Food Security of India - Overview on Food Subsidies

 Food Price Rises : Need for Food Security

Over the past several years rising prices have become a chronic malady in India's national life. They have given rise to widespread distress, especially among people who are already living at the subsistence level and also among those in the fixed income group, viz., wage earners and the salaried classes. Because of persistent increases in the prices of the necessaries of life, the number of people living below the poverty line has been steadily increasing. At one time they constituted 60 % of our population, but now their number has gone up.

Constantly rising prices are like a fire feeding on itself. As they erode the incomes of wage-earners, they give rise to labour unrest. That in turn brings down productivity leading to further increase in prices. Thus, they establish a vicious circle which it becomes problematic to break. As the costs of production mount, all schemes of planned economic development go out of the window and national economy is overtaken by chaos and thrown out of gear. The factors which contribute to price rise can be broadly classified as external and internal. In the context of the situation as it has developed in India, we have heard it repeatedly many times that the rise in prices witnessed in the country is in part due to the impact of global inflation. Obviously, we cannot do much about global inflation and the impact it has on the price situation in India. But we can certainly apply our minds to identifying and controlling or at least mitigating the rigours of the internal factors which may be aggravating the situation.The symptoms of the disease are clear enough. But before we start thinking of the remedies, we need to form a clear idea of its internal causes also. According to economists, the main culprit in this context is inflation. In layman's language, it describes a situation in which too much money is chasing too few goods. We are repeatedly told that money supply in the country has been increasing. This means that the amount of money circulating in the market has been going up. Naturally enough if it exceeds the value of goods available in the market, the prices are bound to go up.This indicates a state of imbalance in the economy which may be due to various factors e.g., faulty planning with a wrong order of priorities, inadequate production of goods most in demand etc. When we talk of production in that context, we have to take into account both industrial and agricultural production. The malady may be further aggravated by unimaginative import and export policies. If imports are not so oriented as to fill the gaps in the domestic market and exports are so managed as to widen such gaps, the results are bound to contribute to prices increasing.

All this concerns the way unimaginative state policy can aggravate the situation on the price front. But the story does not end there. There is another class which can and does play an active role in determining the pattern of price-behaviour. They are the manufacturers and the traders or in other words, the business community. Unfortunately a majority of the business people in our country are more concerned with profit without realizing that it also carries with it the obligation to serve the community. Such unscrupulous elements do not let go any opportunity to cash in one the people hardships. In defiance of of stringent laws against such malpractices, they anxiety to get rich quickly, they create man-made shortages and add to the misery of the people. Yet another factors which acts as a catalytic agent in increasing prices is the excess demand created in the market by a fast increasing population and constantly expanding money supply.To sum up, some of internal causes which precipitate price increases are excess money supply, faulty planning, unrealistic import and export policies, imbalance in production, rapacity among traders and excessive increase in population. Given the necessary will and determination, none of these presents an insuperable problem. The causes of increase in money supply are well known, viz., large scale deficit financing over the years, increase in bank-credit, the cost of food procurement and subside etc. Surely India does not lack talent which can find the answers of this problem. Experience tells us the only impulse to which a majority of the business people in India respond is fear. Appeals to their patriotic instincts fall on deaf ears because they seem to have no such instinct. The only way in which they can be made to behave is strict enforcement of the laws on the statue book to keep the prices of essential commodities under check and harsh measures against hoarding and profiteering. They may not be able to understand the language of reason but they will certainly appreciate determined action.

Simultaneously, steps will have to be taken to increase production, particularly of such items of mass consumption as may be in short supply. Another step that is urgently called for in this context is the streamlining and strengthening of the public distribution system. Last but not least, it has to be remembered that all these measures can be successful only to the extent we can control population growth so that it is not allowed to make nonsense of all planning. Given the necessary will and determination and with the active co-operation of people at large, the problem of rising prices can certainly be solved.

In India over the past 15 years, the debate about food, under a rights-based perspective, has become increasingly complex. Concerns about famine, emergency relief and technology-driven green revolutions have given way to discussions on the state's failure to deliver public distribution programmes, the discrimination these programmes perpetuate, legal entitlements to land, climate change, price volatility and the role of NGOs. In other words, the debate has shifted from starvation and subsistence to dignity and justice. Food security is access to enough food by all people at all time for an active and healthy life. In the past concentrated efforts were made to achieve food security by increasing food grain production. Thanks to the impact of green revolution though, it was limited to same crops and too in limited states. To ensure easy access to food at household level, government monopolizes grain management and subsidized food gains. Paradoxically, India attained national food self-sufficiency 35 years ago yet about 35% of its population remains food insecure. Low incomes and high food prices prevent individual food security. Another aspect of Indian food security situation is that after over three decades of operation, public distribution system meets less than 10% of consumption of PDS grains– rice and wheat –by the poor. At the global level, poor harvest coupled with rising demand has led to an overall increase in food prices. Unfavourable weather conditions in parts of Europe and North Africa, together with worst ever drought in Australia put stocks of major food crops, especially wheat, at record low levels. Tight supply pushed up the prices of wheat to unprecedented heights, significantly affecting food inflation across the globe including India.

Attaining long-term food security requires the raising of incomes and making food affordable. To ensure food security for the vulnerable section of the society a multiple pronged stately is to be evolved. To begin with all the existing social safety net programmes need amalgamation and should focus on vulnerable and underprivileged regions and groups.The existing anti-poverty programmes may be made more transparent with better government that minimizes leakages and benefits from such programmes. Simultaneously, agriculture needs to be reformed by improving incentives, incentives, increasing investment etc. So that production of traditional and high-value commodities can be increased. Unfortunately agriculture is in the grip of poor performance. Traditional sources of augmenting income are ceresin. Production environment is changing it is not dominated by small holders. With the shrinking land holdings, their sustainability and viability cannot rely solely on production of food grains. To augment their income, small holders need to diversify their production and crops.

Towards a Food Secure India

Ever since independence in 1947, agricultural development policies in India have aimed at reducing hunger, food insecurity, undernourishment poverty at a rapid rate. Keeping this overarching goal in mind, the emphasis which was initially on keeping food prices low, shifted to macro food security and subsequently to household and individual food security. Later, the food security of vulnerable, sustainable use of natural resources, and equity between rural and urban or farm and non-farm population became the issues of dominant discourse related to agricultural development. Several new initiatives have been taken during the last few years to tackle the situation and to bring back farmers’ coincidence farming in general and cereal production in particular.Indices for economic and social status are composite indicators of economic and social well-being at the community, state and national levels. These social indicators are used to monitor the social system and help in the identification of problem areas that need policy planning and require intervention to alter the course of social change.If the existing trends in high population growth, low agricultural development, wide disparities in income, huge environmental degradation,and high incidence poverty continues, India’s food, agriculture,environment, and quality of human life will be seriously threatened in the coming years. Poverty and malnutrition are likely to remain as major problems. Pressure to produce more food from less land, use of more natural resources, enormous growth in the population and unequal distribution of income will harm the environment in the years to come.

Agriculture sector reforms should be initiated on a war-footing, to bring together all the best that is available and make agriculture an organized unit to give farmers the maximum benefits. Turning agriculture into an organised business with the farmer as the entrepreneur should be the key to the second green revolution and for the much desired evergreen revolution in India. Farming should be taken up with the motive of profit making rather than just making a subsistence living. With huge diversity in the number and variety of crops that we produce, variations in agro climatic conditions, soil type, and prevailing inequalities in the state growth levels, it is most essential to implement the development plans through micro level initiatives and proper coordination between all the stakeholders. These issues need to be considered to meet the targets laid out in the Eleventh Plan strategy to raise agricultural output. Therefore, the prevailing policy instruments need to be re-looked at, redefined and efficiently implemented to enhance agriculture productivity and especially dry land farming. There is an urgent need to reduce the regional disparity through appropriate policy planning for a balanced development of the country. There is a need to motivate more private investment into the agriculture sector and incentives like tax concessions or benefits can be proposed to them. There is also a strong need for public-private partnership, not only to start new projects but also to support and maintain the existing public structure.


The following are suggested for not only improving productivity but also for ensuring food security.

Education and literacy: Role of education in improving farm efficiency and technology adoption has to be well established as agriculture transformed from subsistence to commercial level, farmers seek information on a wide range of issues to acquire knowledge or upgrade their skills and entrepreneurial ability. Literacy emerged as an important source of growth on adoption of improved technology components and production. The role of literacy is more pronounced during the liberalization era than the pre -1990 period, where knowledge based decisions influence input use efficiency and productivity. Literacy emerges as an important source of growth in adoption of technology, and use of modern inputs like machines and fertilizer. Recognizing that in the liberalized economic environment, efficiency and growth orientation will attract maximum attention, literacy will play a far more important role in the globalized world than it did in the past. An educated work force makes it easier to train and acquire new skills and technologies required for productivity growth. Thus, contribution of literacy will be substantial on yield growth and domestic supply of food.

Integrated Nutrient Management: Attention should be given to balanced useof nutrients. Phosphorus deficiency is the most widespread soil fertility problem in both irrigated and un-irrigated areas. To improve the efficiency of fertiliser- use, what is really needed is enhanced location-specific research on efficient fertiliser practices, improvement in soil testing services, development of improved fertiliser supply and distribution systems and development of physical and institutional infrastructure (Kumar and Desai, 1995).

Water for sustainable food security: India, being crop - based, needs to produce more and more from less and less of land and water resources. Alarming rates of ground water deletions and increasing environmental and social problems pose acute threats to humankind. Improved management of irrigation water is essential in enhancing production and productivity, food security, poverty alleviation. In India, water availability per capita was over 5000 cubic metres per annum in 1950. It stood at around 2000 cubic metres during 2001 and was projected to decline to 1500 cubic metres by 2005. Further, the quality of available water is deteriorating faster (Kumar, 2001). Agriculture is the biggest user of water accounting for about 80 per cent of the water withdrawals. There are pressures for diverting water from agriculture to other sectors. It has been projected that availability of water for agriculture use in India may be reduced by 21 per cent by 2020, resulting in drop of yields of irrigated crops, especially rice, leading to price rise and threat to food security of the poor. The needs of other sectors for water cannot be ignored. As a result, it is necessary that an integrated water use policy is formulated and judiciously implemented.

Enhancing yield of major commodities: The yield of major crops and livestock commodities must be increased. There is a need to strengthen adaptive research and technology, assessment and refinement capabilities of the country so that the existing gaps in technology can be bridged. For this, an appropriate network of extension service will have to be created to stimulate and encourage both top-down and bottom-up flow of information among farmers, extension workers and researchers. The agronomic and soil research need to be intensified to deal with the area-specific problems as decelerating productivity growth in the major production systems. Research on coarse grains, pulses and oil seeds must achieve a production breakthrough. Hybrid rice, single cross hybrids of maize and pigeon pea hybrids offer new opportunities. Soybean, sunflower and oil palm will help in meeting the future oil demands successfully. Forest cover must be preserved to keep off climatic disturbances and provide adequate fuel and fodder. Milk, meat and draught capacity of our animals need to be improved through management practices.

Increase in productivity: It is imperative for India to maintain a steady growth rate in productivity. As productivity increases, the cost of production decreases and the prices also decrease and stabilises. Both producer and consumer share the benefits. The fall in food prices will benefit the urban and rural poor more than upper income groups, because the former spends a much larger proportion of their income on cereals than the latter. All the efforts need to be concentrated on accelerating growth in productivity, whilst conserving natural resources and promoting ecological integrity of agricultural system. More than half of the required growth in yield to meet the target of demand must be met from research efforts by developing area-specific and low input use technologies with emphasis on the regions where the current yields are below the national average yield.

Making dry areas as green: Resource - poor farmers in the rained ecosystems practise less intensive agriculture; they depend on local agriculture for their livelihood and benefit little from increased food production in the irrigated areas. To help them, efforts must be increased to disseminate the available dry land technologies and to generate new ones. Farming system research to develop location-specific technologies must be intensified in the rain fed areas. The Government of India has already extended high priority to watershed development programmes in rain-fed areas.

Emphasis on empowering small farmers: Contribution of small farm holders in securing food for the growing population has increased considerably even though they are the most insecure and vulnerable group in the society. Some definite human resource and skill development programme will make them better decision makers and highly productive. Human resource development for increasing productivity Human resource development for increasing productivity of these small farm holders should be given high priority. Thus, awareness generation and skill development of rural people in both agriculture and non-agriculture are essential for achieving economic and social goals.

Targeted programmes: Raising agricultural productivity requires continuing investment in human resource development, agricultural research and development, improved access to information, better extension services and infrastructural development. Identification of need-based productive programmes are very critical. There is a need to develop demand-driven and area-specific programmes to meet the requirements of food and nutritional security of vulnerable population in the rural areas. Improved technology for agriculture, irrigation and livestock and higher literacy levels are the most important instruments for improving food and nutritional security of the farm households. Watershed development and water-saving techniques will have far-reaching implications in increasing agricultural production in rain-fed areas. Livestock sector should be given high priority with multiple objectives of diversifying agriculture, raising income and meeting the nutritional security of the poor farm households.

Safety net to small farmers and the poor: With the advent of globalisation and liberalisation reform and the WTO regime, the small farmers are liable to be more vulnerable and disadvantaged by the sheer scale of economy. Necessary safety nets need to be built in the structural adjustment processes. The policy of minimum guarantee prices, subsidy on food and some degree of subsidisationin modern inputs need to be guaranteed for small farmers and the rural poor.

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