food security

“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” 

― Mahatma Gandhi

Food security has been a major problem in the world from the past. Especially in a country like India with rapid growth in population, this is a major concern. The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security as existing “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”.

Food security in Mexico has been a major concern in the history as well as in the present. From 2003-2005, the total food supply in Mexico was above the sufficiency level to meet the requirements of the Mexican population. An average of 3,270 kilocalories per capita daily was consumed which was higher than the minimum requirement of 1,850 kilocalories per capita on a daily basis. But, at least 10 % of the population in every Mexican state suffers from inadequate food access.  This issue of food insecurity is magnified by chronic child malnutrition as well as obesity in children and adults in the family. Mexico being prone to drought, it cripples the agriculture.

The Bengal famine of 1943 was a major distress in British India during the second world war.  Around 1.5 to 2.1 million people out of a population of 60 million died due to starvation, malaria, malnutrition, poor health care, and unsanitary conditions. Bengals economy was basically agrarian in nature. In the years before the famine, half of the population were living in ‘semi-starved condition’. There was lack of stagnant agricultural productivity and stable land base which lead to long-term decline in production of rice and increasing landless and poor people.

What are the Causes of Food Insecurity?

Food insecurity in the recent years is the result of the combination of a number of factors. The world still suffers in hunger even after technological advancements and various schemes and initiatives put forward by the concerned authorities. Some of the major causes of food insecurity in the developing and less developed countries are :

  • Drought and Extreme Weather Conditions

History reveals that most of the famines in the world were as a result of drought and extreme weather conditions. The African regions and the Indian subcontinent have been facing severe drought which has widely affected the agricultural productivity and the farming communities leaving them very fewer returns from the yields.  This has also lead to increase in suicidal rates among the farmers.

  • Financilization of Food

Food has become a commodity of trade in the international market. The market forces of demand and supply determine the price of food items. The large producers in order to increase their profits create artificial scarcity by reducing the supply in order to increase the price of the commodity. Food, being a human right, should not be seen as commodity ripe for exploitation and speculations.

  • The Dominance of Market Leaders

The market leaders or the big multinational agribusiness dominate the market. This leaves the small-scale farmers with least role in the market. The multinational companies make use of latest technical know-how and produce high-quality commodities. These commodities attract the consumers in terms of its packaging.

  • Lack of Farming Land

With increasing population and industrialization most of the lands suitable for agriculture is used for building houses and commercial buildings. The fertile land is left without cultivation for years and people exploit it for their benefits.

  • Natural Disasters and Climate Change

Natural disasters like flood, soil erosion, cyclones can wipe out the entire harvest. These natural disasters leave behind devastating impacts in rural regions and families that rely on agriculture.

Climate change is playing a crucial role in food insecurity through changes in climatic conditions such as less rainfall, long-lasting droughts, lack of freshwater due to rising sea level and storm surges. These changes have been affecting developed countries as well.

  • Food Wastage

Food wastage occurs in all stages of the food chain which can be prevented, from the time food articles leaves the farm gate up to when it reaches our plates. In Australia alone, households throw $8  billion worth of edible food every year, excluding the commercial waste from restaurants and supermarkets. Reducing food wastage can ensure food security to a large extent.

How PDS Plays a Major Role to Facilitate Food Security in India?

Public Distribution System popularly known as PDS came into existence in 1939 during the second world war. The GOI introduced PDS to tackle the problem of food security and its victims.  After the Bengal famine of 1943, the PDS went through radical changes. It stretched its operation to more cities and towns in India. The PDS broadened its functions from management of scare food supplies to organized and institutionalized approach suspending normal activities of trade and market. This type of food security system has existed in India for many years and still continues to exist in the form of constitutional rationing in rural and urban areas including some of the metropolitan cities.

The public distribution system contributes significantly to ensure food security in the country. It enables the supply of food grains at a subsidized price. The PDS also controls the open market prices of the commodity that are issued through the system. It is a wide network which guarantees easily accessibility to the consumers such as rice, wheat, sugar grains, kerosene and edible oil at fair to meet their minimum needs.

In 1997 the government introduced the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) to solve the problems of poor communities. The main of TPDS was to provide the poor with food grains and fuel at subsidized prices. the food grains are collected from the farmers, allocated to states, distributed to ration shop from where the beneficiaries buy.

The MSP and Support to Farmers

The minimum support price is the price at which the government buys crops from the farmers, whatever may be the price for the crop. MSP is a vital part of India’s Agriculture Price Policy. The MSP acts as an incentive to farmers and thus ensures adequate production of food grains in the country. It gives food grain supply to buffer stock in Food Corporation of India (FCI) and from these buffer stocks, the food grains are supplied to PDS.

The Government at times procures at a higher price than MSP, this is known as procurement price. The procurement price is announced soon after the harvest. Generally, the procurement price is higher than MSP but lower than the market price.

The MSP helps the farmers from excessive fall in price when there is bumper production. The MSP aims to:

  • assure remunerative and stable price environment for the farmers by encouraging them to induce more production to ensure adequate food supply.
  • improve access to food to people.
  • evolve a production pattern which is in line with overall needs of the economy.

How can we Ensure Food Security?

With growing urbanization and industrialization the role of agriculture is shrinking in the world. However, through increasing productivity by using High Yielding Variety (HYV) seeds, food security has to be examined in terms of availability, accessibility, utilization, and vulnerability. Food security is a growing concern with growing population which has to be given equal importance to any other economic issues. This growing concern can be sustained through improvising technology, introducing new methods of irrigation, proper water management, controlling the population, focusing on small farmers and encouraging research and development.

Apart from these two major initiatives which can help to ensure food security is crop diversification and controlling climate change. Through crop diversification, we need to increase the productivity of crops which are a deficit in availability. Due to change in lifestyle, there has been an increase in demand for organic fruits and vegetables, dairy, meat and poultry and fishery products.

Food security can be achieved by addressing the issues of climate change. Limiting global warming by promoting the use of climate-smart agriculture methods and judisious use of land can mitigate the issue of food security.