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An Opportunity to Recast India’s Food System


Earlier this week, World Food Day was celebrated on October 16, but we often don’t consider food as a comprehensive system. India, which feeds the world’s largest population, is best positioned to understand the complexities of a food system.


  • GS2- Government Policies and Interventions
  • GS3- Food Security

Mains Question:

To solve the challenges of food system, India needs a triad approach that engages all three sides of the food system: consumers, producers, and middlemen. Analyse. (15 marks, 250 words).

Analysis of the concept of food system:

  • The primary objective of a food system is to ensure that everyone has access to nutritious food, and this can only be achieved sustainably if those producing the food receive reasonable and resilient economic returns over time.
  • The resilience of the food system is closely tied to the resilience of our natural environment, as the major components of agriculture—soil, water, and climate—are all natural resources.
  • Recognizing the interconnectedness of nutrition security, livelihoods, and environmental security is vital for creating a truly sustainable food system.

Challenges in India’s food system:

Nutrient Deficiency:

  • On the nutrition front, India faces the challenge of both undernutrition and obesity.
  • Despite significant progress, a significant portion of the population still experiences nutrient deficiencies.
  • For instance, the 2019-21 National Family Health Survey revealed that 35% of children are stunted, and a substantial percentage of women and men are anemic.

Insufficient Farm Incomes:

  • From a production perspective, farm incomes are insufficient to support marginal and small-scale farmers.
  • A report from the Transforming Rural India Foundation reveals that over 68% of small-scale farmers complement their earnings through non-agricultural activities.
  • Programs like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and various casual labor opportunities are filling in the gaps, highlighting a shortage of either skills or opportunities for diversifying income sources.


  • On the other end of the spectrum, imbalanced diets and sedentary lifestyles have led to a rise in obesity among adults.
  • Natural resource depletion and changing climate conditions are making India’s food production increasingly vulnerable, with soil health deteriorating and groundwater levels declining.

Way Forward:

To address these interconnected challenges, a three-pronged approach involving consumers, producers, and middlemen is required:

Healthier and more sustainable diet:

  • The private sector plays a significant role in shaping the consumption patterns of India’s vast population. Just as corporations have successfully popularized imported items like oats or quinoa in India, a similar approach can be taken to promote locally-grown millets.
  • Civil society and the health community can collaborate with social media influencers to influence millions towards healthier and sustainable eating habits.
  • In addition, the public sector, through various avenues such as the Public Distribution System, mid-day meals, railway catering, urban canteens, and public procurement, can contribute to enhancing the quality of food consumed by at least 70% of the Indian population.
  • Even religious institutions can have an impact on dietary choices. For example, the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam, serving nearly 70,000 people daily, has started sourcing naturally-farmed produce.

Profitable and environmentally-friendly agricultural practices:

  •  While the National Mission on Natural Farming is a step in the right direction, funding for sustainable agriculture remains less than 1% of the agricultural budget.
  • There is a need to expand and promote initiatives related to various eco-friendly practices such as agroforestry, conservation agriculture, precision farming, and more.
  • Additionally, agricultural support should shift from providing input subsidies to offering direct financial assistance to farmers per hectare of land cultivated.
  • Agricultural research and extension services should also allocate a portion of their budgets to focus on sustainable agricultural techniques.

Creation of more inclusive and sustainable processes:

  • Middlemen, such as corporations that supply both raw and processed foods to consumers, should prioritize direct procurement from farmers, incentivize the purchase of sustainably harvested produce, and implement established practices such as fair trade.
  • Various emerging agri-tech companies like DeHaat and Ninjacart are facilitating direct connections between farmers and consumers.
  • Moreover, since all families within a farmer producer organization (FPO) are consumers of other agricultural products, enabling trade between FPOs is another way to ensure a larger share of value for farmers, as demonstrated by a few FPOs in Odisha.


Shifting an entire food system is a significant challenge, but with determination, India has the opportunity to showcase a model for the rest of the world on how to create a sustainable food system.

December 2023