Close to 800 million individuals do not have access to enough food, more than 2 billion individuals experience key micronutrient deficiencies, and 60% of individuals in low-income countries are food insecure. Food security exists when all people, at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Improved food security governance based on sound, equitable, and sustainable food systems that benefit from modern information and sustainable and equitable agricultural technologies is essential for countries to meet the SDGs. The issue of food security, especially in a developing nation like India, raises the twin problems of uncertain food production and unequal food distribution. The impact of unequal food distribution can have adverse effects on both the rural and urban population living below the poverty line. The essay looks into the issues of food security and steps to achieving it.
What is food security?
United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has defined Food security as Food Security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
Food security has three aspects to it:
Food Security is the potential to assure, on a long term basis, that the system provides the total population access to a timely, reliable and nutritionally adequate supply of food. As the world population is increasing day by day it is necessary to sustainably increase agricultural production, improve the global supply chain, decrease food losses and waste. Because of the central role that food security plays in human development, it is recognised as a universal human right.
Why does food insecurity occur?
Climate change, government policies of public distribution and marketing of food grains are also some factors contributing to slow down the availability of foods. Ensuring food security requires action in multiple dimensions, including: improving the governance of food systems; inclusive and responsible investments in agriculture and rural areas, in health and education; empowering small producers; and strengthening social protection mechanisms for risk reduction.
·Household food insecurity (HFI) is the result of poverty, poor health of the household member or members, and suboptimal livelihood and household management strategies.
·Food security is closely related to, nutrition security and health. Nutrition security is attained by individuals when the body tissues are exposed to optimal amounts of nutrients and other essential substances. Food security and the other determinants of nutrition security are linked with each other.
·For food security to be a reality, households need to have unrestricted access to a healthy and nutritious diet. Access to healthy diets, in turn, depends on having adequate economic resources and for foods to be readily available in the country, region, and communities in which the households are located.
·Maintenance of an affordable and sustainable healthy food supply at the global level is paramount for achieving household food security and nutrition security worldwide. For this reason, it is crucial to understand and address climate change, agricultural commodity price policies, armed conflicts, and the health of our planet.
What does food insecurity lead to?
Despite progress made in fighting hunger and food insecurity, the international community must address significant challenges to meet the needs of the millions of hungry people today and those of a rapidly growing world population. Recent progress in reducing food insecurity has been mixed across continents and within countries. Food insecurity negatively affects human physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development throughout the life course and is a major social and environmental disruptor with serious repercussions:
·Poor child development - direct and indirect impact on the psycho-emotional, social, behavioural, and intellectual development of children.
·Infectious diseases - increased risk of childhood malaria, diarrhoea, respiratory infections, and hospitalisations due to severe infectious diseases etc.
·Depressed immune system
·Stunting, obesity and chronic ailments
·Depression and suicidal thoughts among youth and major source of maternal depression globally
·Poor sleeping patterns
·Social unrest and internal strive globally as shown by the massive riots and social unrest resulting from the economic crisis and major food inflation observed in 2008
·Degradation and destruction of natural ecosystems has been identified as a major threat to crop diversity and thus the stability of food systems globally
India was ranked 97 out of 118 on the Global Hunger Index (GHI) in 2016. GHI rates nations nutritional status based on indicators of undernourishment, child wasting, stunting and mortality. Despite ranking above some of the world’s poorest nations, India’s reduction in malnourishment has been slow as compared to its recent strong economic growth and puts it behind poorer neighbouring countries. India has fallen to 94th (in 2020) since 2000.
Overpopulation, poverty, lack of education and gender inequality are also responsible for food insecurity. Poverty is a major cause as it limits the amount of food available to children. A number of people migrate from rural areas to urban cities. Migration of people to urban areas has resulted in a number of slum settlements characterised by inadequate water and sanitation facilities, insufficient housing and increased food insecurity. Most of the urban slums have people who are unaware of the government schemes. People from these slums have to buy their food from the common market at the competitive price and are devoid of the subsidised food made available through Public Distribution System (PDS).
The cost of food items is increasing rapidly, making them unaffordable for most of the people and the short supply of pulses and edible oils, forces the government to import them. Climate perturbations in the form of heat, uneven rainfall and drought pattern leads to new disease and pest incidence, pose another challenge to the crop improvement strategy. Inadequate distribution of food through public distribution mechanisms (PDS i.e. Public Distribution System) is also a reason for growing food insecurity in the country.
Food security in India can be achieved by paying more attention to issues such as climate change, agricultural pricing, integrated water management, capacity, unsuccessful delivery of public services, mismanagement of food products and crop insurance. With over 1.2 billion people to feed, addressing the issue of food wastage is essential for India to combat hunger and improving food security. Free trade will help make up the difference between production and consumption needs, reduce supply variability, increase efficiency in resource-use and permit production in regions more suited to it. With the phasing out of PDS, food coupons may be issued to poor people depending on their entitlement. The government policy needs to adopt an integrated policy framework to promote the use of irrigation and newer farming techniques.
Steps to ensure better food security
Sound food security governance is key for ensuring the right of food security for all citizens. Food security governance is indeed essential for the stability of nations. According to the FAO it relates to formal and informal rules and processes through which interests are articulated and decisions relevant to food security in a country are made, implemented, and enforced on behalf of members of society. Adequate food security governance relies heavily on the following:
·Multi-sectoral participatory decision making
·transparency and accountability
·equity in resource allocation and service delivery
·multi-sectoral and multilevel policies and corresponding programs.
Different indicators can and should be used for monitoring food insecurity at different system levels (global, national, state, local, household, and individual levels). However, it is perhaps the global dissemination of HFI experience-based scales that has made the major difference globally with the ability of governments to monitor the impact of their policies on food security at the household level.
Extreme poverty and hunger are predominantly rural, with smallholder farmers and their families making up a very significant proportion of the poor and hungry. Thus, eradicating poverty and hunger are integrally linked to boosting food production, agricultural productivity and rural incomes.
Agriculture systems worldwide must become more productive and less wasteful. Sustainable agricultural practices and food systems, including both production and consumption, must be pursued from a holistic and integrated perspective.
Halting and reversing land degradation will also be critical to meeting future food needs. The Rio+20 outcome document calls for achieving a land-degradation-neutral world in the context of sustainable development. Given the current extent of land degradation globally, the potential benefits from land restoration for food security and for mitigating climate change are enormous.
An increase in integrated decision-making processes at national and regional levels are needed to achieve synergies and adequately address trade-offs among agriculture, water, energy, land and climate change.
Today, millions remain deprived of their right to adequate food. The problem of food security is global. While we look at the financial crisis we cannot ignore the almost forgotten food crisis. India has revolutionised its agriculture but there is the phenomena of poverty, malnutrition and ill-health. For an emerging economy of India food insecurity is both an immediate tragedy and a threat to long-term well-being. Eradicating hunger and ensuring higher quality foods is not going to be easy even as agriculture is affected by climate change. Alternative strategies need to be researched and adopted, quickly and safely. People should be able to buy enough food, not necessarily that they become self-sufficient. Need for a new matrix of food economics is apparent. “A safe, affordable and plentiful supply of food is a national security issue”.
(Sources: fao.org / sustainabledevelopment.un.org)