoilage.
- Increase investment in agriculture and monitor-able performance indicator - After Green revolution India investment in agriculture has stagnated to just below half percent of its agricultural output. The government should call for more investment in agriculture and opt for public private partnerships wherever required as PPP has brought huge dividends to India in various other sectors. This also calls for strict monitoring and accountability of various investment programs of the government.
- Effective food management system and procurement policy (PDS) - This has been the most talked about subject as farmers are unable to market their produce on the one hand and on the other rotten food-grain in government go-downs. A user friendly and equitable reformed PDS is needed which would ensure that the food reaches to the needy people at the right time and at an affordable price.