What is Food Security | Definition of Food Security


Food Security, What is Food Security, Challenges in Ensuring Food Security, Integrated Child Development Scheme, Mid-Day Meal Scheme, WTO and Food Security


What is Food Security


The definition of food security has evolved over a period of time. As a concept, food security originated in the mid-1970s, in the wake of global food crisis. The initial focus of attention was assuring the availability and to some degree the price stability of basic foodstuffs at the international and national level. This was then broadened to incorporate the demand side of food security in early eighties. During the nineties issues such food safety, nutrition, dietary needs and food preferences were also considered important ingredients of food security.


In FAO report on ‘The State of Food Insecurity, 2001’ , food security is defined as 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”. World Summit on Food Security stated that the “four pillars of food security” are availability, access, utilization, and stability i.e. food security over time. To accomplish all the above criteria, requires not only an adequate supply of food but also enough purchasing power capacity with the individual or household to demand adequate level of food. 

Providing food security has been focus of the Government of India’s planning and policy. Attainment of self-sufficiency in food grains production at the national level has been one of the major achievements of the country. In order to address the issue of food security at the household level, Government is implementing the Targeted Public Distribution System under which subsidized food grains is provided to eligible households. To further strengthen the efforts to address the food security of the people, the Government enacted the National Food Security Act, 2013.


Qualitative and Quantitative Dimensions of Food Security

The adequate supply of food involves two dimensions:


1. Quantitative Dimension or overall food availability in the economy.
2. Qualitative Dimension pertaining to the fulfillment of nutritional requirements.

1. Quantitative Dimension of Food Security in India

India gained self-sufficiency in the food grains in 1970s mainly because of green revolution and has sustained it since then. India’s food grains production is estimated at a record 291.95 million tonnes in the 2019-20 crop year. Thus, in terms of per capita food requirements, India is self sufficient in the production of major food crops like wheat and rice. 

2. Qualitative Dimension of Food Security in India

While the per capita food availability is sufficient, food is not equally distributed. Due to anomalies in the distribution channels and disproportionate purchasing power capacity of people, the nutritional requirements of vulnerable sections are not adequately addressed. This can be gauged from the following facts:

(a) According to State Of Food Security and Nutrition in The World 2020 Report of FAO, the number of undernourished people in India declined from 249.4 million in 2004-06 to 189.2 million in 2017-19.

(b) It further said that the prevalence of stunting in children under 5 years of age in India declined from 47.8% in 2012 to 34.7% in 2019 or from 62 million in 2012 to 40.3 million in 2019.

(c) It estimated that the number of adults (18 years and older) who are obese grew from 25.2 million in 2012 to 34.3 million in 2016, growing from 3.1 % to 3.9 %.

(d) The number of women of reproductive age (15-49) affected by anaemia grew from 165.6 million in 2012 to 175.6 million in 2016.

(e) The number of infants 0-5 months of age exclusively breastfed grew from 11.2 million in 2012 to 13.9 million in 2019.

(f) Recently released NFHS-4 report also shows similar facts i.e. 53% women (15-49 years of age) and 58.4% of children (6-59 months) are anaemic and 35.7% of children (under 5) are underweight.

(g) The Global Hunger Index 2020 report has placed India at 94th position among 107 countries, much behind Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal.

Challenges in ensuring Food Security

Over the coming decades, a changing climate, growing global population, rising food prices, poor agricultural growth rate (trends shown below) and environmental stress factors will have significant yet highly uncertain impacts on food security.

Moreover, a significant proportion of population is economically backward to be able to afford adequate food for fulfilling their dietary requirements. Despite the availability of government support programs, there have been numerous questions at international forums like WTO over government public procurement and distribution of food grains to the needy people. To tackle the quantitative and qualitative aspect of food security problem, India provides three food-based safety nets and one monitoring programme.

(a) Public Distribution System (PDS)
(b) Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS)
(c) Mid-Day Meals Program (MDM)
(d) National Nutrition Mission (POSHAN ABHIYAAN) 

1. Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS)

A centrally sponsored scheme launched in 1975, it is a one of the largest child intervention programs in the world with a holistic package of 6 basic services for children up to 6 years of age, and for pregnant and lactating mothers. These services are:

a) Supplementary feedings (Child-500 calories, 12-15gm protein for 300 days, Pregnant mothers-600 calories, and 18-20 gm protein)
b) Immunization
c) Health Check ups
d) Referral services
e) Health and nutrition education to adult women
f) Non-formal pre-school education to 3-6 years old.

2. Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Scheme

MDM is the world’s largest school feeding program reaching out to about 11 crore children in Schools and Education Guarantee centres (EGS) across the country. National Program of nutritional support to primary education, also called MDM scheme was launched in 1995. It is a nationwide central scheme intended to improve:

(a) the enrolment and regular attendance and
(b) to reduce the dropouts in schools.
(c) to improve nutritional status of primary school children.

From 2008-09, Children from upper primary level i.e. till Class VIII were also included in the scheme. For primary students-300 calories and 8-12 gm protein and for upper primary students-700 calories and 20 gm protein has been kept as norm.

3. Critical Appraisal of ICDS and MDM

India’s one of the biggest flagship programs, the Rs 8,000 crore-a-year Supplementary Nutrition Program (SNP) to fight child malnourishment under ICDS suffers from gross violations and misuse of rules and has failed in meeting its ends.

(a) Due to meager allocation of resources and faulty policy designs, the overall impact of ICDS and MDM over malnutrition has remained very limited. The states with high degree of malnutrition, have low coverage of both the schemes.

(b) Poor quality of nutrient deficient meal is being served at most of the schools.

(c) ICDS has limited itself with just one function of Supplementary Nutritional Program (SNP) and is not concerned about other functions. Also, it focuses on children 3-6 years of age, so, 0-3 years (when maximum nutrition is required) old suffer neglect.

(d) Since food is nutrition deficient in ICDS as well, children are facing the problem of hidden hunger i.e. prevalence of Iodine, calcium, iron or Vitamin A deficiency.

(e) Child Immunization and pre-school education is neglected under ICDS, except in Tamil Nadu (FOCUS report).

(f)  ICDS is poorly implemented. Also, several posts such as of CDPO and supervisors remain vacant in many states.

(g) Rampant corruption, fudged records and bland panjiri has become the reality of ICDS. FOCUS reports (Focus on Children Under Six Report by Right To Food Campaign NGO) show that corruption is the main reason for failure of ICDS and MDM in removing malnutrition. It was found that ‘panjiri’ (ready-to-eat energy mix) meant for children is being used illegally to feed the cattle of rich and influential in Uttar Pradesh.

(h) MDM is falling prey to private contractors. Also, political leaders and influential business people have formed SHGs and mahila mandals to gain such contracts. 

WTO and Food Security

According to WTO, people are considered food secure when they have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life. Public Stockholding is a policy instrument used by a Government to procurement, stock and distribute the food whenever the need arises. Minimum Support Price (MSP) is one of the instruments of Public Stockholding.

Stockpiling and distributing food are considered legitimate policy objectives and are hence permitted under WTO Rules. However, purchasing of food at fixed prices or “administered” prices which are higher than market is considered an act of subsidizing. This kind of support for purchasing food at fixed price is counted towards the Country’s overall ceiling on trade distorting support under the WTO Rules.

Currently, there is cap of 10% (fixed subsidy) for procurement of food from farmers in order to feed the needy and the poor. This cap can constrain procurement of food grains and also implementation of food aid programs in developing countries. As per the Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) of WTO, purchase of farm produce at higher prices than the market is considered as subsidizing the farmers. 

The methodology that is used for subsidy calculation is based on price index of 1986-1988 and that does not take into consideration the inflation. The WTO has a provision that Member countries may give subsidy in order to maintain the local market. For example, Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) excludes certain policies from reduction commitments (Green Box).

Public Distribution programs of developing countries are included in the trade distorting Amber box measures which requires reduction in the commitments. G33 Countries (a group of 47 nations) of which India is a prominent member, are demanding that the programs for food security measures should be exempted from subsidy reduction commitment of WTO. These food security measures, Public Stockholding programs should be removed from amber box to green box subsidies which are exempted from reduction commitments.

However, there is strong opposition from US, EU and such other developed countries to provide unrestrained or unlimited market price support under the banner of Food Security Measures or Public Stockholding.

1. At 2013 Bali Ministerial Conference, ministers agreed that on an interim basis, public stockholding programmes would not be challenged legally even if a country’s agreed limits for trade-distorting domestic support were breached, subject to certain safeguards. They also agreed to negotiate a permanent solution to this issue by the end of 2017 (Peace Clause).

2. At present such subsidies are classified as trade distorting and capped at 10% of production value (for developing countries).

3. The safeguards include several tough conditions such as these subsidies must not affect the food security of other countries and world prices, information has to be shared, etc.

4.  At 2015 Nairobi Ministerial Conference, the resolution was reaffirmed that the members must take all concerted efforts to agree on a permanent solution.

Recent debates in WTO meets over Food Security

India’s position

India has been repeatedly demanding permanent legal solution to this problem. India has agreed to WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement on a promise that the public stockholding issue shall be resolved. There has to be a workable solution to the issue of public stockholding issue which is better than mere peace clause.

A proposal by India and China has called on developed countries to eliminate their “amber box” support with an argument that this type of support would remove one of the biggest imbalances in the current farm trade rules by obliging the biggest subsidizers to reduce their special entitlements. India’s Public Stockholding Program under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) is much more than a mere welfare program. India is being accused of giving high price to the procurement as compared to the market price. However, in fact, the procurement prices are not always higher than the market prices. Farmers generally sell their produce to the Government because of the stability of the prices. In a nutshell, following are India’s demands:

(a) to find out a permanent solution for its public stockholding programmes for food security.
(b) special safeguard mechanism for millions of farmers from unforeseen surges in agricultural imports.
(c) an agreement for removing bottlenecks for facilitating trade in services.

The G-33 Coalition of developing countries led by Indonesia in 2014 and 2015 had offered several options to reach a permanent solution, such as to:

(a) include these ‘support programmes’ for food security under Green Box which is exempted from any subsidy reduction commitments.

(b) modify the rules to address the historical inequities in the existing WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture.

(c) G-33 countries also want that “traditional staple food crop” term used in Bali decision be replaced by “foodstuffs” to cover all food crops.

The above two proposals (inclusion in Green Box, and addressing historical inequalities) have been defied by US, EU, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Thailand, Pakistan, etc. They argue that inclusion in green box:

(a) will amount to a carte blanche i.e. unrestricted power to act on one’s own discretion,
(b) would lead to unsustainable production; and
(c)  the permanent solution must be based on the Bali agreement, which affirms that such programmes lead to distortion.

WTO 11th Ministerial Conference at Buenos Aires in December, 2017 ended in a stalemate with no permanent solution.  

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