Competitive Exams: General Studies Economics Food Security

Food Security

  1. Agriculture in India still accounts for 52% of employment, 12% of national export and 17.8% of GDP. The country has achieved a fourfold increase in food grains from 50mt in 1950 to 219.3mt in 2007 − 08 against a threefold increase in population from 33 million to more than 100 Million. Today, India has become the largest producer of milk, vegetables, fruits, fish and eggs. But, what a tragedy in a country which is the one of the largest producer of food in the world, nearly 300 million go without two square meals a day.

  2. Food security is the the access of all people to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. It has four basic components: Availability, accessibility, utilization and stabilization. The four components of food security viz. Availability, is a function of production, accessibility is related to purchasing power, utilization is determined by the availability of minimum basic needs i.e.. Safe drinking water, primary health care, primary education, proper housing facilities, environmental hygiene and fourth one, stabilization is influenced by the extent of attention given to the sustainability of the system. The challenge of meeting the food requirement of even increasing population and plateauing productivity of agriculture can only be met through sustainable agriculture. This will involve approaches like integrated nutrient management, Integrated pest management, Integrated disease management, eco agriculture, increased investment in Agro-infrastructure, improving farm productivity by crop diversification, developing suitable site specific farming system models; developing innovative methods like System of Rice Intensification, removal of barriers to both internal as well as external trade, institutional reforms, input provisioning, greater thrust on rain fed areas, value addition, research and development particularly on the impact of climate change on agriculture and stream lining the Public Distribution System for an effective delivery mechanism.

Major challenges before Indian agriculture

  1. Stagnation in Indian agriculture: A National survey shows that nearly 40% of farmers want to give up farming if an option was available. The reason is obviously low profit. Today, yields in India for almost all crops are stagnant and lower than other countries, Indian wheat yield in 2003 − 05 was 26.89q/ha while that of major wheat producing countries was 64.49q/ha. Production of pulses decreased from 14.28 million tonnes in 1990 − 91 to 13.38 million tonnes in 2004 − 05. At 638 kilogram per hectare our yield is way below the best of the countries which produce 1800 kilogram of pulses per hectare. Indian rate of growth of rice production is least in Asia, even lower than Pakistan, Myanmar and Srilanka.

  2. Small and marginal land holdings: The Indian economy is predominantly rural and agriculture oriented. Per capita availability of land in India has declined. Nearly 60% of the farmers on an average own 0.4 hectares, while another 20% on an average hold 1.4 hectares. This puts the population of small and marginal farmers at about 80% of the total. Such meagre land holdings by a large majority of the farmers are neither viable nor sustainable for a country with billion plus mouths to feed. The declining trend in the average size of farm holdings also poses a serious problem.

  3. Hunger and poverty: Our food grain production is now food grain production is now well over 220 million tonnes. We are facing double digit inflation in case of food items. There is an extremely high prevalence of hunger and malnutrition. At some places the poorest families are eating on alternative days. As we celebrate the 64th year of our independence, the rampant malnutrition, anemic mothers and stunted children indicate our failure to feed the empty stomachs. The International food policy research institute, Washington has placed India in the 66th position out of 88 countries for global hunger index. India ranks below all other South Asian nations, except Bangladesh; Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroon and Sudan fared better than India. India has more states under ‘alarming to extremely’ categories with Madhya Pradesh being the worst affected. No state in India is in the ‘low to moderate hunger index’ category.

  4. Food wastage: A recent headline that captured the attention of all was that food grains worth 580 million got spoiled due to lack of storage facilities with the Food Corporation of India. It is no less than a sin to waste such huge quantities of food grains when millions in the country remain unfed and their daily ration of calories of many others is much below the minimum necessary for their survival. It necessitates looking for alternatives to Public Distribution System. The use of food stamps can be such alternative. Under this scheme the intended beneficiaries are provided with food stamps which recipients can exchange for an equivalent amount of food at any shop. The shopkeepers can get the credited in their Bank accounts. The biggest advantage of Food stamps is that it can plug the leakages associated with the PDS.

  5. Little accountability in investment in agriculture research and education: We have the largest area under cultivation (161mh), have highest area under irrigation (55.8 mh), are one of world's largest users of fertilizers, have a fairly high degree of farm mechanization and largest scientific men power with over 30000 scientists and technicians employed in about 40 SAU's and near about 600 KVK's in the country. But, still those varieties are popular that were developed 20 years ago. In 1997, ICAR developed 72 varieties of field crops. By 2001 the figure was reduced to 35.

  6. Climate change: Threat of climate change looms large over Indian agriculture. This is due to global warming. A 10c increase in the temperature will reduce the duration of wheat and rice in north and western India by a week. This will result in reduction of rice yield by 4 to 5 quintals per hectare. The corresponding decrease in yield of the wheat will be 4 to 5 million tons. Day and night high temperatures are having an adverse effect on tilling of wheat plants. In Northern parts in December the night temperature continues to be 7 − 80c and day temperature is hovering about 200C in the country. At this stage the night temperature should not be more than 40C can the day temperature should not be more than 14 − 160C. High temperature at this stage of winter stunts the growth of wheat plants and affects the tillering process. In Haryana wheat production has declined from 4106 Kg per ha in 2000 − 01 to 3937 Kg per ha in 2003 − 04 with maximum temperature rising by 30C during February-March in last seven years. Besides affecting the productivity, Climate change will result in the emergence of new insect pests, shifting the range of various species, decline in the milk production and increased susceptibility to various diseases.

  7. Dry land agriculture: Dry land is home to more than 450 million farming people. It contributes 42% of total food grains especially coarse grains, 75% of pulses and oilseeds and 40% of wheat. Climate change would expand dry land by 11%. Dry land are characterized by low level of fertility, low productivity, frequent crop failure, uneven and untimely rainfall, extensive holdings, prolonged dry spell and low moisture retention capacity.

  8. Agro-Infrastructure: We still are lacking in the desired infrastructure for providing irrigation to the cultivable areas, technology for soil and moisture conservation, infrastructure for storing perishable products, road connectivity for bringing perishable products in the market at the earliest, chain of cold stores at the village level, small scale industries for value addition and water harvesting structures for conserving water. Ensuring food for all: Paradigm shifts desired:

  9. Promoting Farming system approach: Today, there is a need to improve the overall agricultural scenario with the multiple goals of growth, equity, employment and efficiency. The future food strategy depends on the conversion of green revolution to an evergreen revolution rooted in the principles of ecology, economics, employment generation and social equity. We have entered a millennium where we have to abandon the old concept of a crop centered green revolution and substitute it with a ‘farming system’ centered evergreen revolution to produce more from the available land, water and labour. Farming system integrates enterprises like fishery, poultry, livestock, horticulture and others within the biophysical and socio-economic environment of the farmer to make it more profitable. It is considered to be not only a reliable way of obtaining a fairly high productivity but also a concept of ecological soundness leading to sustainable agriculture. This offers advantages such as better utilization of resources, recycling of farm wastes, sustainability, employment generation and reduction of risk. The future of Indian agriculture depends upon the development of specific farming systems as applicable to resource poor farmers and suited to different agro-ecological zones.

  10. Strengthening Public Distribution System: Mahatma Gandhi wrote in ‘Young India’ in 1920, We want to organize our national power not by adopting the best methods of production only, but by the best method of both production and distribution. Public Distribution system needs immediate reform. It needs to be strengthened. To avoid the rotting of food grains in open, community grain storage banks should be established at the village level from which the people could get subsidized food grains against food coupons. The management of these storage banks should be decentralized to the local level with the active monitoring in PRIs. The ambit and scope of safety net programmes such as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Integrated Child Development Scheme, Mid-Day Meal, and National Old Age Pension Scheme should be broadened to benefit more and more.

  11. Thrust on Food processing: The food processing sector has been described by Prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh as the ‘sunrise sector’ It has potential to dramatically improve rural livelihoods, opportunities and employment and bridge rural urban divide. Our share in the international trade is just 2%. Level of processing in the country is extremely low i.e.. 6% as compared to 60 − 80% in developed countries. There is high wastage and low value addition. Vision-2015 strategy aims to enhance the level of processing from 6 to 20%, increase value addition from 20 to 35% and to increase global trade from 2% to 3%.

  12. Institutional reforms: Consolidation of holdings to avoid further fragmentation and a proactive policy for small, marginal farmers and landless labourers through innovative mechanisms like cooperative farming, contract farming need to be devised. The extension system of the country has to reorient itself to the changing needs of the farming community. Public extension systems have not given the desired results. Private extension systems too are profit oriented. As such suitable public-private partnership models need to be put in place to effectively deliver the services to the farmers.

  13. Provision of inputs: Supply of inputs such as seeds and fertilizers need top priority. Small farmers also need implements for timely sowing, weed control and post harvest management. Public and private sector seed agencies should be revamped to ensure seed production and distribution both qualitatively and quantitatively. Timely supply of inputs is more critical for dry land areas. Dry land areas need varieties which have a short growing period and are resistant to drought. A greater stress needs to be laid on development of watersheds in these areas to converse water which is a scarce commodity. To combat the effects of global temperature rise researchers should investigate how to make the crops more resilient to environmental stress. Search for biotic and abiotic stress tolerant genes must be intensified to create a gene bank both for plants and animal for development of new heat drought and flood tolerant genotypes. This will also involve converting C4 plants to C3 type.

  14. Removal of barriers to interstate trade: India being a founder member of WTO is supposed to undertake further economic reforms in agriculture. It will have to remove all the interstate and inter country tariff and non tariff barriers, abolition of restrictions on trade, opening future markets and protecting Patent rights. At the same time it will have to improve its competitiveness in the world market through quality produce.

  15. Right to food: The universal declaration of Human rights of 1948 asserts in article 25 (1) that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and being of himself and his family, including food. Food and nutrition rights were subsequently reaffirmed in two major binding international agreements. In the international covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights (ICESCR), which came into force in 1976, article 11 says that, The state parties at the present covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family and also recognizes the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger. India is an active member of the United Nations and a state party to ICESCR. Hence there is an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil right to food of every citizen of India. The National Food Security (NFS) Bill is taking shape. The National Advisory Council has recommended that the Act should provide every family in the 200 most disadvantaged districts of the country will 35 Kg of rice or wheat at Rs. 3 per Kg.

  16. The challenge of meeting the food requirements of an over increasing population can only be met by practicing sustainable agriculture, protecting sustainable agriculture, protecting natural resources from being degraded and polluted and using production technologies that conserve and enhance the natural resource based of crops. We need to look into the potential green revolution areas of Eastern Uttar Pradesh

North Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, which have been neglected so far.

Without them, the battle for food security cannot be won. Some targets of opportunity in agriculture have been exploited, many more difficult ones lie ahead.

Courtesy: Yojana