Sunday, February 22, 2009

Food Security in India

The right to food is the right of every person. Every individual must have regular access to sufficient, nutritionally adequate and culturally acceptable food for an active and healthy life. At present, this is a major developmental challenge in India. We cannot feel proud of our achievements in different areas until this basic need of each individual is met.
About 21 per cent of the population was undernourished in 1997. In 1999, over 53 per cent of the children under four were found to be malnourished. Today more than 85 per cent of pregnant women are anaemic. Young children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition. This is the height of the fact that about 26.1 per cent of the Indian population lives Below the Poverty Line (BPL), according to the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO).
In India, during 1990-92 the malnourished population consisted of 24 per cent of the total which was reduced to 21 per cent during 1995-97 and stayed at that level during 2003-05. But the prevalence of malnutrition was much higher among pre-school children. During 2003-05 it is reported that 43 per cent such children were underweight and 48 per cent suffered from stunting growth. When a family suffers from the inadequate availability of food due to the lack of purchasing power, the women and children are the first to experience malnutrition in the form of less consumption.
FAO’s Estimates
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) (2008) estimates of undernourished population of India coincide with the report of the National Commission of Enterprises in the unorganised sector (2007) on the estimated number of extremely poor (70 million) and poor (167 million) of the total population. If in this number the marginally poor with a daily average expenditure of Rs 15 (who fall between the official poverty line and 1.25 PL) and vulnerable with a daily expenditure of Rs 20 are added, this proportion rises from 22 per cent of the total population to 77 per cent. These are the people who have very little capacity to absorb shocks like the rising prices of food and an increase in unemployment due to recession. They can quickly fall a victim to malnutrition even when enough food may be available in the stocks.
The experience of the world prices of foodgrains between 1975 and 2008 brings out their cyclical behaviour. The price index of foodgrains in real dollar with the base of 1998-2000 (100) fell from 250 in 1975 to 100 in 1993-94 and again rose to 175 in 2008 (FAO, 2008). This has a more serious effect on the domestic prices in developing countries depending on their relationship to the dollar in terms of the exchange rate. The poor/developing countries cannot afford to build their food security largely on the external supplier. This is particularly the case for countries like India and China, the two largest countries of the world in terms of population.
National Food Security Mission
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) had already given its nod to the Centrally- sponsored National Food Security Mission (NFSM) worth Rs. 48.82 billion. The NFSM aims at increasing production of rice, wheat and pulses through a set of measures such as area expansion, productivity enhancement in selected districts; restoring soil fertility, creating employment opportunities; and enhancing farm level economy to restore the confidence of the farmers of the targeted districts. The NFSM will have three components:
(i) National Food Security Mission on Rice: Under this Mission, 133 districts and 12 States will be covered. The States are Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karna­taka, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
(ii) National Food Security Mission on Wheat: Under this Mission, 138 districts of nine States will be covered. The States include Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and West Bengal.
(iii) National Food Security Mission on Pulses : As per the Mission, about 168 districts of 14 States will be benefitted. The States include AP, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and West BengalThe implementation of the Mission would result in increasing the production of rice by 10 million tonnes, wheat by eight million tonnes and pulses by two million tonnes by 2011-12.
Public Distribution System
The problem assumes greater significance as the Public Distribution System (PDS) around the country is in the doldrums and the poor people are unable to get essential food items at a comparatively fair price. Since April 1, 2007, supply of essential commodities to the States has been almost stopped.
For example, in West Bengal, rice and wheat that is now being sent may be able to cater to the needs of about four per cent of the total population. Not only is there a severe shortage of supply, the most disturbing fact is the unbridled corruption among a section of the ration dealers obviously in collusion with a section of the low keepers. People become infuriated when pleas on their part fall on deaf ears but no concrete action has been taken to address this problem.
The system is supposed to provide a safety net to the poor against the spiralling rise in prices of essential commodities. It is meant to fulfill the triple objectives of protecting the poor, enhancing their nutritional states and keeping a check on market prices. It is an essential part of the Government’s food security policy as the Government acknowledges that the production and availability of food per se is not enough to ensure the ability to acquire the food, nor does it entitle a person to consume it. Even the ability to buy may not guarantee food security unless there is an efficient distribution system.

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