India might be the world’s quickest expanding major economy, but it is also grappling with an escalating surge in food price inflation. The increase in food prices initially surged significantly in 2019 and has continued to rise in most subsequent years. In July of this year, the annual inflation rate surpassed 11%, marking the highest level in a decade. One consequence of this persistent high food price inflation is that a segment of the population may be encountering difficulties in affording food that meets their nutritional needs.
- GS Paper – 3-Food Security
- GS Paper – 2-Government Policies & Interventions
How does food-price inflation impact food security in India? What steps can be taken to address this issue? (15 marks, 250 words).
Reports/ Indices/ Data on food insecurity in India:
|‘State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World’ by Food and Agriculture Organization||Around 74% of the population is unable to afford a nutritious diet, which translates to approximately one billion people out of a total population of 1.4 billion in India.|
|The Hindu||A study conducted on the cost of food in Mumbai city from 2018 to 2023 revealed that during this period, the expense of cooking a homemade “thaali” increased by 65%. Meanwhile, the income of a manual laborer increased by 38%, and that of a salaried worker rose by 28%.|
|National Family Health Survey 2019-21||More than half of adult women were approximated to suffer from anemia. This is a direct consequence of food insecurity and nutritional deficiency.|
- Traditional macroeconomic policies, which are typically employed to control inflation, have proven to be ineffective in this context.
- The Reserve Bank of India has struggled in this regard, as the inflation rate has consistently exceeded its target for the past four years.
- Their strategy of reducing output in response to rising inflation, often referred to as “inflation targeting,” does not address the root causes of food price inflation, which primarily stem from supply-side issues.
- It is important to acknowledge that central banks are not equipped to resolve this issue within a reasonable timeframe.
- The key to addressing this problem lies in supply-side interventions aimed at ensuring a stable food supply and increasing land productivity to maintain consistent food prices.
Green Revolution and food security:
- India possesses significant expertise in this field, notably demonstrated by its successful execution of the Green Revolution during the 1960s. During a period marked by severe food shortages resulting from consecutive droughts, the government initiated a supply-side strategy.
- This approach involved providing farmers with high-yield seeds, affordable credit, and guaranteed prices through procurement, and it achieved remarkable success.
- Within a few years, India achieved self-sufficiency in food production and was no longer reliant on food imports.
- In the midst of the Cold War’s intense polarization, this achievement played a pivotal role in India’s quest for self-reliance.
- Excessive reliance on chemical fertilizers, driven by subsidies, which led to soil degradation.There was also an overemphasis on procurement prices rather than boosting productivity to enhance farm incomes, which contributed to inflation.
- Additionally, the policy primarily focused on cereals, overlooking pulses, which are a primary source of protein for most Indians.
- Cost of Food Production: The initial Green Revolution had a specific objective: to achieve food self-sufficiency in India. It remarkably succeeded in a relatively short period, albeit without giving due consideration to the production costs of food. Therefore, a second agricultural revolution is now imperative.
- Yield: Comparatively, agricultural yields in India are lower than those in East Asia, indicating the potential for improvement. To tap into this potential, it’s crucial to extend irrigation coverage to cover 100% of the net sown area, remove restrictions on land leasing, accelerate agricultural research efforts, and reinstate extension services.
- Fragmentation of land: The increased public expenditure on irrigation has not resulted in a corresponding expansion of irrigated land. It remains unclear whether this discrepancy is due to wastage or fund diversion. The ongoing fragmentation of already small land holdings reduces the capacity for making productive capital investments, and one solution to this issue is land leasing.
- R&D: India’s network of public agricultural research institutions needs to be reinvigorated to restore the significant role they played in the 1960s.
- Additionally, the concept of agricultural extension services has faded away, despite the gram sevak once being a familiar figure in villages, playing a vital role in disseminating best practices. This aspect of agricultural support should be reinstated.
- These efforts should be integrated into a program aimed at significantly increasing protein production, an area where India currently faces a severe deficit.
- Cooperative Federalism: The involvement of the states is pivotal in all the aforementioned areas. In the 1960s, the states chosen for the adoption of new agricultural technologies collaborated closely with the central government. This cooperative approach between the central government and states must be replicated to bring about positive changes nationwide, emphasizing cooperative federalism.
- Simultaneously, it’s essential to assess whether the states are actively contributing to enhancing agricultural productivity rather than primarily relying on food allocations for their Public Distribution System from the central pool.
An noteworthy aspect of the initial Green Revolution was that it opted for a capitalist approach, relying on private enterprise, with the objective of achieving food self-sufficiency in India. It was the Green Revolution that made the first significant impact on poverty reduction in India, and as a result, the impoverished segments of the population did benefit from this strategy. Similarly, in the present context, to ensure that all Indians have sustained access to a healthy diet, no approach that aligns with ecological sustainability should be disregarded.