Definition: The United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security, defines food security as meaning that all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life.
It is a precondition for the full enjoyment of the Right to Food.
Significance: it increases stability and security, boosts production in agricultural sector, provides employment and trade opportunities, and adds value to potential of the population.
Evolution: The concept emerged in the 1970s and after a period of international negotiation, the World Food Conference was held in 1974 resulting in a new set of institutional arrangements covering information, resources for promoting food security and forums for dialogue on policy issues.
SDG and Food Security: The SDGs aim to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, making sure all people – especially children – have sufficient and nutritious food all year. It includes various objectives related to food and agriculture.
Goal 2 – Zero Hunger – pledges to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. This is the priority of the World Food Programme.
This includes promoting sustainable agriculture, supporting small-scale farmers and equal access to land, technology and markets.
It also requires international cooperation to ensure investment in infrastructure and technology to improve agricultural productivity.
Other related goals are: 1 (poverty reduction), 6 (water resources and sustainable agriculture), 12 (sustainable consumption and production), and 15 (land use and ecosystems).
Important Institutions related to Food Security
Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) is a UN specialized agency (founded 1945) which aims to achieve food security for all and make sure that people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives.
World Food Programme (WFP) is the leading UN agency (founded 1963) responding to food emergencies and running programmes to combat hunger worldwide.
Founded in 1977, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) focuses on rural poverty reduction, working with poor rural populations in developing countries to eliminate poverty, hunger, and malnutrition.
The World Bank is actively involved in funding food projects and programmes.
Food security is also an important concern of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The High-level Task Force on Global Food Security Crisis and the UN System Standing Committee on Nutrition work in their capacities to provide support to countries struggling with food insecurity and work towards improved nutrition amongst world population respectively.
Established in 1975, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) provides research-based policy solutions to sustainably reduce poverty and end hunger and malnutrition in developing countries.
Constitutional Perspective on Right to Food
The Right to Food and to be Free from Hunger is a human right recognized under human and international law.
Access to food was first declared a right in Article 258 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 1948, and the right was subsequently codified by Article 119 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).
Conventions on the Rights of the Child and the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women also articulate the right to food. All of the above have been ratified by India.
Several countries have food-related rights in their constitutions.
Article 47, DPSP – duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health.
Implicit in Article 21: The Supreme Court has stated in various cases that the right to life should be interpreted as a right to “live with human dignity”, which includes the right to food and other basic necessities.
Other DPSPs included in Articles 38, 39, 41 and 43 complement the process ensuring right to food.
Food Security In India
Public Distribution System (PDS)
Definition: It is a system of distribution of food grains at affordable prices in order to manage food scarcity. Over the years, PDS has become a central feature of the government’s efforts to manage the food economy of the country.
Commodities allocated under PDS include wheat, rice, sugar and kerosene. Some states also distribute pulses, edible oils, iodized salt, spices, etc.
➤ Make goods available to the disadvantaged /vulnerable sections of society at fair prices.
➤ Ensure social justice in distribution of basic necessities.
➤ Even out fluctuations in prices and availability of mass consumption goods.
➤ Rectify imbalances between the supply and demand for consumer goods. Check and prevent hoarding and black marketing in essential commodities.
➤ Support other poverty-alleviation and rural employment programmes.
Joint responsibility of the central and state government:
Nodal Agency – Food Corporation of India. It is responsible for:
➤ Procuring grains at the MSP from farmers
➤ Maintaining operational and buffer stocks of grains
➤ Allocating grains to states
➤ Selling the grains to states at the central issue price to be eventually passed on to the beneficiaries
➤ Distributing and transporting grains to the state depots
➤ Licensing of fair price shops
The process of PDS:
➤ An important mechanism of social justice
➤ Prevention of famine in the country, and timely and effective assistance during droughts
➤The network also supplies grains for the "food for work" type programmes taken up on a large scale to fight droughts
➤ Stabilization of food prices
➤ Availability of food to poorer sections at affordable prices
➤ Buffer stocks make food procurement and distribution during natural calamities and disasters
➤ MSP and procurement process have increased food production
➤ Hunger continues to be a challenge in India which indicates shortcomings in the execution of PDS.
➤ People not below the poverty line often become beneficiaries of PDS, which excludes the BPL population from availing benefits.
➤ Inferior quality of food grains are used as part of PDS.
➤ Corruption and leakage in procurement process through Ghost ID Cards, shadow ownership of entitlement cards, and diversion of grains reduces effectiveness.
➤ Imbalance in growth of FCI’s storage capacity in comparison with that of buffer stocks has led to issues relating to storage.
➤ Non-viability of Fair Price Shops due to low revenue, malpractices, irregular hours of work, and long queues for customers.
Minimum Support Price
Definition and Features: It is the price at which the government buys crops from the farmers.
It came about as a result of the recommendations of the Swaminathan Committee Report.
22 crops (14 kharif; 6 rabi; 2 commercial) are covered under MSP.
Objective and Significance: Provide security to farmers; incentivize production; and maintain buffer stocks in case of emergencies.
Method of Calculation: The MSP for 22 agricultural crops is determined by the government on the basis of the rates recommended by the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP).
Other related terms:
✱ Central Issue Price: the price at which the centre sells food grains to different states under TDPS.
✱ Food subsidy: the difference between the costs incurred by the centre on MSP (including additional costs) and the central issue price.
Legislation and Policies Related to Food Security
Shanta Kumar Committee Report, 2015
The Committee presented its report on the restructuring of FCI to improve its efficiency and financial management.
Decentralization of the procurement process for wheat and paddy in states with developed capacity and infrastructure to do so themselves.
Scaling up of the Negotiable Warehouse Receipt (NWR) system so that farmers may get better storage facilities, better returns and bank pledge financing for their produce.
Use of technology and computerization processes to check leakages in PDS.
Gradual introduction of cash transfers (DBT) in PDS.
Involve the private sector in improving the storage infrastructure.
Rationalization of FCI’s policies towards its departmental and contract labour work norms to ensure fair payments.
Providing direct subsidies to farmers for purchase of fertilizers and inputs instead of subsidizing the fertilizer companies for their production.
Essential Commodities Act, 1955
Purpose: to regulate the production, supply and distribution of a whole host of commodities it declares ‘essential’ in order to make them available to consumers at fair prices.
Central government can add or remove commodities it deems essential or otherwise in public interest, in consultation with state governments.
List of items include drugs, fertilizers, foodstuffs including edible oils, hank yarn made wholly from cotton, petroleum and petroleum products, raw jute and jute textiles, and seeds of food-crops, fruits and vegetables, cattle fodder, jute, and cotton.
Latest addition: in view of the covid-19 pandemic, face masks and hand sanitizers were added.
Importance: protection against irrational spikes in prices; check on hoarding and black marketing.
Issues: it has become anachronistic because the law was enacted at a time where India was facing shortage of food stuff and was dependent on import of grains. That is not the situation anymore. It also prevents interest of private investment in areas like cold storage chains since most of the commodities are under the ECA.
ECA Ordinance 2020
The Ordinance was promulgated in June 2020 and negatived in September 2020. It was replaced by the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
The Ordinance seeks to increase competition in the agriculture sector and enhance farmers’ income. It aims to liberalize the regulatory system while protecting the interests of consumers.
The provisions of the Ordinance regarding the regulation of food items and the imposition of stock limits were not applicable to any government order relating to the PDA or TDPS.
The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020
The Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha in September 2020.
It removes cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes from the list of essential commodities.
It has provisions to reduce excessive regulatory interference in the business operations of private players.
Stock holding limit on commodities will only be imposed under exceptional circumstances like national calamities, famine with a surge in prices. Processors and value chain participants are exempted from the stock limit.
Removal of essential foodstuffs from the lists increases the chances of hoarding.
Instances of rural poverty may become higher.
National Food Security Act, 2013
The NFSA seeks to make the right to food a legal entitlement by providing subsidized food grains to nearly two-thirds of the population. The Act relies on the existing TPDS mechanism to deliver these entitlements.
It also converts the Midday Meal Scheme (MDMS) in schools and the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) into legal entitlements.
➣ Coverage: 2/3rd of the entire population: 75% of rural and 50% of urban population.
➣ Eligible households will get 5 kg of food grains per person per month at Rs 3 per kg for rice, Rs 2 for wheat and Re. 1 for coarse grains (The AAY households will continue to get 35 kg per household per month).
➣ Special focus on nutritional support to women and children, especially pregnant and lactating mothers and children up to 14 years of age.
➣ Grievance redressal mechanisms at the district and state levels.
➣ Increased importance to ICT for service delivery management and grievance redressal.
➣ There is also a focus on transparency in implementation e.g. bringing BPL lists in the public domain (through the new TPDS order).
➣ Clear division of responsibilities between centre and state governments
Today, it is one of the world’s largest social security programmes and makes 810 million Indians legally eligible for subsidized food grains.
Related Welfare Schemes
Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), 1975 – it provides food, preschool education, primary healthcare, immunization, health check-up and referral services to children under 6 years of age and their mothers.
Mid-day Meal Scheme (MDMS), 1995 (revised in 2004, 2006, 2007) – aims to increase enrollment, retention and attendance in schools and simultaneously improving nutritional levels among children.
Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY), 2000 – It identified the poorest of the poor families in the BPL category (viz. landless agricultural laborers, marginal farmers, rural artisans destitute and people earning their livelihood on a daily basis in informal sectors) and provided them with food grains at the highly subsidized rates.
Integrated Schemes on Oilseeds, Pulses, Palm oil and Maize (ISOPOM), 2004 – to increase the production and productivity of oilseeds to make the country self-reliant.
Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, 2016 – an insurance service for farmers for their yields, thus helping in stabilizing the income of farmers.
Food Security and Eradication of Poverty
Reduction in poverty is one of the central elements in policies about food security.
Hunger and poverty are closely linked, and often perpetuate one another: hunger is an effect of poverty but also a cause of it.
Poor people spend majority of their incomes on food, which makes them vulnerable to price rise, leaving them poorer in the process. It is imperative to therefore ensure for them a sense of security.
Issue with policy: agriculture mostly focuses on people who have some assets and leaves the poorest sections behind. Food security schemes on the other hand, provide food subsidies to the poor, but do not help with realizing potential and increasing productivity.
Challenges to Food Security
High burden of population and persistent poverty
The current state of agriculture, low returns, and increasing instances of suicide by farmers
Lack of coherent food and nutrition facilities
High prices of essential commodities
Growing water scarcity
Climate change and its impact
Politics of food – destruction in conflicts
Lack of access to remote areas for service provision
Ecological hazards posed by the increasing use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides
Issues related to storage facilities: lack of facilities, bad storage practices, rodents, etc.
Losses in transportation of food grains
Corruption and diversion of PDS grains to black market
Absence of inter-sectoral 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.
Recommendations and Way Forward
Improvement in agricultural productivity:
✔ Adoption of an integrated policy framework to facilitate the increased use of irrigation and newer farming techniques
✔ Improvement in size of farms, rationale behind distribution of cultivable land, and increased sense of security for tenants.
✔ Providing credit, machines and fertilizers at lower rates to farmers.
✔ Adoption of improved storage facilities and techniques.
✔ Crop diversification
✔ Creation of decentralized food grain banks
Relating to PDS:
✔ Develop uniform criteria for selection and transparency in beneficiaries' selection. Elimination of the error in the inclusion and exclusion of beneficiaries is possible by proper methods of estimation.
✔ Universalize PDS by moving away from the current system of dividing households into artificial categories such as APL and BPL.
✔ A gradual shift to Direct Benefit or cash transfers instead of subsidies.
✔ An effective system of transparency, accountability and grievance redressal mechanism is a must in the digital era for food and nutritional security.
✔ India is set to make the Public Distribution System (PDS) location-independent to ensure that no one, especially the inter-State migrants, is left behind. The ‘One Nation, One Card’ initiative being implemented by the government as a transformative solution in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Prevent food wastage.
Promote household gardening wherever possible.
Timely monitoring, evaluation, and revamping of nutritional programmes.
Increase community awareness through information, education and communication (IEC) activities and social marketing.
Improve the purchasing power of people through various existing and new employment generating and poverty alleviation schemes.