Food is an all-time essential for living beings. It is impossible to imagine a world without food. Life becomes difficult when there is a shortage of food. India witnessed 14 famines, out of which Bengal famine was the worst, where 2-3 million people perished due to starvation. It made history and the evolution of the concept of Food Security. The Green Revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s to overcome productivity stagnation and improve agriculture and food grain production was the first step towards Food Security, followed by the White Revolution. India has overcome the problems and issues of famines and mass deaths due to starvation by achieving food security. Agriculture is the main focus, as it is the primary food source for the world’s population. India’s agricultural development strategy and approach to food security has yet again proved its resilience in the wake of recent global food crisis, which has created political and social unrest in several countries of developing world.
In December 2019, the novel Corona Virus Disease, which was later named “COVID-19” after World Health Organization (WHO) had categorized it as a pandemic, was initially reported in Wuhan city, China. Since its emergence in China in December2019, the outbreak has spread to over 210 countries around the world in just 120 days. The impact of the pandemic was not confined to health and economic sphere; it has also exposed some countries’ egocentrism. It has a huge impact on food security of India. It has affected all four aspects, namely ‘availability, access, stability, and utilization’ of food. The criteria of these four pillars should be entirely met for a durable FSI. However the pandemic has had dangerous consequences for food security, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable. The peculiar phenomenon of the vulnerable life of over 100 million migrant workers who had to travel miles and miles but empty stomachs indicated this in more than one way. And the pandemic’s national administrators did not expect such a scenario. It does not seem that the supply of food grains has been adversely affected so far. As of March 1, 2020, the country had adequate food grain buffers: 58.4 million tons and 3 million tons of pulses. However other commodities, such as fruits and vegetables, eggs, milk and sugar, do not account for 78% of total food consumption. The instability of supply chains and the fall in demand have caused producers, traders and customers to lose revenue and income incredibly.
FOOD SECURITY OF INDIA BEFORE COVID 19
Throughout the 1970’s, India achieved self-sufficiency in food grains. It has consistently been able to ensure that there is sufficient food available to feed its entire population since the mid-1990s. It is the largest producer of milk, pulses and millets in the world and the second largest producer of rice, fruit and cotton vegetables, wheat sugar cane groundnuts. The annual production of grain has also remained relatively stable, with a drop in production due to drought between 2014 and 2016. For distribution to the poor, the government procures some of that grain. The attachment of India to that food security programme is one of the obstacles to further progress in the Doha Development Round of the World Trade Organization. It plans to buy a record 35 million tonnes of wheat in 2018-19, which is more than can be stored in government-owned projects. If the grain is poorly processed in facilities that do not have protection from pests or water, a lot of it would be lost. Some grain in government-operated storage facilities is already being wasted due to poor practices. It is estimated that approximately 62,000 tons of grain stored, mostly rice and wheat, were destroyed between 2011 and 2017 due to pest infestations and rainfall exposure.
After famines in the first half of the twentieth century, India developed the Public Distribution System in the 1940s. It was originally intended as a universal subsidy for cereals, purchased by the Government of India from farmers at guaranteed rates, for sale to people at uniform prices. In 1997, the mechanism was changed to explicitly target those Indians living below the poverty line set by the government. Households that fall below the poverty line were granted the opportunity to buy up to ten kilograms of subsidized cereals (mostly wheat and rice) per month.
In 2013, the Government of India passed the National Food Security Act (NFSA), which stipulates that all Indians have a right to food security. The law allows qualifying households to buy up to five kilograms of cereals per person at even lower prices than in the past. Under the program, the Indian Government purchases food grain at a minimum support price intended to provide financial support to farmers. Up to one-third of India’s wheat and 15% of its rice production are purchased annually by the government. The grain is then distributed to Fair Price Shops, where ration card holders may purchase subsidized food. The NFSA is one of the largest social security programs in the world and 810 million Indians are willing to buy the food it provides.
THE IMPACT OF COVID 19 ON AGRICULTURE AND FARMERS
The Indian agricultural economy is made up of gloriously complex market ties linking around 263.1 million agricultural employees, directly or indirectly, to more than 1 billion domestic consumers – and many other consumers around the world. When the Central Government declared a 21-day national lockdown in response to COVID-19 on 24 March, there was deep concern that the agricultural sector would be crippled.
This is the peak of the Rabi season in India, and crops such as wheat, gram, lentil, mustard, etc. were harvested at or near maturity. This is also the time when farm harvests reach the mandis for secured procurement by designated government agencies. Non-availability of labour, in many parts, has negatively affected operational activities. As a result, the shortage of migrant labour has resulted in a sharp increase in daily wages for harvesting crops. Some parts of agriculture that have the luxury of deploying harvesting technology, such as Paddy and Wheat, are relatively more isolated because they often do not have to depend on a large number of manual labour. Agricultural prices have collapsed due to a lack of market access, including an end to transport and the closing of borders.
Increased labour costs and lack of access mean that farmers are looking at huge losses and therefore causing crops to rot in the field, a better ‘stop-loss’ mechanism. The shortage of transport facilities with vigilant roadblocks has a restricting impact on the movement of labour and agro-machine migratory harvesting. By definition, trucks and tractors do not include ‘farm machinery’.
The most critical thing that farmers have to resolve is the issue of repaying their crop loans, gold loans and other informal debts. Crop loans are repaid between April and May and a new loan is given at the start of the new season. Failure to do so would mean that they will be forced to borrow money from the informal sector at high interest rates for the new season. Border closures, quarantines and market disruptions, supply chains and trade disruptions limit people’s access to proper and nutritious food sources, particularly in countries hard hit by the virus or already affected by high levels of food insecurity. As food demand declines over the next few months, prices are projected to fall in 2020 and this will have a negative effect on farmers and the agricultural sector. As of now, disruptions have been limited, as food supply has been adequate and markets have so far been stable to meet on going demands.
IMPACT OF COVID 19 ON INDIAN FOOD PRICES
In normal times, access to nutrient-rich food is a problem for India. In the midst of a pandemic, the problem has only increased. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, a 10% increase in food prices is having a proportionate effect on household budgets in developing countries. It can be noted that prices of essential vegetables, such as potatoes, tomatoes and onions, have risen significantly since July. In some retail markets across the world, tomato prices are up to Rs 100 per kilo, while in retail markets, onion and potato prices are near to Rs 50 per kilo. In fact, wholesale prices of onions, potatoes and tomatoes are also rising due to lower supply amid extended rains in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.
Some of the badly affected people include maid workers, construction and factory workers, rickshaw pullers, small shop owners and day-to-day wage labourers. Hit hard by the lockdown, most of these informal workers have no savings and no extra money to buy food at higher prices.
During this crisis, a major part of the food security provision for India took the form of providing an additional 5 kg of wheat or rice and 1 kg of pulse for each household via the public distribution system. Although it is difficult to comment on the efficacy of current food security programs, we claim that even if these initiatives were highly successful, micro nutritional deficiencies would not have been addressed. For example, the closure of schools and anganwadi centres makes it more difficult to compensate for the lack of nutrition due to higher non-stick food prices. This makes younger children and pregnant and lactating women more vulnerable, as lack of nutrition during early childhood can contribute to irreparable cognitive and other developmental deficits. For example, the closure of schools and anganwadi centres makes it more difficult to compensate for the lack of nutrition due to higher non-stick food prices. This makes younger children and pregnant and lactating women more vulnerable, as lack of nutrition during early childhood can contribute to irreparable cognitive and other developmental deficits. The hunger alarm seems to ring loudly with rising food prices. This might mark the beginning of another famine for the poorest families in India.
PROGRAMS AND SCHEMES INITIATED BY GOVERNMENT TO OVERCOME COVID 19
As a result of this coronavirus outbreak and seeing what the circumstances are the government has so far adopted a targeted approach to providing relief by easing the enforcement criteria of the various statutes and a welfare package for farmers, workers in the unorganized sector and the sick.
New features of the National Agricultural Market Platform have been implemented as a welcome step to improve access mandis. They intend to improve agricultural marketing by reducing the need for farmers to physically enter wholesale mandis for the selling of their harvested goods. Kisan Sabha App developed by CSIR to link farmers to the supply chain and freight transport management system has recently been launched to help farmers during the lockdown. The app aims to provide farmers with the most affordable and timely logistics help and increase their profit margins by minimizing middlemen’s involvement and connecting them directly with institutional buyers. The Kisan Rath app has also been introduced to encourage farmers and traders in the search for transport vehicles for the transportation of agricultural and horticultural products. Several states have promoted a creative model that enables investors and farmers to enter into a contract farming arrangement in view of the on-going uncertainty created by the pandemic. The Consumer-Farmer Compact in Telangana, for example, has ensured food availability and access in covid 19 times. In this scheme, consumers help farmers with their agricultural needs; in exchange, farmers ensure that consumers are able to access food without problems. Improving the allocation of DBT to farmers by PM KISAN and include all those who are actively engaged during the lock-up. This has allowed several farming families to be partly compensated for the losses they saw in the months of March and April. They were provided with some cushion against the recessionary impact seen on farm prices due to the prolonged lockdown.
The Government of India announced the relief package with measures to help alleviate the adverse impacts on the most vulnerable segments of the population. Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojna aims to provide relief to these people by ensuring food security through the government’s public distribution system and social security benefits, including cash-based assistance by Direct Benefit Transfers Home delivery of cash and pensions through India Post is another step considered to help vulnerable communities and thus expand the safety net. Kerala launched a campaign mode to mobilise people for a variety of activities ranging from ‘break the chain’ campaign to set up community kitchens.
However the war against the Pandemic COVID-19 continues to occur. We need new market rules and structural, regulatory and legal changes to live with a new normal pandemic, requiring a total shift in social behaviour and the way of life. The Government has recently enacted three regulations to deregulate agricultural marketing to promote contract and corporate farming; and to allow bulk storage of critical commodities by private warehouses without any sort of storage.
COVID-19 has caused chaos on the supply chain, putting the food security of the world’s most vulnerable people in danger. Furthermore, the majority of migrant, informal, seasonal farm workers are losing their jobs, which could have an effect on food demand. The COVID-19 outbreak will have an effect on human behaviours and functions in the future. The government continues to take drastic measures as the virus spreads. It is also having a major impact on the global food system. Agriculture isn’t immune to the Sarcasm effect. Dynamic restriction is the result of diminishing buying power and a greater effect on the most disadvantaged groups of the population. As a result, food demand and therefore food security are affected.
Author: Ashina Hussain.