India’s food security has been in the news for some time with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations raising concerns in its October 2022 to January 2023 outlook. The government soon issued a strong rebuttal, calling it an effort to “taint India’s image as a Nation that does not fulfill the food security and nutritional requirements of its population”. (https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1868103 )
Interestingly, the Economist Impact Global Food Security Index (GFSI) 2022 had ranked India at the 68th spot along with Algeria, with a score of 58.9 out of maximum “most favourable” 100 points. Finland topped the list with a score of 83.7.
Finland was followed by Ireland, Norway, and France, while the United Kingdom was ninth and the United States dropped to 13th from ninth in the previous edition.
The Economist Impact noted that India’s score had, in fact, improved by 5.1 points. Altogether, 113 countries in the index were selected by Economist Impact based on regional diversity, economic importance, population size – countries with larger populations were chosen so that a greater share of the global population is represented – and the goal of including regions around the globe.
It said the report was a compilation of 11 years of research conducted by Economist Impact between 2012 and 2022.
In contrast, the FAO Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2022 released in mid-October ranked India 107th out of 121 assessed countries. The overall score of 29.1 categorised India at “serious” level of hunger.
The report (https://www.globalhungerindex.org/pdf/en/2022.pdf ) pointed out that South Asia and Africa South of the Sahara are dangerously off track in terms of the progress needed to achieve the second Sustainable Development Goal of “Zero Hunger” by 2030.
“The concern in India should be more on malnutrition than starvation. But the Russia-Ukraine war has not affected us like it has some countries,” said former Minister of State for Agriculture Sompal Shastri.
Many countries in Europe and elsewhere are running short of foodgrains and energy sources, especially after the imposition of sanctions against Russia.
Agriculture fared well in India even during the height of Covid pandemic and provided a strong support to the economy.
However, food security is a flexible concept. There have been many attempts at defining the research and policy. FAO has itself defined it as based on food availability, access, utilisation, and stability.
Here, food availability means in sufficient quantity and appropriate quality, supplied through domestic production or imports (including food aid).
While access to food by individuals should be with adequate resources (entitlements) for a nutritious diet. Entitlements are defined as the set of all commodity bundles over which a person can establish command given the legal, political, economic, and social arrangements of the community in which they live (including traditional rights such as access to common resources).
Utilisation of food through adequate diet, clean water, sanitation, and health care should reach a state of nutritional well-being where all physiological needs are met. This brings out the importance of non-food inputs in food security.
To be food secure, a population, household, or individual must have access to adequate food at all times. They should not risk losing access to food as a consequence of sudden shocks (e.g., an economic or climatic crisis) or cyclical events (e.g., seasonal food insecurity). The concept of stability can therefore refer to both the availability and access dimensions of food security.
“Authorities need to ensure there is enough stock of foodgrains. There is still an imbalance – we still import oilseeds and pulses to meet domestic requirements,” Shastri added.
According to NITI Aayog estimates, India will be surplus in foodgrain, milk, fruits, and vegetables but it will be largely deficit in oilseeds in the future – roughly between the period of 2032-33.
Since the last six years, the Centre has outlined the thrust on increasing productivity of oilseeds and pulses to achieve self-sufficiency. However, oilseed acreage has gone down by 1.85 lakh hectare – from 193.99 lakh hectare in corresponding period of last year to 192.14 lakh hectare this season, according to government data till end-September.
States including Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, etc., reported somewhat higher acreage compared to Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, etc. where it went down.
According to the Department of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, as on September 30, the final area coverage under Kharif crops in 2022 stood at 1,102.79 lakh hectare against 1,112.16 lakh hectare last year, registering a decrease in acreage of 9.37 lakh hectare.
It exhibits a fall in acreage over 20.16 lakh hectares less than last year corresponding. Significantly, several states known as major producers reported lesser coverage. Among these, Jharkhand (down by 9.22 lakh hectare), West Bengal (3.65 lakh hectare), Uttar Pradesh (2.48 lakh hectare), Madhya Pradesh (2.24 lakh hectare), Bihar (1.97 lakh hectare), Andhra Pradesh (1.00 lakh hectare), Assam (99,000 lakh hectare), Chhattisgarh (74,000 lakh hectare), Tripura (21,000 hectare), featured among others.The total amount of produce this season would be known in November when procurement begins.
Similarly, about 133.68 lakh hectare of area coverage under pulses has been reported compared to corresponding period of last year, when it was 139.21 lakh hectare. This amounts to a fall in acreage of about 5.53 lakh hectares compared to last year.
A major cause for this fall was the irregular monsoon. Due to late rainfall, sowing of rice – which is usually over by August 15 – continued till early-September. On the other hand, standing crops fell to inundation and storms just ahead of reaping.
However, crops like sugarcane – which are not entirely dependent on adequate monsoon or excess water – did better in this season. Going by acreage, about 55.73 lakh hectare area of coverage under sugarcane has been reported, which is 51,000 hectares more, compared to last year corresponding. The same was with cotton, where acreage has gone up by around 8.92 lakh hectare compared to last year.
The government is awaiting reports from states on the volume of damages to crops due to untimely rains.
Meanwhile, the Centre has repeatedly assured that there is enough foodgrain and that stocks in the country are not on a 15-year low as is alleged in certain quarters. However, if we take a look at major crops like rice and wheat – the staple, main food for most people in our country – there is a noticeable drop beginning August, which dwindles further till October in the central pool. The data, as depicted by Food Corporation of India (((https://fci.gov.in/stocks.php?view=46 ))), shows a significant fall in the stock of wheat, beginning May 2022.
Though the Constitution does not have any explicit provision regarding right to food, the fundamental right to life as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution may be interpreted to include the right to live with human dignity, which may include the right to food and other basic necessities.
Now, the lower acreage of Kharif this year may not augur well with a depleting stock in the central pool. It may be just the time to hear the call for augmenting the system.