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Food Security: An Overview

Food security is a condition related to the supply of food, and individuals’ access to it. The final report of the 1996 World Food Summit states that food security “exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.

The FCI is a linchpin in the farm economy, which supports two-thirds of Indians. Courtesy: Hindustan Times.

The Four Pillars of Food Security

  1. Availability: Food availability relates to the supply of food to production, distribution, and exchange. A variety of factors determine Food production such as land ownership and use; soil management; crop selection, breeding, and management; livestock breeding and management; and harvesting. Crop production is not required for a country to achieve food security.
  2. Access; Food access refers to the affordability and allocation of food, as well as the preferences of individuals and households. Poverty can limit access to food, and can also increase how vulnerable an individual or household is to food price spikes. Access depends on whether the household has enough income to purchase food at prevailing prices or has sufficient land and other resources to grow its own food. Households with enough resources can overcome unstable harvests and local food shortages and maintain their access to food.
  3. Utilization: Once the food is obtained by a household, a variety of factors affects the quantity and quality of food that reaches members of the household. In order to achieve food security, the food ingested must be safe and must be enough to meet the physiological requirements of every individual. Food safety affects food utilization and can be affected by the preparation, processing, and cooking of food in the community and household. Nutritional values of the household determine food choice, and whether the food meets cultural preferences is important to utilization in terms of psychological and social well-being.
  4. Stability: Food stability refers to the ability to obtain food over time. Food insecurity can be transitory, seasonal, or chronic. In transitory food insecurity, food may be unavailable during certain periods of time such as during natural disasters, civil conflicts and droughts. Seasonal food insecurity can result from the regular pattern of growing seasons in food production. Chronic (or permanent) food insecurity is defined as the long-term, persistent lack of adequate food. Chronic and transitory food insecurity are linked since the re-occurrence of transitory food security can make households more vulnerable to chronic food insecurity.

Famines in India

A photograph was taken during the Bengal famine of 1943. Courtesy: Wikipedia

The last major famine in India was the Bengal famine of 1943. A famine occurred in the state of Bihar in December 1966 on a much smaller scale. The drought of Maharashtra in 1970–1973 is often cited as an example in which successful famine prevention processes were employed. Famines in British India were severe enough to have a substantial impact on the long-term population growth of the country in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Initiatives by the Government of India

The FCI buys farm produce at government-guaranteed prices (known as minimum support prices), which act as a key incentive for farmers. It then sells the procured foodgrains at discounted rates to the poor.Courtesy: Hindustan Times

Food Corporation of India was set up on 14 January 1965 under the Food Corporations Act 1964 to implement the following objectives of the National Food Policy:

  • Effective price support operations for safeguarding the interests of the farmers
  • Distribution of foodgrains throughout the country for Public Distribution System
  • Maintaining satisfactory level of operational and buffer stocks of foodgrains to ensure National Food Security
  • Regulate market price to provide foodgrains to consumers at a reliable price

The National Food for Work Programme was launched by the Ministry of Rural Development on 14 November 2004 in 150 of the most backward districts of India with the objective of generating supplementary wage employment. The programme is open to all Indian poor population who are prepared to do manual unskilled labour work and are in the need of wage employment.

Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) is an Indian government welfare programme which provides food, preschool education, and primary healthcare to children under 6 years of age and their mothers. These services are provided from Anganwadi centres established mainly in rural areas and staffed with frontline workers. In addition to fighting malnutrition and ill health, the programme is also intended to combat gender inequality by providing girls the same resources as boys.

Public Distribution System (PDS) is an Indian food security system. Established by the Government of India under Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food, and Public Distribution and are managed jointly by state governments in India, it distributes subsidized food and non-food items to India’s poor. This scheme was launched in India on June 1947. Major commodities distributed include staple food grains, such as wheat, rice, sugar, and kerosene, through a network of fair price shops (also known as ration shops) established in several states across the country. Food Corporation of India, a Government-owned corporation, procures and maintains the PDS.

The National Food Security Act, 2013 (also Right to Food Act) is an Act of the Parliament of India which aims to provide subsidised food grains to approximately two-thirds of India’s 1.2 billion people. It was signed into law on 12 September 2013, retroactive to 5 July 2013. The NFSA converts into legal entitlements for existing food security programmes of the Government of India. It includes the Midday Meal Scheme, Integrated Child Development Services scheme and the Public Distribution System. Further, the NFSA 2013 recognises maternity entitlements. The Midday Meal Scheme and the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme are universal in nature whereas the PDS will reach about two-thirds of the population (75% in rural areas and 50% in urban areas).

Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) is a Government of India sponsored scheme to provide highly subsidised food to millions of the poorest families. It was launched by the [NDA] government on 25 December 2000 and first implemented in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Poor families were identified by their respective state rural development facilities through the use of surveys(NSSO). The scheme has been expanded twice, once in June 2003 and then in August 2004, adding an additional 5,000,000 BPL(Below Poverty Line) families each time and bringing the total number of families covered up to 20,000,000.

Minimum Support Price is the price at which government purchases crops from the farmers, whatever may be the price for the crops. Minimum Support Price is an important part of India’s agricultural price policy. The MSP helps to incentivize the framers and thus ensures adequate food grains production in the country. It gives sufficient remuneration to the farmers, provides food grains supply to buffer stocks and supports the food security programme through PDS and other programmes.

Green Revolution

The Green Revolution in India was a period when agriculture in India increased its yields due to improved agronomic technology. Green Revolution allowed India to overcome poor agricultural productivity. It started in the early 1960s and led to an increase in food grain production, especially in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh during the early phase. The introduction of high-yielding varieties of seeds and the increased use of chemical fertilizers and irrigation led to the increase in production needed to make the country self-sufficient in food grains, thus improving agriculture in India. The production of wheat has produced the best results in fueling self-sufficiency of India. Along with high-yielding seeds and irrigation facilities, the enthusiasm of farmers mobilised the idea of agricultural revolution. Due to the rise in the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers there were negative effects on the soil and the land such as land degradation.

White Revolution – Operation Flood

Operation Flood, launched in 1970, was a project of India’s National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), which was the world’s biggest dairy development program. It transformed India from a milk-deficient nation into the world’s largest milk producer, surpassing the USA in 1998, with about 17 percent of global output in 2010–11. In 30 years it doubled milk available per person and made dairy farming India’s largest self-sustainable rural employment generator It was launched to help farmers direct their own development, placing control of the resources they create in their own hands.

Why Food Security Matters?

Food is a fundamental human right. And yet one in nine people around the world (805 million) go hungry every day. While this is still 805 million too many, we are making progress towards eliminating hunger.

The world committed to halving the proportion of hungry people between 1990 and 2015 through the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). There are 209 million fewer hungry people now than in 1990. Already 63 countries have met the MDG target. Some regions such as Latin America and the Caribbean have made impressive progress in increasing food security. However, there has been only modest progress in Sub-Saharan Africa and Western Asia, where natural disasters and conflict continue to trap people in hunger.

There is also a more insidious type of hunger, a hidden hunger caused by deficiencies in micronutrients such as iron, Vitamin A and Zinc affecting two billion people. For the individual, the effects of micronutrient deficiencies can be devastating. If a child does not receive sufficient nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life they are at risk of mental impairment, poor health, low productivity and even death.

The economic costs of micronutrient deficiencies are also considerable, reducing gross domestic product (GDP) by 0.7-2% in most developing countries. Global losses in economic productivity due to macronutrient and micronutrient deficiencies reach more than 2-3% of GDP.

To feed the world in 2050 we need to increase total global food production by 70%. This will be increasingly challenging a changing climate. By 2030 crop and pasture yields are likely to decline in many places. In parts of Brazil, rice and wheat yields are likely to decline by 14%. By 2050, widespread impacts on food and farming are highly likely with 8% average decline in yields for eight major food crops across Africa and South Asia.

How can we improve food security?

The returns on investments in agricultural research are well documented. There is overwhelming evidence that over the past five decades, agricultural productivity around the world has been greatly enhanced by agricultural research and development which has helped to improve the livelihoods of millions of the world’s poorest people. This means targeted investments in research and adoption of research outputs can produce direct and meaningful benefits to food-insecure people, most of whom are smallholder farmers.

  • GDP growth generated by agriculture is up to four times more effective in reducing poverty than growth generated by other sectors
  • 1% increase in agricultural yields leads to a 0.6–1.2% reduction in the number of people living below $1 per day

The African Union’s New Partnerships for Africa’s Development and its Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme argue that the agricultural sector can and must grow on average by 6% per annum to play its role in Africa’s development.

Across Sub-Saharan Africa, there is a substantial gap between potential yields and those occurring in farmers’ fields. We could close this gap by giving farmers access to inputs like high-yielding and adapted crop varieties, fertiliser, animal health products, and services like financial services and technical advice. These need to be matched by appropriate government policies. Research in these areas has the potential to boost agricultural performance and improve livelihoods. Africa has the potential to increase its agricultural output, in monetary terms from around $280 billion in the late 2000s to $800 billion by 2030.

The important role of agriculture in addressing issues of food insecurity and pulling Africa out of poverty is widely recognized The 2014 African Union Chairperson, His Excellency Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz stated ‘for most countries, agriculture indeed constitutes the development battlefield where we can win the war on poverty, hunger and indignity’. The President of Mauritania adds that ‘agriculture has been, and will continue to be, at the centre of economic and also political stability in Africa’.

Regions of food insecurity

  • Some Indian states such as Odisha, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra have extreme levels of food insecurity.
  • There are still many districts (of a few states), which have permanent food insecurity and famine-like conditions. The districts are −
    • Kalahandi and Kashipur districts of Odisha.
    • Palamau district of Jharkhand.
    • Baran district of Rajasthan, etc.


  • India, after independence, experienced many remarkable achievements. For example, the introduction of ‘green revolution’ increased the agricultural produce many folds. But the substantial increase in the production of grains (especially rice and wheat) is not equal across the country.
  • The states Punjab and Uttar Pradesh achieved high growth rate; on the contrary, Jharkhand, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, recorded decrease in their food grain production (for the year 2012—13).
  • In spite of all the disparities (discussed above), over the last few decades, India is self-sufficient in the production of food grains.
  • To mitigate adverse conditions, the Indian government has come up with initiatives such as special food security system (maintaining buffer reserves of food stock) and public distribution system.

Availability of food grains

During 1950-51 annual net imports of cereals amounted to 4.1 million tonnes. This figure was 10.3 million tons during 1965-66. Since then there was a decline and after 1995-96 India became an exporter of cereals. During the last 50 years, there has been an increase in the per capita availability of cereals to the extent of 9%.

However, the country has failed to increase the production of pulses consistent with the needs of the growing population. This is significant since a large number of vegetarians in the country depend on pulses for their protein requirements. Tenth Plan data indicate that consumption of milk and meat products, as well as vegetables and fruits, has increased as a natural outcome of economic development.

Technological Solutions

The growth of food products can be highly developed by introducing various technological methods. Technology can be used to predict the climate change and help farmers make an informed decision. Also, the country needs to concentrate on methods to improve the availability and affordability of protein-rich food products using the latest technology without finding the requirement for extra land or water.

UN Support

The United Nations In India supports various anti-poverty programmes like Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the National Rural Livelihoods Mission. ey ensure that the program reaches every citizen of the country and no one, especially the socially backward communities do not miss out on the profits.  It assists government efforts to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the safety nets under the NFSA, and work towards increasing farm incomes for small and marginal farming households.

In previous years, the group has collaborated with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to hold a national consultation on wheat flour fortification, and with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India to organise a workshop on advocating for a national food fortification policy.


Sources of Foodgrains Across the Nation

Rice is grown mainly in Assam, West Bengal, Bihar, Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Kashmir valley, Eastern Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Coastal areas of Maharashtra. Rice is now also being grown in the irrigated areas of Punjab and Haryana.

Rice Production Touched the figure 863.5 lakh tones in 2003-2004.

Wheat growing areas include Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, parts of Rajasthan, and Bihar. Wheat production for 2003-2004 was estimated at 727.4 lakh tones.

Millets include jowar, bajra, and Ragi. Bajra is a crop of dry and warm regions of Rajasthan. Ragi is a rain-fed crop grown in drier parts of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Maize is mainly produced in Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh.

Pulses are grown both as Rabi and Kharif crops. The Rabi (winter season) crops are Masoor and Peas. The Kharif crops (sown around April and harvested in September- October) include Arhar, Urad, and Moong. The major gram producing areas are Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan. Food grains production touched 229.9 Million tons in 2008-09.

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