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EDITORIALS : Food security in India
Tuesday, 09 July 2013 12:04

Food security in India
Legislation need not be a pre-requisite

FOOD security does not necessarily need legislation to kickstart action in this direction. Executive action can provide for not only food security, but also nutritional security, especially for the vulnerable sections of society i.e. children, old persons and women, especially the pregnant and lactating mothers.

There is no dearth of availability of foodgrains and major protective foods in the country. Normally the foodgrain stocks are at the highest level in June and the lowest in April. Compared to the year 2004, when the foodgrain stocks at the highest level were 322.82 lakh tonnes on 1st June, the stocks on 1st June, 2013 were 777.40 lakh metric tonnes. The lowest high was on 1st June, 2006 at 222.98 lakh metric tonnes and from there on the highest level of stocks kept increasing year after year. The lowest level of foodgrain stocks too was on 1st April, 2006, at 166.20 lakh metric tonnes and this level too kept increasing continuously, touching 597. 58 lakh metric tonnes on 1st April, 2013.

The per capita availability of cereals has also increased from 386.2 grams in 2001 to 407 grams in 2010. This availability is estimated to be at 686.7 grams in 2012, the highest ever in the country. It is only in case of pulses that the availability has declined over time. The cereal availability has increased in spite of a huge wastage of foodgrains through defective or lack of proper storage and tardy management, little realising that eliminating wastage amounts to additional production and availability. The CAG in May, 2013, reported that there was a storage gap of 331.85 lakh tonnes in the country, up from 59.5 lakh tonnes in 2007. Further, the utilisation of the existing storage is less than 75 per cent in many months and the location of storage capacity is also out of tune with its optimal spread. As a result, the wastage of grains increased from 0.28 per cent in 2011 to 6 per cent in 2012. Continuously increasing production is also leading to the increasing wastages due to management incapabilities. It is estimated that, on an average, yearly wastages, if checked can feed at least one lakh persons for the whole year.

In respect of other commodities, the per capita availability of edible oils increased from 8.2 kg in 2001 to 13.6 kg in 2011. The vanaspati availability understandably remained around 1.0 kg, due to the consumption preference shifting to refined oils. The sugar availability increased from 15.8 kg to 17.0 kg in this period. The milk availability increased from 217 grams per day to 281 grams. Compared to 1981, the availability has increased more than three and a half times for edible oils, about two and a half times for sugar and more than doubled in case of availability of milk. There is, thus, no shortage of food items in the country.

Per capita consumption is another indication of the higher level of availability of food in the country. Changing consumption patterns have reduced the consumption of cereals marginally in the rural areas, yet considerably in the urban areas, especially in respect of rice. Coarse grain consumption decreased from 2.29 kg per capita in 193-94 to 0.85 kg in 2009-10 in rural areas and from 1.03 kg to 0.38 kg in the urban areas in this period. All cereals consumption declined from 13.40 kg to 11.35 kg in rural areas and from 10.9 to 9.37 kg in urban areas during this period.

The per capita consumption of edible oils increased from 0.37 to 0.64 kg in the rural areas and 0.56 to 0.82 kg in the urban areas. In respect of fruits, the per capita consumption of bananas has increased more than three times, mango more than two and a half times, apple more than three times. Milk consumption has doubled, eggs consumption increased more than fourfold, fish and mutton one and a half times and chicken consumption per capita increased nine times during this period.

There is thus no shortage of food, both cereals and protective foods in the country. The total availability and per capita availability of food has increased and consumption patterns have shifted, although marginally, from cereals to the protective foods. It is a healthy trend, yet these are the averages. Averages often hide more than they reveal.

In spite of the per capita availability of foodgrains and major protective foods constantly increasing and exceeding the pace of population growth in the country, a large section of the poor population does not have adequate access to food, specially the protective foods. This is because of highly inequitable inter-personal distribution of productive assets and income levels in society. It is but natural that benefits of investment and ensuing growth and development would gravitate to the better placed segments of society to the disadvantage of a majority of the population in the country.

The 2009-10 NSS data showed that in India, 90 per cent of the rural population spent less than Rs 49 per capita per day, of which Rs 27 was on food items and Rs 22 on non-food items. The 50 per cent sample rural population was spending less than the inhuman poverty line expenditure of Rs 27 per capita per day.

Even the PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) estimates indicate that based on US$1 per capita per day expenditure 41.6 per cent of the population in India was below the poverty line. The poverty measured in PPP terms declined by meager 0.76 per cent per annum during the last 25 years. It is amply clear that in spite of tall claims by the government and multiplicity of high-sounding food security programmes, the country may not be able to meet the millennium goal of 50 per cent reduction in hunger by 2015. Surprisingly, the country's performance in this respect is lower than that of Pakistan even.

For the last several years the food security legislation has been in a limbo. No doubt it is desirable to have a Food Security Act, yet its absence does not stop the government from providing food security to the people. It is generally observed that societies that have more laws have lesser respect for them. Well-governed nations do not necessarily need a plethora of laws to create order in society and cater to the needs of their citizens. Executive orders are enough to make the services and benefits flow efficiently to the targeted population. Programmes like MNREGA can easily be expanded and linked to the food supply through partial payments in the form of food stamps for buying food items from the open market with adequately enhanced level of wages rather than rendering the people to the status of beggars through free or highly subsidised supply of food items, which are often pilfered with impunity and in large part do not reach the targeted population.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 July 2013 02:50