Context: The current national lockdown to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the problems of food, nutrition and livelihood security confronting a large number of rural people, in particular, migrants to cities.
- Some measures have been announced, such as provision of additional rice or wheat, some pulses and oil free of cost, as well as ₹1,000 cash for the purchase of other essential commodities through the Public Distribution System (PDS).
- Due to the Green Revolution,we have enough food in the market and in government godowns. This is a great accomplishment by Indian farmers who converted a “ship to mouth” situation to a “right to food” commitment.
What is Food security?
- Food security, as defined by the United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security, means that all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life.
Concerns with food security in India
- India has slipped to 102nd position from earlier 95(2018) in Global Hunger Index, 2019 behind its neighbours Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
- Impact of Current pandemic is unknown: In the absence of demand, the lack of storage or value addition facilities, especially for perishable commodities, we do not yet know exactly what the impact of the current pandemic will be on the kharif sowing and food availability in the future.
Issues with availability of food in the market: It is seen as a function of production.
- Issues faced by farmers: farmers are confronted with labour shortages, many of the inputs, including seeds, are expensive or unavailable, marketing arrangements including supply chains are not fully functional, pricing is not remunerative, and public procurement is also not adequate.
- Issue faced by consumers: While the PDS may be able to meet calorie needs, the inability to harvest, transport and market perishable fruits and vegetables at remunerative prices during the current crisis, has not just deprived farmers of incomes and livelihoods, but consumers too are deprived of micronutrients in their diets.
Issues with access to food: The access to food is the second dimension of food security. The government, through the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and the PDS, has assured some additional food to every individual during this crisis.
- Reduce hidden hunger: This should be further strengthened and the food basket widened by including millets, pulses and oil. Steps should also be taken to avoid hidden hunger caused by the deficiency of micronutrients in the diet.
- Closure of schools and mid day meal scheme: the consequent disruptions in the provision of midday meals or other nutritional inputs, it is important to pay attention to the life cycle approach advocated in the NFSA, particularly the first thousand days in a child’s life, when the cognitive abilities of the child are shaped.
- It would impact nutritional security in medium term and longer term.
Issues with non-food factors
- The third dimension of food security is absorption of food in the body or its utilisation, which is dependent importantly on sanitation, drinking water and other non-food factors, including public health services.
- It is dependent importantly on sanitation, drinking water and other non-food factors, including public health services. Ensuring that these services are functional depends on the capacities of the local panchayats and their coordination with other local bodies.
Interlinkage of Job security and food security
- If job security is threatened, then so is food and nutrition security. Government needs to ensure people do not lose their jobs, and one way of doing this will be to ensure value addition to primary products.
- One example of such value addition is the Rice Biopark in Myanmar, wherein the straw, bran, and the entire biomass are utilised.
- The Amul model provides a good example from the dairy sector of improved incomes to milk producers through value addition.
- Similar attention needs to be given to the horticulture sector on a priority basis. Women farmers are at the forefront of horticulture and special attention needs to be given to both their technological and economic empowerment during this crisis.
- Strengthening the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA): The definition of a worker in MGNREGA has so far been applied only to unskilled, manual work, and not to skilled jobs in agriculture and allied activities. Given the lack of jobs and incomes during the COVID-19 crisis, it is imperative to expand the definition of work in MGNREGA to cover skilled work related to farmers and their farming activities.
Create a fairly robust system of food and nutrition security:
- It is very critical to highlight the linkages between agriculture, nutrition and health.
- Enhance the sustainability of the production cycle.
- Through a combination of farmers’ cooperation, technological upgrading and favourable public policies in procurement, pricing and distribution, we can deal with the fallouts of the pandemic.
Public distribution system
The Public distribution system (PDS) is an Indian food Security System for the poor people
established by the Government of India under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food, and Public
- PDS aims to provide subsidised food and fuel to the poor through a network of Fair Price Shops
- Food grains such as rice and wheat that are provided under TPDS are procured from farmers, allocated to states and delivered to the ration shop where the beneficiary buys his entitlement.
National Food Security Act
Salient features of NFSA, 2013:
- It converts entitlements of existing food security programmes of the Central Government including the Midday Meal Scheme, Integrated Child development scheme and PDS into legal entitlements.
- The NFSA aims to provide subsidized food grains to approximately two thirds of the population
(75% in rural areas and 50% in urban area; 81.31 cr beneficiaries).
- The head of every eligible household shall be a woman(18 years of age or above) for the purpose of issuance under this act
- Grains like wheat, rice and coarse grain will be distributed at the subsidized price of Rs. 3, Rs. 2 and Rs. 1 and uniform entitlement of 5 kg per person per month is provided
- Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) (poorest of the poor) households will be protected at 35 kg per household per month.
- Pregnant women and lactating mothers and children are entitled to get meals under the prescribed nutrition by MDM and ICDS.
- NFSA 2013 will provide high nutrition food to children from the age group of 6 months to 14 years.
- Pregnant women and lactating mothers will be entitled to get maternity benefit of Rs.6000.
- Under NFSA, there is no provision for any Commission at the national level or District level. The Act provides for State Food Commission (SFC) in every State/UT, for the purpose of monitoring and review of implementation of the Act.
- The act also provides for the payment of food security allowance to entitled persons by State
Government in case of non-supply of entitled quantities of foodgrains, within such time and manner
as may be prescribed by the Central Government. Accordingly, the Government has notified the Food
Security Allowance Rules, 2015.
According to data, employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) declined to just over 1% of the usual rate in April, 2020 due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
- The Act aims at enhancing the livelihood security of people in rural areas by guaranteeing hundred days of wage employment in a financial year to a rural household whose adult members (at least 18 years of age) volunteer to do unskilled work.
- The central government bears the full cost of unskilled labour, and 75% of the cost of material (the rest is borne by the states).
- It is a demand-driven, social security and labour law that aims to enforce the ‘right to work’.
- The Ministry of Rural Development (MRD), Government of India in association with state governments, monitors the implementation of the scheme.
- Agriculture and allied activities constitute more than 65% of the works taken up under the programme.
- Creation of durable assets in rural areas such as wells, ponds, roads and canals.
- Social inclusion, gender parity, social security and equitable growth are the founding pillars of MGNREGA.