Hunger and Food Security in India

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Hunger and Food Security in India

NC Saxena

India’s excellent economic growth has had little impact on food security and nutrition levels of its population. Per capita availability as well as consumption of foodgrains has declined; the percentage of underweight children has remained stagnant between 1998 and 2006; and more than half of India’s women and three-quarters of children are anemic with no decline in the last eight years. These are appalling figures, which place India among the most “undernourished” countries in the world.

According to the GOI Economic Survey, foodgrain production in India has declined from 208 kg per annum per capita in 1996-97 to 186 kg in 2009-10, a decline of 11 per cent. Despite reduced production, Government of India has been exporting on an average 7 million tons of cereals per annum (which is highly unethical), causing availability to decline further by 15 per cent from 510 gm per day per capita in 1991 to 436 gm in 2008.

Despite the fact that growth of foodgrain production in the period 1991-2010 was lower than the increase in population during the same period, procurement of cereals on government account went up, suggesting a decline in poor people’s consumption and their purchasing power. This may have happened because of the structural imbalances (high MSP, rising capital intensity, lack of land reforms, failure of poverty alleviation programmes, no new technological breakthrough in agriculture, etc.) created in the economy, as well as due to production problems in less endowed regions (erratic rainfall, soil erosion and water run-off, lack of access to credit and markets, poor communications) which led to a dangerous situation of huge surplus in FCI godowns since 2008 coupled with widespread hunger. PDS thus became a mechanism both for disposal of surplus grain with government and for augmenting consumption of the poor. The trend of satisfactory economic growth, exports of rice/maize, and falling per capita production has continued even after 2004, leading to high open market prices, and consequently increased food insecurity.


Per capita daily availability (grams)


The NSSO data on consumer expenditure on food consumption indicates a declining trend in the annual per capita consumption of cereals, for all classes of people, as shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Trends in cereal consumption across expenditure groups in rural India (kg per month)

| |Percentile | | |lowest 5 per cent|5 per cent-10 per |40 per cent-50 per |90 per cent- 95 per |95 per cent-100 per | | | |cent |cent |cent |cent | |1993-94 |9.68 |11.29 |13.33 |14.98 |15.78 | |1999-00 |9.78 |11.15 |12.89 |13.73 |14.19 | |2004-05 |9.88 |10.87 |12.16 |12.77 |13.50 |

NSSO 2007, 61st Round Report

The above Table clearly shows that as India moved to greater prosperity in the last twenty years the cereal consumption of the rural rich went down, but there was no increase for the poor. At any given point of time the cereal intake of the bottom 10 percent in rural India continues to be at least 20 percent less than the cereal intake of the top decile of the population, despite better access of the latter group to fruits, vegetables and meat products. Their sedentary life style too should be taken into account while assessing the difference between the two groups. For the upper segment of population the decline may be attributed to a diversification in food consumption, easy access to supply of other high value...
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