- 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
- Rs. 1,000 cash for the purchase of other essential commodities through the Public Distribution System (PDS)
- We still need to understand the different dimensions of food security in a holistic manner in order to address this problem in its totality.
A View of Farmers’ Problems and Food problems
Farmers are confronted at the moment 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
- public procurement is also not adequate.
- Access to food is a function of purchasing power, and the government, through the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and the PDS, has assured some additional food to every individual during this crisis.
- 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.
- In light of the closure of schools and anganwadi centres, and 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.
Food security and Job Security and MGNERGA
- Food security and access to nutritious, good quality food is also contingent on job security.
- If job security is threatened, then so is food and nutrition security.
- This would of course mean some attention to and investment in new technologies that can contribute to biomass utilisation.
- A second pathway to livelihood security for small and marginal farmers and landless households, and women within them, is strengthening the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
- 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.
Focus on 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.
- Ensuring that these services are functional depends on the capacities of the local panchayats and their coordination with other local bodies.
- If we can ensure food availability, food access and food absorption, then we have a fairly robust system of food and nutrition security.
- It is very critical to highlight the linkages between agriculture, nutrition and health.
- India avoided what could have been a big famine in the 1960s through the help of technology and public policy, which actively worked with and supported farmers to achieve significant increases in yield.
- 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.
-Source: The Hindu