THE ANATOMY OF THE INDIAN FOOD SECURITY CRISIS
Every time we keep leftovers of food on our plates, they should serve as bitter reminders of those who go hungry day after day, not only on the streets but also in their own homes. Availability of food for all is scarcely reliable in India. With her massive and ever-growing population, it is becoming increasingly problematic for India to produce food that is sufficient to feed the entire population. As the population of India is increasing, land is becoming a scarce resource as well. Plots of land available for agriculture are decreasing numerically. This implies that the rate of agricultural production needs to be higher per unit of land and per unit of water for irrigation.
Nearly 60% of the Indian population engages in agriculture as a means of livelihood. However, the percentage of farmers in the country is shrinking significantly every year. India produces nearly 100 million tonnes of rice per annum. Thus, one may infer that ample food is available to feed the entire population; however, it must be kept in mind that accessing the food becomes difficult. Most of those who go hungry in India do so not because of lack of edible resources in the country but because of lack of access to the same. This lack of access arises out of financial troubles. This is the cause of millions of malnourished children around India.
Since India is known for producing rice in bulk and exporting it to other countries, rice continues to be a staple food of millions in our country. This implies that the consumers have enough carbohydrates in their systems, and are able to maintain a nutritious and balanced diet. This links poverty to hunger and reveals how poverty leads to hunger. Eliminating hunger and malnutrition, and achieving wider national food security, are among the most intractable problems humanity faces. The absolute numbers of those subjected to underfeeding, malnutrition and undernourishment remain stubbornly and alarmingly high even now!
According to the FAO in “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World”, 2019 report, 194.4 million people were found to be undernourished in India. That is an astounding 14.5% of the entire Indian population. That also includes 51.4% of women aged between 14 or 15 and 49 who are anaemic. Food security essentially implies that everyone, at all times, should have physical, social and economic access to nutritious food that meets their dietary needs for a healthy lifestyle. The health of the citizens is the backbone of national prosperity and well-being. The health of any nation relies on the health of its citizens, and that is directly linked to food security for all.
A food crisis however occurs when the rates of hunger and malnutrition rise steeply, and this situation is the most likely for populations already suffering from prolonged hunger and malnutrition, or severe economic distress. An approximate of 300 million Indians go to bed without food every night and the numbers are increasing drastically. The Global Hunger Index 2018 ranks India at 103 out of 119 countries on the basis of three significant indicators: 27.9% of children under the age of 5 were stunted, 9.3% of children under the age of 5 were suffering from wasting, and the child mortality rate for children under the age of 5 was 4.2% of the undernourished in the population. These proportions of the population are still suffering in huge numbers.
Research has revealed that an astounding one-third of the total global food production for human consumption is either lost out on or is wasted. Apart from the losses at harvest and post-harvest handlings, food is carelessly wasted during the distribution stage. The vast quantities of food that are wasted on the shelves and in the warehouses could be saved by timely withdrawal during the distribution stage, effective aggregation, and proper redirection to the people in dire need.
India needs to focus on technological solutions and concentrate on methods that will improve the availability and affordability of food items rich in beneficial fats and proteins. Farmers ought to utilise environment-friendly methods to produce food grains without the need for additional acres of land and water for irrigation. Renewable sources of energy such as biogas, methane and natural gas should be used for producing protein-rich cattle, fish, poultry, and so on.
The immediate need of the hour is a judicious amalgamation of policies, combining direct payments with provision of free food, in addition to providing employment under the MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), to ensure physical and economic access of food to the three vulnerable sections of the society: the farmers, the agricultural labourers, and the seasonal migrants. These steps are extremely essential as these three down-trodden segments of society are the worst affected by the food crisis in India. The imperative of food security in India is now widely acknowledged. The year 2013 saw the passing of the NFSA (National Food Security Act) which was designed to be a comprehensive set of interventions that support food security and help individuals achieve better levels of health and nutrition. These steps need to be in tandem with continual efforts aimed at augmenting food production and food diversification by sustainable methods.
The challenges India faces provide important opportunities to reconfigure the existing food security and social security policies in more meaningful ways. Programs similar to the Green Revolution and the White Revolution should be implemented as they have proven to be successful in the past. Welfare schemes in India that promote food security and social security should be funded by the Government’s general taxation and implemented effectively. India has been fighting against poverty and hunger, and has been succumbing to the same, for thousands of years now.
FY B.Sc. (Economics)