Food and Agriculture


Food and Agriculture

Table of Contents

Food Security

  • Food is the first among the hierarchical needs of the humans (Maslow’s basic needs)
  • Achieving food security for all has been a national goal since 1947
  • JL Nehru said – “Everything else can wait, but not agriculture”.

What is FS?

  • Physical, economic, and social access to balanced diet, clean drinking water, environmental hygiene and primary healthcare

Why is food security essential?

  • Support 1 billion people
  • Employment provision
  • Malnutrition is closely linked to food security
  • Hence, having food security (as defined above) can increase human capabilities
  • Remove unfreedoms (Sen: Development as Freedom)

What is the scenario in India?

  • Under and malnutrition remains widespread
    • Statistic
  • Mostly children and women suffer the most

Paradigm Shift

  • Shifted from a patronage to a rights approach.
  • Hence now we are moving towards having legal rights through legislations.
  • National Food Security Bill will confer the specified group the legal right to food.

Sustainable food security

  • We need not just food security but sustainable food security.
  • To achieve sustainable food security, following need attention
    • Availability of food: function of production and import
    • Access to food: function of purchasing power and employment
    • Absorption of food: function of clean drinking water, sanitation and healthcare
  • Thus food and non-food factors are essential in sustainable food security
  • Government schemes aimed at improving the non-food aspects of food security
    • Rajiv Gandhi Drinking Water Mission
    • Total Sanitation Programme
    • National Rural Health Mission
  • Programmes like MNREGA help in providing the minimum purchasing power to purchase food
  • PDS is there for distribution to ensure access to food
  • Government schemes to increase availability of food
    • Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana
    • National Food Security Mission
    • National Horticulture Mission

Challenges to food security

  1. Agriculture is still very vulnerable to the behaviour of the monsoon
  2. We have to produce food for not just 1.2 bn people but for about a billion farm animals as well
  3. Agriculture in India is not just a food producing machinery but a source of employment for a majority of people


National Commission on Farmers (2004-06)

  • Has provided a detailed strategy for the agricultural progress of India
  • Strategy has following components
    • Conserve the gains in the areas of green revolution (UP, Punjab etc) through climate resilient farming
    • Extend the gains of green revolution to the excluded areas: Eastern India
    • Make new gains in rainfed areas which constitute nearly sixty percent of the cultivated area. RWH and Watershed Mgmt

MSS’s recommendations

  • Bridge the growing mismatch between production and post production technologies
  • A national grid of grain storages based on modern technology should be established
  • Community Grain Banks
  • Animal food security is also essential for human food security because otherwise the yield from animals will be low


Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security

  • National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture
  • Factors to cope with
    • Unfavourable changes in temperature
    • Unf changes in precipitation
    • Floods/snow melt
    • High Co2
    • Sea level rise

Meeting the challenges of climate change

  • Implement alternative cropping strategies based on different weather conditions
  • Seed reserves should be build
  • Computer simulation models can be used to identify scientific strategies needed for reducing the adverse impact of drought on agriculture
  • To deal with sea level rise
    • Develop mangrove and non-mangrove bio-shields
    • Promote Sea Water Farming through agri-aqua farms
    • Promoting below sea level farming as already practiced by farmers in Kuttanad area of Kerala
  • Establish Research and Training Centre for Climate Risk Management

Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies

  • Mitigation
    • Carbon sequestration
    • Soil Carbon Banks through trees which enhance soil nutrient status
  • Adaptation
    • Green house horticulture should be promoted


International perspective

  • A committee setup by the UN Committee on Food Security under the chairmanship of MSS
    • Analyses the potential impact of acquisitions, particularly in Africa, on food security
    • It has been estimated that 50 mn to 80 mn hectares of farmland in developing countries has been the subject of negotiations by international investors in recent years, two thirds of them in sub-Saharan Africa, widely recognised as a hot spot for endemic hunger
    • The report found little evidence that such large-scale acquisitions have helped to provide food and jobs to the local population
    • More than three quarters of the deals are yet to demonstrate improvements in agricultural output
    • The panel identified several steps that governments should take towards more effective and equitable land tenure systems to protect land rights
  • The growing diversion of farmland for fuel production in industrialisied countries, increased consumption of meat on the part of the affluent, and loss of land to roads, houses and industries are likely to lead to acute food scarcity, sever price volatility and high food inflation by the end of this decade
  • The Arab Spring had its genesis in food inflation


Revamping food praocurement

Critical Policies in ensuring effective PDS

  • Minimum Support Price
  • Procurement
  • Distribution


  • Objective
    • To ensure that the farmers get a remunerative price for their produce
  • How calculated
    • Looking at various factors including cost of production, cost of living, price parity etc
  • MSP was to be the last resort for the farmer
  • Declared for around 25 crops but are effective for virtually only wheat and rice and to some extent for coarse cereals

Why are MSPs revised upwards?

  • Counter inflationary impact
  • Induce more cultivation of certain crops
  • Populist motivations

What are the consequences of higher MSP?

  • Upward bias imparted to all prices as the MSP serves as the benchmark for all other product
    • Inflationary impact has hence been quite significant which raises issues on whether the farmers or consumers interests are of greater importance
  • Tendency for the cropping pattern to get skewed towards rice and wheat as the prices offered are high and the procurement system is also strong in certain states
    • MSP has hence evolved to become the first choice rather than the last resort


Motivations for procurement by the govt

  • To provide food security
  • Provide for the PDS
  • Stabilize prices

Buildup of stocks

  • Earlier the PDS was universal


Wadhwa Committee on PDS


deficiencies of this system are:

  • Multiple ration cards being issued under a single name
  • Faulty system of issue and record keeping
  • Pilferage – PDS foodgrains find way to market and all the lot don’t reach the eligible/needy person
  • No bio-matric identification for the users
  • No central monitoring system to track the carriage trucks
  • The delivery mechanism has no RFID (Radio Frequency Identification Device)



  • Has suggested that PDS operations be computerized and human intervention be reduced to the extent possible, so as to check the diversions and leakages which plague the system at present.
  • If the disbursement to the beneficiaries in the State can be equated to the allocation to the state, there can be no diversion
  • Ration card database should be digitized and distribution to the beneficiary should be made after biometric identification
  • Integrate the different steps in allocation from Centre till the beneficiary so that there is no pilferage
  • Smart card and PoS devise should be used
  • Monitoring the functioning of PDS operations through the use of information and communication technology should be given the highest priority
  • National Committee must be set up to lay down uniform standards for software components


Right to Food


APL could be roped in by reducing the BPL provisions to 30 kg, says Rangarajan.

AADHAAR can be used to for better provision. Some amount (5.5 kg) could be entitled to each individual.

NAC suggests:

  1. Implement in a phased manner. Initially, extend universal food entitlements to one-fourth of either the poorest districts or the poorest blocks in the country. In the remaining areas, status quo will continue with the current application of the PDS.
  2. Universalization of food security would currently not be possible given the current state of agricultural productivity and the level of grain procurement.

P Sainath: The general arguments against universal PDS:

  1. There is no money. <the government however gave out Rs 500000 crore of tax exemptions to the wealthy in the budget 2010>
  2. There are not enough grains for a universal system

The average daily net per capita availability of foodgrain between 2005 and 2008 is a dismal 436 grams per Indian. That’s less than it was half a century ago. Pulses availability was 70 grams in 1955-58 whereas in 2005-08 it was around 35 grams.

NAC recommendations on Food Security Bill

NAC, in October 2010, made the following recommendations for the food security bill:

  1. The law should provide a legal entitlement subsidised foodgrains for at least 75 per cent of the population, which translates into 90 per cent of the country’s rural population and 50 per cent of the urban population.
  2. This 75 per cent of the population is, in turn, divided into “priority households” — who should have a monthly entitlement of 35 kg at a subsidised price of Re. 1 a kg for millets, Rs. 2 a kg for wheat and Rs. 3 a kg for rice — and “general households” who should have a monthly entitlement of 20 kg “at a price not exceeding 50 per cent of the current Minimum Support Price” for the three grains.
  3. The NAC proposes that 46 per cent of the rural population and 28 per cent of the urban population would be classified as priority households. And that 44 per cent of the rural and 22 per cent of the urban population would be classified as general households. The criteria for categorising households as ‘priority’ or ‘general’ should be specified by the government of India.

These proposals are new in that they offer a legal entitlement to around 75 percent of the population.

Rangarajan Committee on the Food Security Bill

  • This committee was created to examine the NAC recommendations relating to the RTF
  • It favours NAC’s recommendation of legal entitlement of foodgrains to the poor, but has rejected the recommendation that APL households be partially covered, saying it is not feasible at the current levels of grain production and procurement.

Critique of NAC recommendations

  • The framework hinges on the unscientific division between the general, priority and excluded households
  • Identification criteria is left to the central government with some discretion for the state governments. Hence no one is guaranteed inclusion except for few ultra marginalised groups. This undermines the basic purpose of the Act
  • The transition from the current APL-BPL framework to the new framework is likely to be disruptive. There are at least three sources of disruption:
    • The creation of an ‘excluded’ category
    • Transition to the new BPL list
    • Switch from household to per capita entitlements
  • The NAC framework fails to delink PDS entitlements from official poverty estimates

Draft Food Security Bill

  • Retains the identification of beneficiaries based on the BPL criteria
  • Divides the population into priority and general – under which 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population will be entitled to subsidised foodgrains and the rest will be excluded.
  • Reduced the monthly entitlement of the general households from 4 kg per person to 3 kg per person
  • The government (central) will determine the number of priority households in each state based on a state wise poverty ratio to be updated from time to time

The stated aim of the draft Bill is “to provide for food and nutritional security, in human life cycle approach, by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices, for people to live a life with dignity.” To realise this, we must ensure that every child, woman and man has physical, economic and social (in gender terms) access to a balanced diet (that is, the needed calories and protein), micronutrients (iron, iodine, zinc, Vitamin A, Vitamin B12 and so on), as well as clean drinking water, sanitation and primary health care.

A life cycle approach to food security will imply attention to the nutritional needs of a human being from conception to cremation. The most vulnerable but neglected segment is the first 1,000 days in a child’s life — the period from conception to the age of two, when much of the brain development takes place.

To make food-for-all a legal right, it is necessary to adopt a Universal Public Distribution System (PDS) with common but differentiated entitlements with reference to the cost and quantity of foodgrain.

The widening of the food basket by including a range of nutri-cereals (normally referred to as “coarse cereals”), along with wheat and rice is an important feature of the Food Security Bill. Nutri-cereals such as bajraragijowar, maize, constitute “health foods,” and their inclusion in the PDS, along with wheat and rice, will encourage their production by farmers.

Nutri-cereals are usually cultivated in rainfed areas and are more climate-resilient. Hence, in an era of climate change, they will play an increasingly important role in human nutrition security.

Giving cash will reduce interest in procurement and safe storage. This in turn will affect production.

The government should consider adopting as a general policy the formula suggested by the National Commission on Farmers (NCF), that MSP should be C2 plus 50 per cent (total cost of production plus 50 per cent).

Finally, the Bill provides for the creation of Food Security Commissions at the State and Central levels. The two essential ingredients of implementing the legal right to food are political will and farmers’ skill. Hence, State-level Food Security Commissions should be chaired by farmers with an outstanding record of successful farming


Criticisms of the Draft Food Security Bill

  • The government’s bill seems to be aimed not at improving access to food but at minimising its own obligations
  • Identification criteria is flawed

Urban Food Insecurity

A large segment of urban working population is mostly without productive asset and relies primarily on wage or marginal self employment to survive. They face food insecurity in terms of access to food.

There has been a proliferation of slums lacking basic amenities. Lack of safe drinking water and sanitation leads to poor biological utilization of food and repeated episodes of morbidity.

<Refer: Report on the State of Food Insecurity in Urban India, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, 2010>

What the government can do?

  • Expansion of productive and remunerative employment by assistance to small and tiny enterprises in the urban economy
  • Access to safe drinking water and toilets
  • Programmes like JNNURM should also focus on the needs of slums in all cities and address the needs of the poor
  • Address needs of vulnerable sections such as street children, orphans, HIV-AIDS patients through initiatives such as community kitchens.
  • Universal urban PDS


In June 2010, the SC directed the government to distribute to the poor the rotting food in the FCI godowns.

The issue here is:

Tonnes of food grains every year are eaten up by rodents or gets perished in rains due to inadequate storage facilities.

The PM has, however, said that SC should not intervene in policy matters and that it is not possible for the government to distribute food grains free of cost.

MS Swaminathan

  • Hunger in India is due to poverty and not due to lack of food grains
  • We have many years before we achieve the Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme hunger and poverty
  • Food prices are going up


  1. Distribute the grain for which there is no safe storage
  2. Food grains exposed to rains might get rotten. Such rotten food grains should not be distributed to the poor
  3. Food losses due to poor storage should be measured both in quantitative and qualitative terms. <Qualitative: Are they fit for human consumption>
  4. Procurement at remunerative prices is the key in keeping up farmers’ interest in farming.


Strategies for Farm Growth

  1. Loans are not easily available. It is advisable to waive loans of farmers with farm size up to four hectares in non-irrigated areas.
  2. The government should arrange to supply quality seeds and seedlings of high yielding varieties.
  3. About 65 percent of the cultivable land area in India is in rain-fed area and hence dependent on the vagaries of nature. It is essential to protect the farmers against losses through crop insurance schemes.
  4. Crops are lost during transit. It is essential to build proper storage capacity.
  5. Provide adequate transport to transport produce from fields to marketing centres.
  6. Support prices should be announced ahead of the sowing season.
  7. Eliminate middlemen. Ensure direct procurement under PDS.
  8. In order to fulfil the need of fuel in every village, energy plantation should be undertaken.

Global Hunger Index 2010

  • International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington DC
  • The 2010 index calculated for 122 developing countries and countries in transition
  • Index scores based on three equally weighted indicators: the proportion of people who are undernourished, the proportion of children under five who are underweight, and the child mortality rate.
  • It ranks countries on a 100-point scale, with 0 being the best score and 100 being the worst
  • In 2010 report, India has been placed in the ‘alarming’category. Even Pakistan, Sudan and Rwanda are above India.
  • No of hungry people worldwide: 925 million
  • 2010 report focused on Child Undernutrition
  • State led policies like cash transfers in Brazil can directly address hunger.
  • Undernutrition is often accompanied by lack of sanitation, drinking water and cooking fuel.
  • India is home to 42 pc of the world’s underweight children and 31 pc of its stunted children.


Government Efforts to Tackle Problem of Hunger and Starvation

For tackling the problem of hunger and starvation in the country and to ensure that people living below poverty line get adequate food grains, the Government has been implementing the following schemes providing food grains at highly subsidized prices to the targeted population through the State/UT Governments: –

1. Government is allocating food grains at subsidized rates for 6.52 crore Below Poverty Line (BPL), and Antyodaya Anna Yojna (AAY) ration card holder families under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS). Under this scheme, foodgrains are allocated to the States/UTs @ 35 kg per BPL/AAY family per month. Depending upon availability of food grains in the Central Pool, food grains are allocated for Above Poverty Line (APL) families also. Presently, allocations of food grains to APL category range from 15 to 35 Kg per family per month. During 2010-11, a quantity of 470.65 lakh tons of food grains have been allocated to States/U.Ts under TPDS .

2. Under Annapurna Scheme, indigent senior citizens of 65 years of age or above who are not getting old age pension, are provided 10 Kg of food grains per person per month free of cost. 57,760 tons of food grains have been allocated to States/UTs under the scheme during 2010-11.

3. Under the Emergency Feeding Programme (EFP) implemented in eight KBK Districts of Orissa, rice at BPL rates are allocated to the State Government for approximately 2 lakh beneficiaries in these districts. 18,000 tons of rice have been allocated under this scheme during 2010-11.

4. To provide safeguard against starvation during natural calamity and lean season, under the Village Grain Bank Scheme, foodgrains are allocated free of cost by Government of India to States. So far 20,148 Village Grains Banks have been sanctioned in 20 States and 80,592 tons of foodgrains have been allocated.

5. The Government also makes allocation of foodgrains to States/UTs under Mid Day Meal Scheme for providing food to school children studying in primary and upper primary levels. 29.85 lakh tons of foodgrains have been allocated under the scheme during 2010-11.

6. Under the Wheat Based Nutrition Programme aimed at improving the nutritional status of children below 6 years of age and expectant/lactating women, 15.00 lakh tons of foodgrains have been allocated during 2010-11.

7. Under the Scheme for Welfare Institutions, Government makes allocation of foodgrains to States/UTs for Welfare Institutions run by NGOs, charitable institutions, etc. 1.38 lakh tons of foodgrains have been allocated to various States/UTs during 2010-11.

8. Under the Scheme for SC/ST/OBC Hostels, Government makes allocation of foodgrains to States/UTs for meeting requirements of foodgrains of SC/ST/OBC Hostels. 0.50 lakh tons of foodgrains have been allocated to various States/UTs, during 2010-11.


National Food Security Mission

  • NDC in its 53rd meeting held in 2007 adopted a resolution to launch a food security mission
  • Comprising rice, wheat and pulses to increase the production of rice by 10 mn tonnes, wheat by 8 mn tonnes and pulses by 2 mn tonnes by the end of the eleventh plan.
  • Hence, NSFM has three components
    • Rice
    • Wheat
    • Pulses

Farmer Suicides

 At least 17,368 Indian farmers killed themselves in 2009, the worst figure for farm suicides in six years, according to data of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). This is an increase of 1,172 over the 2008 count of 16,196. It brings the total farm suicides since 1997 to 2,16,500. The share of the Big 5 States, or ‘suicide belt’ — Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — in 2009 remained very high at 10,765, or around 62 per cent of the total, though falling nearly five percentage points from 2008. Maharashtra remained the worst State for farm suicides for the tenth successive year, reporting 2,872. Though that is a fall of 930, it is still 590 more than in Karnataka, second worst, which logged 2,282 farm suicides.

On average, around 47 farmers — or almost one every 30 minutes — killed themselves each day between 2004 and 2009.

Article by Jean Dreze and Reetika Khera on PDS in Chhattisgarh

Chhattisgarh Shows the Way (Nov 13, 2010, The Hindu Magazine)

We had an interesting view of this turnaround a few months ago in Lakhanpur Block (Surguja District), on the sidelines of a survey of NREGA in the area. Everyone we spoke to, across the Block, said that they were receiving their full quota of 35 kg of grain each month, that too at the correct price — one or two rupees per kilo, depending on the type of ration card. The stocks apparently reach the village on time, on the seventh day of each month, and are promptly distributed. There were no complaints of cheating. This is no mean achievement, in an area where the PDS was severely dysfunctional just a few years ago.

Other reports from Chhattisgarh suggest that this is not an isolated success. One survey of food-related schemes, conducted in September-November 2009 in eight Blocks spread over the state, found that 85 per cent of the cardholders were getting their full 35 kg of grain every month from the PDS (others were getting at least 25 kg). Only two per cent of the entries in the ration cards were found to be fake.

Eliminating middlemen

One of the early steps towards PDS reform was the “de-privatising” of ration shops. In Chhattisgarh, private dealers were allowed to get licences for PDS shops from 2001 onwards (before that, PDS shops were run by the state co-operatives network). This measure allowed the network of ration shops to widen, but also created a new nexus of corrupt players whereby dealers paid politicians to get licences as well as protection when they indulged in corrupt practices. In 2004, the government reversed this order (despite fierce opposition from the dealers) and put Gram Panchayats, Self-Help Groups, Van Suraksha Samitis and other community institutions in charge of the ration shops. Aside from bringing ration shops closer to people’s homes, this helped to impart some accountability in the PDS. When people run their own ration shop, there is little incentive to cheat, since that would be like cheating themselves. Community institutions such as Gram Panchayats are not necessarily “people’s institutions” but, nevertheless, they are easier for people to influence than corrupt middlemen or the government’s bureaucratic juggernaut.

Another major reform was to ensure “doorstep delivery” of the PDS grain. This means that grain is delivered by state agencies to the ration shop each month, instead of dealers having to lift their quotas from the nearest godown. How does this help? It is well known that corrupt dealers have a tendency to give reduced quantities to their customers and sell the difference in the black market (or rather the open market). What is less well understood is that the diversion often happens before supplies reach the village. Dealers get away with this by putting their hands up helplessly and telling their customers that “picche se kam aaya hai” (there was a shortfall at the godown). When the grain is delivered to the ration shop, in the village, it is much harder for the dealers to siphon it off without opposition. Truck movements from the godowns to the ration shops are carefully monitored and, if a transporter cheats, the dealers have an incentive to mobilise local support to complain, as we found had happened in one village.

These two measures (de-privatising ration shops and doorstep delivery) were accompanied by rigorous monitoring, often involving creative uses of technology. For instance, a system of “SMS alerts” was launched to inform interested citizens (more than 15,000 have already registered) of grain movements, and all records pertaining to supplies, sales, timelines, etc. were computerised. This involved much learning-by-doing. For instance, at one point the state government tried distributing pre-packed sacks of 35kg to prevent cheating, but the practice had to be discontinued as it was found that these sacks were being tampered with too. Therefore, in recent months, a move towards electronic weighing machines has been initiated.

Perhaps the most important step was improved grievance redressal, based, for instance, on active helplines. Apparently, the helplines are often used by cardholders, and if a complaint is lodged, there is a good chance of timely response. Further, action is not confined to enquiries — in many cases, FIRs have been lodged against corrupt middlemen and it is not uncommon for them to land in jail (there was at least one recent case in Lakhanpur itself). Grain has also been recovered from trucks that were caught off-loading their stocks at unintended destinations.

Increased transparency

Greater transparency is an important step towards corruption-free administration. This is one important lesson from the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). “Information walls” in Rajasthan, whereby the names and employment details of all Job Card holders in a village are painted on the walls of the Gram Panchayat office, can help eliminate bogus Job Cards and fudged Muster Rolls. The NREGA’s Monitoring and Information System (MIS), which computerises all records and makes them available on the Internet, is another important transparency measure that people are slowly learning to use.

Along similar lines, simple transparency measures have been introduced in Chhattisgarh to eliminate bogus ration cards. For instance, every house in Lakhanpur had a large round sign, painted next to the door, displaying the type of ration card held by that household and the corresponding entitlements (price and quantity). This serves the dual purpose of generating awareness about entitlements and of “naming and shaming” those who possess a ration card (e.g. an Antyodaya card) for which they are not eligible.

Enhancing ‘Voice’

Turning to the “demand side” of the story, the most significant step in Chhattisgarh was a major expansion in the coverage of the PDS. In what is widely seen now as a shrewd political move, Raman Singh (BJP leader and current Chief Minister) revamped the PDS ahead of the 2007 state elections. Today, close to 80 per cent of the rural population — including all SC/ST households — is entitled to PDS grain at either one or two rupees per kilo. The fact that most rural households have a strong stake in the PDS has generated immense pressure on the system (ration shops in particular) to deliver.

Expanded PDS coverage and lower issue prices have both contributed to enhancing the voice of otherwise poor and disempowered rural cardholders. As Rajeev Jaiswal (Joint Director, Food and Civil Supplies) put it: “At the moment we are only using the voice of 80 per cent of the rural community. When the PDS is universalised, the entire community including the better educated and more vocal sections will start putting pressure on the system.”

Political move

Ultimately, however, it is political will that seems to matter most. Somehow, the PDS became a political priority in Chhattisgarh and a decision was made to turn it around, instead of siding with the corrupt dealers who were milking the system. When political bosses firmly direct the bureaucracy to fix a dysfunctional system, things begin to change.

The fact that government functionaries were under enormous pressure to make the PDS work was evident in Lakhanpur. For instance, monitoring grain movements had become one of the top priorities of the patwaris and tehsilars. The tehsildar mentioned that the PDS was the first agenda item whenever meetings were held at the district level. The political pressure was also manifest in their willingness to stand up to vested interests, e.g. by arresting corrupt middlemen and taking them to Court if need be.

It would be naïve to think that the revival of the PDS in Chhattisgarh reflects the kind-heartedness of the state government, especially in the light of its contempt for people’s rights in other contexts. It was a political calculation, nothing more. But it worked, and it can happen elsewhere too.

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