Food Insecurity In Incredible India
A concept note on the proposed National Food Security Act circulated to all states continues to push for a targeted public distribution system instead of a universal one, and proposes to reduce the issue of foodgrains to 25 kg per BPL household, completely ignoring the contentious issue of who is poor and what an adequate and nutritious diet consists of
At a public hearing on the public distribution system (PDS), held before the Justice Wadhwa Committee in Bangalore in December 2008, Sarojamma, a single parent with four children (one of whom is mentally disabled) pleaded for a below the poverty line (BPL) ration card. She had been given an above the poverty line (APL) ration card as she is a garment worker earning Rs 3,500 per month. The APL ration card fetches her only kerosene and no foodgrain in Karnataka. To be eligible for a BPL card, Sarojamma needs to be earning less than Rs 17,000 per year, or less than Rs 1,500 per month. At today’s prices, the rent alone for a measly 10 x 10 sq ft space in Bangalore is upwards of Rs 1,500 a month. So, to be considered poor, the state expects its citizens to be living on air and to have no other needs
such as health and education.
Eeramma, who has been a single parent for 20 years with six children, was seen pleading for an Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) card that would entitle her to 10 kg more foodgrain than her BPL card. Her BPL card gets her a maximum of 25 kg of foodgrain, or around 3.5 kg per person per month for her household of seven. One would have thought one needed at least 15 kg of cereal per person per month to provide 2,400 calories per day merely to exist, let alone eat a balanced diet consisting of pulses, oil, fruit and vegetables that is necessary to grow to one’s full potential and lead a healthy life. The present PDS expects you to become food secure by merely eating an inadequate quantity of cereal!
There were others like Arthiamma and her husband, both blind, and Ritu (name changed) who is HIV positive, who had been given APL cards. Their social and physical vulnerability did not make them eligible for special consideration by the state. What is incredible about ‘Incredible India’ is that while it sports a high growth in GDP, it ranks 66th in a list of 88 countries on the World Hunger Index. Almost 50 per cent of its children are malnourished and 75 per cent of its women suffer from anaemia; and per capita food availability has actually decreased between 1991-05.
“Food security refers to a situation that exists when all people at all times have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life,” says an FAO report ‘State of Food Insecurity in the World, 2001’. As reflected in these examples, India’s current public distribution system does not seem to be fulfilling any of the above criteria to ensure the right to food expected of a just and humane society.
Let Centre and States
Compete in Food Security
The Congress-led UPA government won the 2009 election largely on the back of the 100-day jobs plan under NREGA and loan waivers to poor farmers. Along with efforts to energise the PDS, NREGA was a pioneering initiative to help the aam aadmi in rural India. As things stand these schemes scored at least 50 per cent success rate—quite a creditable achievement in the corrupt jungle that is our Mahan Bharat, yet leaving a lot of scope for further improvement. Recognising the gap, the UPA has decided to complete the remaining 50 per cent of the job with its upcoming Food Security Bill, with half an eye on the 2014 election. UPA chairman Sonia Gandhi’s return to the reborn National Advisory Council is a clear signal of the Congress party’s determination to redouble its aam aadmi agenda.
With a series of new initiatives like the Right to Education, Women Reservation Bill and a re-packaged NREGA-PDS bunch into the new Food Security Bill. Sonia Gandhi’s commitment to the all-round social agenda is established fact in the party’s scheme of things and as the official head of the NAC her role as a back-seat driver will be transformed into an open front-seat driver.
Of late there has been a lot of talk about some kind of “disconnect” between her policy preferences and those of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. She is being seen as the person behind all of UPA’s social development programmes, while Manmohan Singh is getting known for pushing nuclear deals and other pro-western technology and trade ties. The so-called “disconnect” or gap between the two is at best superficial and deceptive. In fact, it is a division of labour and responsibilities between the two top functionaries of the UPA. There is no distrust between the two. Nor is there any lack of clarity on who really is in command of the party and the alliance. While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is the chief executive, Sonia Gandhi is the chairman who calls the shots. She has given him a pretty free hand so far and there is no hint of any rift developing between the two. The aam aadmi social agenda is entirely Sonia’s baby and Manmohan Singh has never put any economic or austerity spokes into her initiatives.
The incoming Food Security Bill along with the Right to Education Bill and Women Reservation Bill is
Sonia’s triple flagship programme for UPA-II under her baton. Cleared by the Empowered Group of Ministers but still in draft stage, the Food Security Bill is not yet in public domain. The Bill is expected to ensure delivery of food and related amenities in a holistic way and by tackling the shortfalls affecting the poorest of the poor.
The news from regions like Vidarbha in Maharashtra and Bolangir in Orissa is once again very alarming. The failure of administration in such areas is visible beyond doubt. Mere promises of inquiries won’t do. Nor would the fudging of figures or deflecting the issues by attributing suicides to other factors like ill health or disease instead of prolonged hunger. Sixty-one farm suicides from Vidarbha, eight from Yavatmal district alone, have been reported the first two and a half months of this year already. Deaths from hunger during related diseases continue to pour in from old black spots like Bolangir.
Politicians, bureaucrats and others in power continue to feign ignorance of the severity of the problem and show inability to tackle the situation. They continue to be in a state of denial or near-denial of the ground situation in their backyards. Only the threat of five-yearly election defeats sometimes seems to jolt the politicians while bureaucrats, traders and contractors manage to flourish in all seasons.
The country has food enough to feed everybody, yet in the words of the doyen of agriculture scientists, MS Swaminathan, “Grain mountains and hungry millions continue to exist.” The National Commission on Farmers calculated in 2006 that the country would need about 60 million tonne of foodgrains to sustain a universal Public Distribution System, and he calculates that is something which we almost already have in our buffer stock or emergency food bank.
The crisis facing rural India is multi-headed and needs a multi-faceted solution. Rightly so, a number of schemes like projects clean drinking water, sanitation, primary healthcare, issuance of BPL and job cards and micro credit facilities have been put in operation to tackle specific problems in specific areas. But 100-day work or job guarantee and strengthening of PDS form the kernel of all rural development. Both have an umbilical relationship. One without the other cannot survive. Without guaranteed work, as promised and part-delivered under NREGA, or delivery of necessary supply of foodgrains at Rs 3 per kg, hunger and malnutrition, the double curse of rural India, would continue to dog the poorest members of our society.
And at the very core of our national hunger problem lies the part-failure of our PDS administration. And that is a big part of the problem which drives the poor to long periods of severe malnutrition. And this PDS breakdown seems to afflict states under the central ruling coalition as well as those under opposition parties. Vidarbha in under the UPA and Orissa under the BJD are just two examples. Thankfully most of the southern states, Kerala and Tamil Nadu in particular, and some northern states have fared pretty well. Only the central or old Bimaru states plus Jharkand and Chhattisgarh and Orissa remain laggards, thanks mainly to the state administrations who have shown no initiative or determination to deliver justice to their hapless constituents. Yet a reformed and tightened PDS alone won’t solve the problem. The case of the poor wives of Bolangir selling part of their PDS quota to pay for medicines for their husbands suffering from tuberculosis and other hunger-induced diseases is an eye-opener for the politicians and administrators who don’t seem to have eyes to see.
The need for a joint machinery or delivery system for jobs guarantee and PDS at the village or block level is an absolute imperative. How to evolve and implement such a local administrative unit is the challenge before central and state leaders and bureaucrats. The centre-state perennial game of buck passing has been going on for far too long. It has to end before more lives are lost at the altar of hunger and malnutrition.
One way to stop this buck passing and establish accountability is to create two separate agencies or systems for the implementation of NREGA jobs and PDS schemes. The states should be given their share of funds to set up their own shops or delivery systems while the centre should create its own outlets on the model of Kendriya Vidyalayas. The two systems should run in competition with each other rather than in partnership, which leads to buck-passing and mutual blame game. The people will then be able to pinpoint as to who is performing and who is cheating, who is failing and who is successfully delivering. This eternal buck-passing must stop for the sake of 20 per cent, 40 per cent or more of our population below poverty level, whichever BPL percentage figure you believe is right.
By Subhash Chopra
However, into this gloomy scenario comes the UPA government’s hopeful promise of enacting a National Food Security Act. A concept note on the proposed Act, circulated to all state food secretaries by the food secretary, Government of India, cites the above FAO quotation and says: “To ensure food security to all citizens of the country based on a rights approach, there is need for providing a statutory basis to food security.” And, “the nutritional status of individual household members is the ultimate focus,” (emphasis added).
Although these pious statements give the impression that here, at last, is an attempt to address shameful deficiencies in the country’s food security situation, the rest of the concept note is more in the manner of a preamble to a National Food Insecurity Act!
While civil society is clamouring that the PDS be universalised, without any distinctions between BPL and APL, so that the poor get self-selected as it was earlier when the country was growing at the Hindu rate of growth of about 3 per cent, the concept note seeks to make the targeted PDS statutory. The targeted PDS is costly and gives rise to a lot of corruption in the process of trying to decide who is and who is not poor. This results in the genuinely poor being left out whilst the ineligible get several cards. Economists like Jayati Ghosh say that the cost difference between a universal and targeted PDS is not very great. So what happens to the aim of covering all citizens?
Currently, the limits of annual income required for a household to be declared BPL are illogical. In Karnataka, for instance, the figures are Rs 11,000 and Rs 17,000 in rural and urban areas respectively. That means that a household of five people in Bangalore would have to be living on around Rs 47 per day, or about Rs 10 per person, on which even a beggar would not survive. In other words, a person would have to be earning less than half the minimum wage of Rs 88 (which itself is inadequate) to be considered poor. If universalisation of the PDS is not accepted, those earning less than the minimum wage need to be considered poor.
Food Security Act or Food Entitlement Act?
The debate on hunger in the light of the proposed National Food Security Bill is now getting broadbased and therefore meaningful. It is heartening to learn that the focus is shifting from streamlining the Public Distribution System (PDS), from providing food stamps or direct cash transfers as part of food entitlements; to a broader definition of food security that includes physical, economic and social access to food for all for all times to come.
The path to hell is paved with good intentions. Hunger is also the outcome of our policies (read good intentions), and our inability to accept that the delivery system is not delivering. To improve the delivery system, the government is once again thinking of borrowing ideas from abroad. Replacing the existing subsidy mechanism with coupons/cash transfers directly to the poor household is one such move.
Delhi government is reportedly ready to experiment direct cash payments to poor households to buy kerosene.
Dr MS Sawminathan has listed the existing programmes to fight hunger, food and nutritional insecurity. The Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Ministry of Human Health and Welfare, and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture have this impressive list:
- Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS).
- Kishori Shakti Yojna
- Nutrition Programme for Adoloscent Girls.
- Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls
- Mid-Day Meal programme for schools
- Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan
- National Rural Health Mission
- National Urban Health Mission
- Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna
- National Food Security Mission
- National Horticultural Mission
- Rajiv Gandhi Drinking Water Mission
- Total Sanitation Campaign
- Swarna Jayanti Gram Rozgar Yojna
- Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme
- Targeted Public Distribution System
- Antyodaya Anna Yojna
Despite such impressive programmes already running, and the budget allocation for which is enhanced almost every year, the poor still go hungry. The number of hungry and impoverished has increased with every passing year. UNICEF tells us that more than 5000 children die every day in India from malnourishment.
Therefore, to add another couple of schemes to the existing lot is certainly not going to make it any better for the hungry. Nor a mere tinkering of the approach will help. Replacing the ration cards for the PDS allocations with food stamps is one such misplaced initiative. I am sure if we persist with such borrowed ideas, hunger will continue to multiply. I wouldn’t be surprised if 10 years from now, you still end up reading newspapers headlines like India’s safety net collapse in Bolangir (read in Hindustan Times today, a full- page report http://www.hindustantimes.com/India-s-safety-nets-collapse-in-Balangir/H1-Article3-524453.aspx).
I am a strong supporter of the right-based approach to fight hunger. But to expect another piece of legislation that enshrines Right to Food as the basic human right is not going to make any difference to those who live in hunger and penury, and to the millions who are added to this dreaded list year after year. Right to Food cannot be ensured by simply ensuring on paper half the food entitlements (which has even failed to reach the needy) that a human body needs for normal human activity and growth.
Knowing that the existing programmes and projects have failed to make any appreciable dent, it is high time the opportunity provided by the proposed National Food Security Act be utilised in a realistic manner. It is a great opportunity, and we will fail the nation if we fail to bring about a radical overhaul of the existing approach to fight hunger. The entire debate therefore has to shift from the hands of a few bureaucrats/experts who have monopolised any decision-making when it comes to hunger. It has to be taken to the nation, through a series of regional deliberations.
First and foremost, the time has come to draw a realistic poverty line. The Tendulkar Committee has suggested 37 per cent of the population to be living in poverty. Arjun Sengupta Committee had said that 77 per cent (or 836 million people) of the population is able to spend not more than Rs 20/day. Justice DP Wadhwa Committee has now recommended that anyone earning less than Rs 100 a day should be considered below the poverty line.
Knowing that India has one of the most stringent poverty line in the world, I think the fault begins by accepting the faulty projections. During Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s tenure, Planning Commission had even lowered the poverty estimates from 37-19 per cent. Poverty estimates were restored back when the new Planning Commission took over. I am sure if we had persisted with the same poverty line of 19 per cent (in the beginning of 1990s), India would have banished hunger in official records by now.
It doesn’t help in continuing with faulty estimates. I therefore suggest that India should have two lines demarcating the percentage of absolute hungry and malnourished from those who are not so hungry. The Suresh Tendulkar Committee’s suggestion of 37 per cent should be taken as the new hunger line, which needs low-cost foodgrains as an emergency entitlement. In addition, the Arjun Sengupta Committee’s cut-off at 77 per cent should be the new poverty line.
The approach for tackling absolute hunger and poverty would therefore be different.
Like in Brazil, the time has come when India needs to formulate a zero-hunger programme. This should aim at a differential aproach. I see no reason why in the 6,00,000 villages of the country, which produce food for the country, people should go hungry. These villages have to be made hunger-free by adopting a community-based localised food-grain bank scheme. I agree with Ela Bhatt when she says that the village needs should be met from within a 100 km radius.
In the urban centres and the food-deficit areas, a universal public distribution system is required. The existing PDS system also requires to be overhauled, and this can be done. Also, there is a dire need to involve social and religious organisations in food distribution. They have done a remarkable job in cities like Bangalore, and there are lessons to be imbibed. Nothing can succeed if we do not ensure safe drinking water and sanitation to be part of the hunger mitigation programmes.
Food For All
It is often argued that the government cannot foot the bill for feeding each and every Indian. This is not true. Estimates have shown that the country would require 60 million tonne of foodgrains (@35 kg per family) if it follows a universal Public Distribution System. In other words, Rs 1.10 lakh crore are what required to feed the nation for a year.
In Budget 2010, Pranab Mukherjee has announced a “revenue foregone” of Rs 5 lakh crore, which means the sales, excise and other tax concessions plus income tax exemption for the industry and business. The annual Budget exercise is of roughly Rs 11 lakh crore. Which means, the government is subsidising almost 50 per cent by way of direct sops to the industry, in addition to what is provided in the Budget itself. The “revenue foregone” is outside the Budget allocations.
I suggest that Rs 3 lakh crore from the “revenue foregone” be immediately withdrawn. This should provide resources for feeding the hungry, and also for ensuring assured supply of safe drinking water plus sanitation. In addition to wheat and rice, the food allocation should also include nutritious coarse cereals and pulses.
But all this is not possible, unless some other policy changes that do not take away the emphasis on long-term sustainable farming, and stops land acquisitions and privatisation of natural resources. It has to be supplemented by policies that ensures food for all for all times to come. This is what constitutes inclusive growth. A hungry population is an economic burden. It is also a great economic loss resulting from the inability of the manpower to undertake economic activities. The proposed National Food Security Bill provides us an excellent opportunity to recast the economic map of India in such a way that makes hunger history. But are we ready?
By Devinder Sharma
The concept note assumes without any justification that the nation may not be able to procure the required amount of foodgrain or bear the cost of a food subsidy. It is therefore proposing to reduce the scale of issue to 25 kg per BPL household, or 5 kg per person. This, despite the Supreme Court ruling that every BPL family shall be given 35
kg, and that no changes shall be effected in any food-related scheme without its permission. This will result in families having to buy 10 kg from the market, paying more for the same amount of food than earlier.
Taking all this into consideration, the Wadhwa Committee recommends that “the income criterion needs to be revisited” and that “estimation of poverty should not be made on a criteria (sic)which is less than the minimum wage fixed by the state for agricultural labourers”. Also, that “the government may also consider using calorie intake per person per day as an indicator of poverty”.
The People’s Health Movement has demanded that every person be given enough foodgrain to ensure 2,400 calories per day. Moreover, the predominance of cereals and lack of adequate pulses, oil, fruit and vegetables in the diet of most Indians is what is causing high levels of malnutrition among them. We need to find ways to get these items to the populace through the PDS, if malnutrition is to be addressed.
The concept note does not mention the word ‘malnutrition’ at all; it completely ignores the contentious issue of defining who is poor and how much and what constitutes ‘adequate and nutritious food’. It does not recognise anywhere that entitlements should be linked to levels of malnutrition, if food security is to be achieved. It concentrates wholly on how to reduce the number of BPL families, reduce entitlements, and reduce subsidies. A great way indeed to ensure food security and raise India’s position on the World Hunger Index!
Further, the concept note seeks to take away the freedom enjoyed by the states until now to: (1) fix the numbers of those who are BPL in their respective states; (2) decide the amount of foodgrain to be given to them, and (3) fix the rate at which these shall be provided. As a result of this freedom, the note says, the actual number of BPL ration cards issued by all the states is 10.68 crore while the accepted figure of BPL households by the Centre is 6.52 crore, resulting in an excess of 4.16 crore BPL cards. Tamil Nadu, for instance, has universalised the PDS, while Karnataka has issued BPL cards to 85 per cent of households.
The Centre is planning to curtail this right and insist that all states abide by the levels of poverty fixed by the Planning Commission, and that the Centre shall decide the numbers of poor that shall be eligible in each state, the amount of foodgrain that shall be given, and the rates at which these shall be issued to families. To ensure that states do not defy these restrictions and fix their own entitlements, the Centre is planning to bring in an enforcement mechanism under the Food Security Act that will monitor the states’ adherence to the Centre’s fiats and penalise those that transgress them. Here is a blatant attempt not only to centralise decision-making and curtail the freedom of the states in a federal set-up, but also to reduce the basic entitlement to food of a hungry and malnourished nation.
The present allocation under the TDPS to the BPL and AYY categories is 277 lakh tonnes which entails a “huge commitment on the central pool for BPL families,” the concept note adds. The Planning Commission’s latest poverty estimates, according to 2004-05 figures, reveal that the country’s BPL population is only 27.5 per cent whereas it was 36 per cent according to 1993-94 figures. As per the above, the number of BPL families (including AAY) will come down from 6.52 crore to 5.91 crore, and the number of APL families will go up from 11.52 crore to 15.84 crore. In view of this, based on the current scale of issue, annual allocations of foodgrain for AAY and BPL categories may come down from 277 lakh tonne to 251 lakh tonne, and for the APL category it will go up from 162 lakh tonne to 202 lakh tonne, the concept note estimates.
However, in view of this increase of 40 lakh tonne for the APL category, the concept note makes the categorical statement that “the Central Government will not be able to guarantee distribution/supply of any quantity of foodgrain for the APL category from the central pool,” and that the “APL category may be excluded from TDPS,” except for APL families in some food-deficit and inaccessible states/union territories. This reasoning fails to recognise that there will be a saving of 26 lakh tonne of foodgrain as a e
result of the reduction in BPL numbers. The effective increase in foodgrain allocation to the APL category will thus only be 14 lakh tonne. To use this reasoning to restrict the PDS only to 27.5 per cent of the population is to deprive the rest of the population, which is unable to meet the requirement of 2,400 calories per day, of the right to food. Researchers like Utsa Patnaik estimate this number to be 70 per cent of the population.
While civil society demands that BPL cards be updated every year in order to capture those who have slid back into poverty due to various exigencies like debt, drought, displacement, etc, the Centre is talking about annual updation only to seek out those who have risen above the poverty line, with the aim of taking away their BPL cards.
The concept note recognises that some households may have more than the average number of persons whereas others may have less than the average. But nowhere does the Centre make a commitment to provide foodgrain to every individual in a family, whether it has five or 10 members. It continues to think in terms of an upper ceiling of five units per household as the maximum that a family can receive. What happens to the guarantee of having the “individual as the focus”?
Even more worrying seems to be the Centre’s intent to do away with other food-related schemes such as the Annapoorna Yojana for elderly destitutes and supply of foodgrain from the central pool to welfare institutions, hostels, etc, in the name of avoiding multiplicity of schemes, as beneficiaries of these schemes may already be covered under the TDPS. By mentioning the school midday meal scheme, the ICDS scheme, and the nutrition programme for adolescent girls as schemes that cause multiplicity, the Centre is hinting that these too may be curtailed or done away with altogether. Or, at the very least, that it is keeping its options open. There goes the hope of 50 per cent malnourished children and anaemic adolescent girls of ever leading a full and healthy life. In the same breath, the Centre is proposing that the Antyodaya sub-category within the BPL also be done away with on grounds that sub-categories are unnecessary.
The Centre doles out a plethora of excuses as to why it may not be able to obtain or sustain current levels of foodgrain procurement at minimum support prices, or sustain their distribution at current levels. And that all this uncertainty could necessitate the import of foodgrain. The Centre also hints that if the issue price of rice and wheat are fixed at Rs 3 per kg for all BPL families, the annual food subsidy may go up from the current Rs 37,000 crore to Rs 40,380 crore. And that continuing to provide foodgrain for the APL category would further affect this figure. Nowhere is there an acceptance that these costs have to be borne as a matter of course if food security is to be ensured. The possible increase in cost is spoken of more in the nature of a looming threat to the economic health of the nation, which needs to be avoided.
The only good points in the concept note appear to be the government’s commitment to ensuring doorstep delivery of foodgrain to all fair price shops (FPSs), monitoring FPSs and certification of issuance of foodgrain by local vigilance committees, social audit by local bodies, computerisation of operations, effective grievance redressal mechanisms, and the setting up of food security tribunals at the taluka level, and appellate tribunals at the district level.
The piece de resistance of the concept note lies in the statement: “In case a state/UT government is unable to distribute the entitled monthly quantities of foodgrain to eligible BPL families/individuals, such families/individuals will be entitled for payment of a food security allowance.” With this, the government seemingly wishes to wash its hands of any accountability in the matter of ensuring the right to food to all its citizens.
Activists see the proposed Food Security Act as a gimmick to win future votes, just as the NREGA was seen as the reason for the substantial mandate given to the UPA in the last elections. The government will be seen to have done something pro-poor even though it will only be a mask behind which it quietly carries on its real agenda of neo-liberal reforms. Infochange
By Kathyayini Chamaraj
Abhishek plz place this article in box
Atlases of Sustainability of Food Security in India
How can India ensure sustainable food security for a billion-strong population? “Sustainable food security” means enough food for everyone at present plus the ability to provide enough in future as well.
This calls for sound policies and investments in natural resources such as land and water, flora and fauna, forests and biodiversity—the ecological foundations essential for sustainable food security—plus sustainable intensification of crop and animal production. Population pressures and the forces of atmosphere and climate change must also be taken into account.
The MS Swaminathan Research Foundation and the World Food Programme have together produced three atlases—a compendium of facts, statistics, maps and analysis.
The first atlas—Food Insecurity Atlas of Rural India—was released in April 2001 by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The second—Food Insecurity Atlas of Urban India—was released in October 2002 by the then President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.
The Food Insecurity Atlas of Rural India revealed that the Punjab-Haryana region, India’s breadbasket, could lose its production potential in a few decades if current patterns of groundwater extraction and pollution, soil salinisation and rice-wheat monoculture persisted. It was therefore decided to produce an atlas on sustainability of food security in India to promote ecologically sustainable methods of food production and natural resources management. And the third atlas is the result. This third atlas—Atlas of the Sustainability of Food Security in India—was released in 2004.
The publications reveal some interesting facts.
In some states like Orissa, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, net sown area has been declining. In the process prime agricultural land may shift to non-agricultural uses.
Land degradation has been fairly high in Nagaland, Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh. In some northeastern states, wasteland accounts for 50 per cent of the total geographical areas.
Over-exploitation of groundwater has reached danger levels in Punjab, Haryana and Tamil Nadu.
Some states (Madhya Pradesh for example) show high poverty levels at present, yet natural resources are sufficient to sustain agriculture in future. In other states (Punjab and Haryana), livelihood access is good at present, but natural resource endowments for future sustainability are below par.
In states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, there is an urgent need to diversify livelihoods to non-crop and non-agricultural enterprises.
Every state will have to chalk out its own strategies for sustainable livelihood to move on the path of sustainable food production and sustainable livelihood security.
A valuable part of the book—and a unique contribution to literature on the subject—lies in a system of indicators and indices to gauge sustainable food security. Sustainability is measured in a relative sense, not against any arbitrary figure or yardstick. The book lists and discusses 17 indicators to describe present food security and future food sustenance. Of these, eight indicators relate to sustainability of food production, seven to sustainable food access and two to food absorption. Thirteen of the 17 indicators relate to natural resources such as land, forests, and water, and their sustainable use in relation to population pressure.
On the basis of these indices, a final composite index of sustainable food security has been worked out for all states of India. There are five categories of states, ranging from “sustainable” to “extremely unsustainable”. But a change in one or two indicators can pull a state up to a higher category or push it down to a lower category, showing that the states have their own strengths and weaknesses.
A state that ranks high in unexploited natural resources such as forests and water, soil fertility (in terms of lower land degradation and greater natural replenishment of soil) and stable crop production, will also rank high in composite index of sustainable food security.
Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Goa obtain the top three ranks as regards a sustainable food security index. Karnataka, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh occupy ranks four to six.
“The path towards sustainable development varies from state to state,” the publication says. States with a strong natural resource base may rank high in sustainability but may not be in a position to produce enough food at present. Removing pressure on land and water and conserving natural resources for sustainable water supply are essential in Tamil Nadu; increasing land productivity, diversifying agriculture, improving infrastructure and providing market linkages are essential in Orissa, and to some extent in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. In states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, population stabilisation will ultimately hold the key to sustainable food security.
Swaminathan’s latest is the Report on the State of Food Insecurity in Rural India. This report is in two parts. The first part examines the status of food and nutrition security in rural India. Ranking of states based on their status has been done using seven indicators, namely, population consuming less than 1890 kcal, access to safe drinking water, sanitation facility, women with anaemia, women with chronic energy deficiency, stunting in children and children with anemia and comparison made between two time periods. The thrust is on outcome indicators. It is observed that 40 per cent of children under the age of three are underweight; the number of undernourished has increased substantially; there is rise in the level of anemia in women and children; and iodine and vitamin deficiencies are also rising. The report also highlights that access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation facilities have improved in rural India. Unless this aspect of food security is attended to with the involvement of local bodies (panchayat raj institutions and nagar palikas), the food security situation in India will not show the desired improvement.
The second part of the report examines the major public food delivery systems—Public Distribution System (PDS), Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and Mid-Day Meals Scheme (MDMS). The Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) has led to exclusion of large number of needy poor. The report recommends a return to the “universal PDS” that existed till 1997.
The report also recommends universalisation and effective implementation of ICDS and MDMS and employment generation programmes, like National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). Greater involvement of panchayat raj institutions (PRIs) in food delivery at the grassroot level and integration of food and nutrition security objectives in ongoing government initiatives like the National Food Security Mission and National Horticulture Mission are crucial. The report further says the global food price increase and climate change will have an impact on food insecurity in rural India.