Food Security in India

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Context: As per a paper recently published in journal Food Policy, even if they spent all their income on food, 63.3% of the rural Indian population (52 crore Indians) would not be able to afford a nutritious meal. If they set aside just a third of their income for non-food expenses, 76% of rural Indians would not be able to afford a nutritious diet.

Prelims: Food Security report and findings
Mains: GS III: Consequences and prevalence of food security in India.

What is Food Security?
  • The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) states that food security emerges when all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. 
Food security has three important components
  • 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 access: 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, individuals health, water and sanitation, feeding and sharing practices within the household.
Dimensions of Food Security

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Food Security Scenario in India

Important Statistics

  • According to UN-India, there are nearly 195 million undernourished people in India, which is a quarter of the world’s hunger burden. 
  • Roughly 43% of children in India are chronically undernourished.
  • According to NHFS-4, 38% of children below 5 years are stunted, 21% are wasted and 36% are underweight.
  • People Below Poverty Line in India decreased to around 22% in 2011-12. The Poverty percentage was calculated using the Tendulkar methodology.
  • India ranked 72nd in 113 countries assessed by The Global Food Security Index (GFSI) in the year 2019, based on four parameters- affordability, availability and quality and safety.
  • As per the Global Hunger Index, 2020, India has been ranked 94th, lower than neighbours like Bangladesh and Pakistan. 
  • India has one-third of the world's stunted children: Global nutrition report.
  • According to FAO estimates in ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2020” report,  8% of India’s population suffered from moderate or severe food insecurity in 2014-16, the proportion rose to 31.6% in 2017-19.

The major food issues of concern are insufficient/ imbalanced intake of foods/nutrients. The common nutritional problems of public health importance in India are low birth weight, protein-energy malnutrition in children, chronic energy deficiency in adults, micronutrient malnutrition and diet-related non-communicable diseases. National Institute of Nutrition has provided dietary guidelines for Indians. (Dietary Guidelines for Indians).

Constitution Provisions related to Food Security

  • Article 47 of the Constitution of India states that it is the duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health.
Law related to Food Security in India
  • National Food Security Act, 2013
    • As passed by the Parliament, Government has notified the National Food Security Act, 2013 on 10th September 2013.
    • The objective is to provide for food and nutritional security in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity.
  • Key features:
    • Coverage: 75% Rural and 50% Urban population; State-wise coverage determined by the Planning Commission (now NITI Ayog) on the basis of 2011-12 Household Consumption Expenditure survey of NSSO. 
    • Coverage of two-thirds of the total population at the all India level, under two categories of beneficiaries – Antodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) households and Priority Households (PHH). 
    • Identification of Households: to be done by States/UTs, which are required to frame their own criteria 
    • Women Empowerment: Eldest woman (18 years or above) to be the head of the household for the purpose of issuing of ration cards. 
    • Foodgrains Entitlement: The eligible persons will be entitled to receive 5 Kgs of foodgrains per person per month at subsidised prices of Rs. 3/2/1 per Kg for rice/wheat/coarse grains.
    • The existing Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) households, which constitute the poorest of the poor, will continue to receive 35 Kgs of foodgrains per household per month.
    • Special Provisions: The Act also has a special focus on the nutritional support to women and children.
      • Besides meal to pregnant women and lactating mothers during pregnancy and six months after the childbirth, such women will also be entitled to receive maternity benefit of not less than Rs. 6,000.
      • Children up to 14 years of age will be entitled to nutritious meals as per the prescribed nutritional standards.
      • In case of non-supply of entitled foodgrains or meals, the beneficiaries will receive food security allowance.
    • Grievance Redressal Mechanism: The Act also contains provisions for setting up of grievance redressal mechanism at the District and State levels.
    • Transparency: Separate provisions have also been made in the Act for ensuring transparency and accountability.
Government's Initiatives
  • The government is running various schemes for combating hunger and malnutrition such as:
    • The Public Distribution System (PDS).
    • Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY).
    • The National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education, also known as the “Mid-Day Meal Scheme”.
    • The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).
    • Annapurna Scheme.
    • The National Old Age Pension Scheme (NOAPS).
    • The National Maternity Benefit Scheme (NMBS).
    • The National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS).

Reasons for the existing food insecurity in India

In rural and tribal areas:

  • Low Productivity: This is mainly due to a lack of improvement in agricultural productivity owing to inadequate resources and markets needed to obtain agricultural stability. 
  • Lack of education and job opportunities- in rural areas have further added to the problems. 
  • Climate change: has an impact on agricultural productivity, which affects the availability of food items and thus, food security. A major impact of climate change is on rain-fed crops, other than rice and wheat.
  • Backwardness: For the tribal communities, habitation in remote difficult terrains and practice of subsistence farming has led to significant economic backwardness.

In urban population:

  • Migration: Rural-to-urban migration has shown a gradual increase, with its share in total migration rising from 16.5% to 21.1% from 1971 to 2001. The emergence of these rural origin pockets in the urban areas has resulted in a number of slum settlements characterized by inadequate water and sanitation facilities, insufficient housing and increased food insecurity
  • Affordability: Another important point which might promote food insecurity is the dependence of this labourer class on daily employment wages which tends to be variable on different days of the month and thus the food procurement and access are also fluctuating.
  • Access: All the privilege of the government schemes and programmes, aimed at helping the urban slum people, is enjoyed only by those slums that are notified. Ironically, around 50 % of the urban slums are not notified and thus are deprived of the government schemes. 

In children and mothers:

  • Poverty: The children are food insecure because of factors attributed to overpopulation, poverty, lack of education and gender inequality.
  • Lack of adequate knowledge: amongst mothers regarding nutrition, breast-feeding and parenting is another area of concern 
  • Gender inequality: places the female child at a disadvantage compared to males and causes them to suffer more because they are last to eat and considered less important.

Faulty food distribution system:

  • Inefficiency: Inadequate distribution of food through public distribution mechanisms (PDS i.e. Public Distribution System) is also a reason for growing food insecurity in the country.
  • Inclusion and Exclusion: The Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) has the disadvantage in the sense that those people who are the right candidates for deserving 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. The often inaccurate classification as above poverty line (APL) and below poverty line (BPL) categories had resulted in a big decline in the off-take of food grains. 
  • Quality issue: Low quality of grains and the poor service at PDS shops has further added to the problem.

Unmonitored nutrition programmes:

  • Inefficient implementation: Although a number of programmes with improving nutrition as their main component are planned in the country, these are not properly implemented. For instance, a number of states have yet to introduce the Mid Day Meal Scheme (MDMS).
  • In states such as Bihar and Orissa where the poverty ratio is very high, poor implementation of nutritional programmes that have proven effectiveness has a significant impact on food security

Lack of intersectoral coordination:

  • Lack of coherent food and nutrition policies along with the absence of intersectoral coordination between various ministries of government such as Ministry of Women and Child Health, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Finance etc have added to the problem.
Steps to be taken to ensure 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.
  • It would be useful to adopt strategies for food storage which have been implemented successfully in other countries. For example, China has an excellent system of grain storage education and research.

Ensuring food availability and accessibility to below poverty line (BPL) candidates

  • It is essential to ensure the availability of food grains to the common people at an affordable price.
  • This can be done by more accurate targeting of the BPL population so that they get food at a substantially low price.
  • Besides helping out the BPL population, there should be a provision for subsidy on the sale of food grains to above poverty line (APL) customers too.
  • Also, all restrictions on food grains regarding inter-State movement, stocking, exports and trade financing should be removed. This will reduce food prices and increase affordability.
  • The Public Distribution System must be made transparent and reliable.

Improving purchasing power through employment generating schemes

  • The government should come up with more holistic schemes like Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
  • Also, it is equally important to enhance the quantity and quality of wage-paid employment.
  • The focus needs to be shifted to the workers in the informal sector by providing decent wages and healthy working conditions.
  • In the urban areas, providing assistance to the small scale enterprises will lead to the expansion of employment opportunities.
  • It should be ensured that nutritional objectives should be an integral part of all the poverty alleviation programmes.

Crop diversification, establishing food grain banks and promoting household gardening

  • Another area which needs to be explored is ‘crop diversification’. Higher profitability and the stability in production highlight the importance of crop diversification, e.g. legumes alternative with rice and wheat. Growing of non-cereal crops such as oilseeds, fruits and vegetables etc need to be encouraged.
  • One of the ways to ensure direct access to good quality food that can be easily grown and prepared could be the concept of home gardening. One excellent example of household gardening can be seen in Bangladesh where as part of its global effort to eliminate vitamin A deficiency and nutritional blindness, the NGO Helen Keller International implemented a home gardening and nutrition education project.
  • Using community leaders through a group approach will indirectly ensure community participation and will add to the success of the concept.

Community awareness through IEC activities and social marketing

  • Need-based IEC and training materials should be developed for effective dissemination of nutrition messages.
  • Local community education on key family health and nutrition practices using participatory and planned communication methodologies will be helpful.
  • Incorporating health and nutrition education into the formal school curriculum for girls and adult literacy programmes could greatly improve women's health and nutrition.
  • Social marketing of iodized salt, iron and folic acid and vitamin A supplements, nutritious food mixes and other low-cost vitamins/mineral preparations will prove to be beneficial.
  • A major challenge for nutrition strategies in India is therefore to limit the advertising of and access to unhealthy processed foods, while simultaneously promoting healthy traditional foods and diets.
  • Furthermore, chemical contamination of vegetables and fruits with pesticide residues or artificial cosmetic enhancement is a growing consumer concern in India.
  • For consumer demand to increase for these foods, public trust in food safety is essential, necessitating enforcement of basic food quality standards.

Monitoring and timely evaluation of nutritional programmes

  • A complete community-based approach needs to be adopted.
  • Focus on even simple interventions like promoting exclusive breastfeeding, proper complementary feeding and growth monitoring and promotion (GMP) can be expected to give outstanding results.
  • Efforts should be made by the concerned health departments and authorities to initiate and supervise the functioning of the nutrition-related schemes in an efficient way.
  • Annual surveys and rapid assessments surveys could be some of the ways through which program outcomes can be measured. Evaluations must be timely performed and should provide relevant information regarding the effectiveness of interventions.
  • Use of information technology to improve program monitoring can be thought of too.

Community participation and intersectoral coordination

  • Revamping of existing direct nutrition programmes to enable management by women’s Self Help Groups (SHGs) and /or local bodies along with orientation and training of community health workers, Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI) members, other opinion leaders, caregivers and other stakeholders can be another area, if addressed, can give positive results.
  • Delivering very basic, a well-targeted package of nutrition services through a multi-sectorial approach will improve the nutrition level of people.
  • Attention needs to be given to school-based interventions including hygiene, sanitation and nutrition education.
  • Community-based nutrition programs (CBNP) which create scope for community participation, must be facilitated by effective policy implementation.

Addressing the rising cost of nutritious diets

  • Nutritious diets are highly unaffordable.
  • Three out of four rural Indians cannot afford a nutritious diet, according to the article, Affordability of nutritious diets in rural India recently published in the journal Food Policy.
  • Between 63 and 76% of the rural population of India in 2011 could not afford the recommended diet. 
  • Even if they spent their entire income on food, almost two out of three of them would not have the money to pay for the cheapest possible diet that meets the requirements set by the government’s premier nutrition body.
  • Even if they spent all their income on food, 63.3% of the rural population or more than 52 crore Indians would not be able to afford that nutritious meal.
  • These numbers are somewhat speculative, but they do reveal the scale of the dietary affordability problem in rural India: nutritious diets are too expensive, and incomes far too low. 


Some of Global Initiative for Food Security
  • SAVE FOOD by FAO– Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction
  • SDG Goal 2– End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  • The High-Level Task Force (HLTF)– on Global Food and Nutrition Security- was established by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2008. To promote a comprehensive and unified response of the international community to the challenge of achieving global food and nutrition security.
  • The World Bank Group partnership on Food Security– works with partners to build food systems that can feed everyone, everywhere, every day by improving food security, promoting ‘nutrition-sensitive agriculture’ and improving food safety. The Bank is a leading financier of food systems. In 2020, there was US$5.8 billion in new IBRD/IDA commitments to agriculture and related sectors.
NGO's working towards Food Security

Below is a list of organization fighting hunger around the world.

(Note: Not for memorizing but for using as examples in Mains answer).

  • World Food Programme
    • The World Food Programme (WFP) is one of the largest UN agencies helping 86.7 million people in around 83 countries every year, and delivering food assistance in places of emergencies, as well as working with communities to build resilience and improve nutrition.
    • The Nobel Peace Prize 2020 was awarded to World Food Programme (WFP) “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.”
  • Akshaya Patra
    • The Akshaya Patra is an Indian NGO established in 2000 with an aim to eliminate classroom hunger by implementing the Mid-Day Meal Scheme program in the government-funded schools in India.
    • Since then, this NGO has become the world’s largest organization in this program, serving wholesome food to every school day to over 1.8 million children from 16.856 schools across twelve Indian states and two union territories in the country.
    • The core goal of the organization is to eliminate malnutrition amongst children and to support the right to education for children whose parents and families are unable to afford it. 
    • UNICEF is one of the largest UN agencies dedicated to helping children in need. It works around the world to help children survive and thrive.
    • Amongst many programs, the UNICEF implements the nutrition program and is the part of the major global initiative called the Scaling Up Nutrition, which drives focus and investment for nutrition in many countries around the world.
  • The Hunger Project
    • The Hunger Project is an international non-profit organization with a vision of “a world where every woman, man and child lead a healthy, fulfilling life of self-reliance and dignity”.
    • The Hunger Projects implements programs in Asia, Africa and South America, that aim to mobilize rural communities to achieve sustainable progress in nutrition, family hunger, health and education.
  • Action Against Hunger
    • Action Against Hunger is a global organization that works to end hunger around the world. The primary goal of the organization’s primary goal is to create a better way to deal with hunger and malnutrition in nearly 50 countries.
  • World Central Kitchen
    • World Central Kitchen is an NGO that provides meals during disasters.
    • It was founded by celebrity chef Jose Andres in 2010, as a response to the earthquake disaster in Haiti. Since then, the organization has distributed meals in Cambodia, Peru, Cuba, Nicaragua, Zambia, Uganda, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.
  • Community Alliance with Family Farmers
    • They support family farmers and community members, including low-income populations and schoolchildren, with programs to address farm resilience, sustainability, and current challenges to the food system.
  • Food First
    • Based in Oakland, California, this nonprofit organization aims to end hunger and help communities take control of their food systems.
  • IFOAM Organics International
    • The IFOAM Organic Guarantee System improves transparency regarding different domestic organic standards while also acknowledging a need for diversity and local adaptation
    • It is based on a Family of Standards, the only tool set up to enable multilateral equivalence between technical regulations and organic certification agencies across continents, such as Biocert India and Argencert.
  • INGA Foundation
    • The INGA Foundation works with farmers and communities to implement the practice of Inga Alley Cropping, an alternative to slash-and-burn agriculture.
    • Inga Alley Cropping is sustainable, organic, and a low-cost alternative developed by the Foundation
    • . It can restore degraded land and protect rainforests from further agriculture-related destruction.
    • Crops are planted between rows of Inga trees, which fix nitrogen and increase soil fertility.
  • Millennium Institute
    • The Millennium Institute (MI) enables decision-makers to utilize systemic strategies to analyze and comprehend the interconnectedness among economic, social, and environmental factors, as well as issues of peace and security. I
  • Navdanya
    • Navdanya is a research-based initiative founded by prominent scientist and environmentalist Dr Vandana Shiva.
    • Navdanya, meaning “nine seeds” in Hindi, is a network of seed keepers and organic producers across 18 states in India that have helped set up 122 community seed banks across the country and provided training to more than 500,000 farmers.
    • They also conduct research on sustainable farming practices at their own organic farm in Uttarakhand, North India.
  • Sustainable Harvest International
    • (SHI) aims to preserve the environment by partnering with families to improve their wellbeing through regenerative farming.
  • The Carbon Underground
    • Created as an umbrella organization, Carbon Underground disseminates information about the power of healthy soil to combat climate change and facilitates the global implementation of soil regeneration practices.
    • They focus on corporate impact, education and training, policy, and communications.
  • The Land Institute
    • The Land Institute is at the forefront of perennial research, advocating the use of annual plants in agriculture.
    • Polyculture is the farming practice of using multiple crops within the same space, promoting biodiversity by emulating natural ecosystems.
  • The Small Planet Institute
    • The Small Planet Institute was created as a tool to explore and share the root causes and root solutions to modern challenges. Since the fund was created in 2001, two grantees have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

What is India's National Nutrition Strategy?

  • The Strategy aims to reduce all forms of malnutrition by 2030, with a focus on the most vulnerable and critical age groups.
  • The Strategy also aims to assist in achieving the targets identified as part of the Sustainable Development Goals related to nutrition and health.
  • The Strategy aims to launch a National Nutrition Mission, similar to the National Health Mission.
  • This is to enable the integration of nutrition-related interventions cutting across sectors like women and child development, health, food and public distribution, sanitation, drinking water, and rural development.
  • A decentralised approach will be promoted with greater flexibility and decision making at the state, district and local levels.
  • Further, the Strategy aims to strengthen the ownership of Panchayati Raj institutions and urban local bodies over nutrition initiatives. 
  • This is to enable decentralised planning and local innovation along with accountability for nutrition outcomes.
  • The Strategy proposes to launch interventions with a focus on improving healthcare and nutrition among children. These interventions will include:
    1. Promotion of breastfeeding for the first six months after birth,
    2. Universal access to infant and young child care (including ICDS and crèches),
    3. Enhanced care, referrals and management of severely undernourished and sick children,
    4. Bi-annual vitamin A supplements for children in the age group of 9 months to 5 years, and
    5. Micro-nutrient supplements and bi-annual de-worming for children.
  • Measures to improve maternal care and nutrition include:
    1. Supplementary nutritional support during pregnancy and lactation,
    2. Health and nutrition counselling,
    3. Adequate consumption of iodised salt and screening of severe anaemia, and
    4. Institutional childbirth, lactation management and improved post-natal care.
  • Governance reforms envisaged in the Strategy include:
    1. A convergence of state and district implementation plans for ICDS, NHM and Swachh Bharat,
    2. Focus on the most vulnerable communities in districts with the highest levels of child malnutrition, and
    3. Service delivery models based on evidence of impact.

Way Forward

Given the persistence of undernutrition in India as well as its rapidly rising rates of obesity and related non-communicable diseases, it is important to reduce prices of nutrient-dense foods on the supply side, and encourage their consumption on the demand side, such that future income growth achieves nutritional dividends.

In the meantime, there is also an urgent need to address the widespread unaffordability of the nutritious diets recommended in India’s food-based dietary guidelines through social safety net programs that allow the rural poor to consume sufficient, safe, nutritious foods to meet dietary needs.

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