Food Security – Miles travelled, but many more to be covered
by HDFC Asset Management Company (HDFC AMC)
Out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined by United Nations, SDG Number 2 is “ending hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture by 2030”. Though India has come a long way in improving the nation’s food security and supplying globally, there are still more miles to be covered in terms of execution, and bringing India’s ranking higher at the global stage. Of the multiple components of India’s Consumer Price Index (CPI), Food and Beverages has the highest weightage – at 45.86% (as per Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy). Therefore, achieving food security is important to control inflation as well.
Globally, the basic concept of food security is to ensure that all people, at all times, should get access to the basic food for their active and healthy life and is characterized by availability, access, utilization and stability of food. As per the International Food Security Assessment (IFSA) Report 2022-32, there were an estimated 514 million food-insecure people in Asia in 2022. While these numbers were elevated due to the after-effects of the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine Conflict, the prevalence of food insecurity in Central and Southern Asia (CSA) is estimated to decline by 81.2% by 2032, that is, from 27.7% in 2022 to 4.7% in 2032.
India has played a major role in shaping the Asia’s food-security indicators. While India’s food insecurity doubled between 2019 and 2022 amid the Covid-19 pandemic, it is estimated that the prevalence of India’s food insecurity would decline from 24.7% in 2022 to 1.7% in 2032. Currently, agriculture is an integral part of India’s economy, employing nearly 55% of the population, and is largely a food surplus country. In 1950-51, India was suffering from food shortage with occasional droughts and famines which compelled it to import food grains. A rapidly growing population was creating increasing pressure on agriculture, with food production and productivity unable to keep pace. This changed, with significant efforts in the past five decades that put India on the road to Atmanirbharta in food.
It was the Green Revolution, led by Late M.S. Swaminathan, in the 1960s, that enabled the nation to make significant progress in agriculture and allied sectors, and contribute to the regional food security. Certain key areas of focus that were outlined were (a) farm mechanization by substituting the use of cattle with modern tractors and other machinery to increase productivity, (b) the use of hybrid varieties of seeds for better yield, and (c) using the new dams constructed post-independence for better irrigation. By focusing on these, the Green Revolution transformed India from a food-deficit nation to a food-surplus country.
The effects of COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine Conflict put pressure on income levels and economic activity at a global level, while also creating supply chain problems. This deepened the food-security for a large segment of the population with the steep rise in prices of cereals globally. During such turbulent times, India stepped up, and played a key role in the global arena while ensuring adequacy at home first.
Rice has been a key ingredient for sustenance of the human body. Through most of the 1960s and early 1970s, poor yields and production led to India be a net importer of rice. Self-sufficiency eventually led the nation to become a net rice exporter by the early 2000s. India has gained prominence in rice exports in the last ten years, which was further enhanced in the wake of the pandemic and subsequent conflict, making it the world’s largest rice exporter – accounting for 40% of global rice exports in FY2022-23.
Over the last few decades, India has improved food security through higher food grain production, correct price realization and stability, and a reduction in malnutrition rates. For example, via the Food Corporation of India, the Government is procuring wheat and other food grains to be distributed by the Public Distribution System, which is ensuring access to food to all.
Despite that, India continues to bear the burden of food and nutrition insecurity, with low rankings on the 2022 Global Hunger Index. In order to better the situation, the Government is continuing to build and promote safety-nets like National Food Security Act, 2013, which provides for coverage up to 75% of rural population and up to 50% of urban population for receiving free food grains under Targeted Public Distribution System. Against the intended coverage of 81.35 crore (Census 2011), 80.11 crore people from all the States / Union Territories are presently covered under this Act.
As India reaps the rewards of such measures taken by the Government, a combination of strategic policy measures, sustainable practices, and development partnerships could go a long way towards alleviating food insecurity, and promoting sustainable development. This would ultimately contribute to the prosperity of India and the globe.