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Lessons from India’s food security response


  • With a reduction in COVID-19 infections as the second wave weakens in India, it is important to focus on the pandemic’s disruptive impact on the food security and livelihoods of the poor and marginalised.


  • GS Paper 3: Public Distribution System – Objectives, Functioning, Limitations, Revamping; Issues of Buffer Stocks and Food Security; Technology Missions; Economics of Animal-Rearing.

Mains Questions:

  1. India has a central role to play in this transformation and offering experiences and solutions to address the thought processes and models for a resilient, equitable, and food-secure world. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • What is Food Security?
  • How Covid-19 is Affecting Food Security and Nutrition?
  • Implications for the six dimensions of food security
  • Way ahead

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.
Uneven food 
price effects 
Changes in 
Altered food 
food insecurity

How Covid-19 is Affecting Food Security and Nutrition?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness and there is no evidence that food itself is a vector of its

transmission (ICMSF, 2020). However, the virus, and measures to contain its spread, have had profound implications for food security, nutrition and food systems.

  • Dynamics unleashed by the pandemic are affecting food security and nutrition: A number of overlapping and reinforcing dynamics have emerged that are affecting food systems and food security and nutrition thus far, including: disruptions to food supply chains; loss of income and livelihoods; a widening of inequality; disruptions to social protection programmes; altered food environments; and uneven food prices in localized contexts.
  • Supply chain disruptions: There have been major disruptions to food supply chains in the wake of lockdown measures, which have affected the availability, pricing, and quality of food.
  • Global economic recession and associated income losses: The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a global economic recession which has resulted in a dramatic loss of livelihoods and income on a global scale. The resulting drop in purchasing power among those who lost income has had a major impact on food security and nutrition, especially for those populations that were already vulnerable.
  • Widening societal inequities: The global economic slowdown triggered by the pandemic, as well as the spread of the disease itself, has exacerbated existing societal inequities in most countries. These inequities are affecting rights as well as access to basic needs such as food, water, and health care, and access to jobs and livelihoods, all of which have implications for food security and nutrition.
  • Disruptions to social protection programmes: Social protection programmes have been disrupted by the pandemic, which in turn are affecting food security and nutrition. When the lockdowns began, most schools were closed, resulting in the loss of school meal programmes in both high- and low-income countries.
  • Altered food environments: Food environments have been deeply altered by the pandemic. Lockdown measures and supply chain disruptions outlined above have changed the context and thus the way people engage and interact with the food system to acquire, prepare and consume food.
  • Localized food price increases: Global cereal stocks are at near record levels and world food commodity prices overall fell in the initial months of the pandemic. However, the overall food price index trends mask wide variability in food commodity prices in the wake of the lockdowns.
  • Potential for changes in production: As noted above, global cereal stocks were at near record levels at the start of 2020, and food supplies generally were not in short supply. The dynamics outlined above, however, could change due to the high degree of uncertainty surrounding the virus and its evolution and societal impact.

Implications for the six dimensions of food security

The dynamics outlined above affect food security and nutrition in complex ways. The HLPE Global Narrative report highlights six dimensions of food security, proposing to add agency and sustainability as key dimensions alongside the four traditional “pillars” of food availability, access, stability and utilization.

  • Availability: While world grain stocks were relatively high at the start of the pandemic and remain strong, this global situation masks local variability and could shift over time. Grain production in high-income countries tends to be highly mechanized and requires little labour, making it less vulnerable to disease outbreaks among farm workers.
  • Access: More than any other dimension of food security, food access has arguably been the most affected by the COVID-19 crisis. The global economic recession triggered by lockdowns has had a very negative impact on people’s ability to access food.
  • Utilization: Utilization and nutrition have been affected by the pandemic in important ways. Good nutrition is essential for supporting the human immune system and reducing the risk of infections. However, as people’s ability to access food diminished in the crisis, this had a negative impact on their ability to afford a healthy diet.
  • Stability: The severe disruptions to food supply chains noted above are affecting the stability of global food supply and access (Bene, 2020). The export restrictions placed on staples like wheat and rice led to higher world prices for those crops, compared to prices for other foods, which generally fell.
  • Agency: The most marginalized food system participants—including food producers and food system workers—have had little agency as the crisis has unfolded. As outlined above, food system producers and workers have been on the front lines and have suffered higher rates of disease and are affected by supply chain disruptions the most.
  • Sustainability: The pandemic is intertwined with the sustainability dimension of food security in complex ways. The expansion of industrial agriculture is associated with a rising prevalence of zoonoses—diseases that transmit from animals to humans—of which COVID-19 is a prime example.

Way ahead

  • First, the introduction of the One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) scheme is an innovation that can be a game changer, allowing beneficiaries to access their food entitlements from anywhere in the country. This is especially important for a country like India with a massive mobile population and migration between States. The scheme takes the massive digitisation of the supply chain, distribution and access to the next step, ensuring anyone benefits from anywhere in India.
  • Second, climate change will continue to affect agriculture and food security, and the impact on the poor and vulnerable can be devastating. Massive efforts are needed towards programmes that focus on building resilient agriculture that is adaptive to changing weather and needs through the introduction of newer varieties of crops, efficient irrigation systems, and the promotion of crops as per the agro-climate zones.
  • Thirdly, a third of all food produced is wasted. There should be enhanced efforts to prevent losses. Lost or wasted energy used for food production accounts for about 10% of the world’s total energy consumption, and annual greenhouse gas emissions associated with food losses and food waste reaches to around 3.5 gigatonnes of the CO2 equivalent.
  • Finally, 2021 offers a unique opportunity for advancing food security and nutrition through transforming food systems with the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit, the Nutrition for Growth Summit and the COP26 on climate change. The outcomes of these events will certainly shape the actions of the second half of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition. India has a central role to play in this transformation and offering experiences and solutions to address the thought processes and models for a resilient, equitable, and food-secure world.
July 2024