Aspects of Food Security

Bharat Dogra

The government has been trying to make available cheaper cereals to a larger section of population and provide a legal framework for it, as well as some other nutrition schemes. Most discussion on food security has centered around food security understood in this narrow sense. Clearly there is a need to understand and implement food security in a much broader sense.

For one thing nutrition cannot be ensured by cereals alone. A balanced supply of cereals, legumes (particularly pulses) vegetables, fruits, milk and oil (or ghee) is needed for this. Clearly, India is very far from achieving this food security in the sense of satisfaction of basic nutrition norms necessary for a healthy life. The majority of people clearly do not have access to such a diet. In many villages about 10% have access to such balanced nutrition throughout the year for all members of the family. In some villages this percentage is as low as 2 to 5%.

Another crucial aspect of food security is that as far as possible essential components of nutrition should be produced and procured locally. If one takes a rural district as a unit, then as far as possible enough of essential sources of nutrition needed in the district should be produced within the district. This and neighbouring districts should be able to meet also the needs of nearby urban areas, apart from meeting the needs of local villagers, public distribution system, anganwadis, mid-day meals and related nutrition programmes.

If the public distribution system makes available cheap cereals in an area but local farming system is not strengthened and food is not procured from it at an encouraging rate, then a situation of cheap availability of food will act as a disincentive for farmers and capacity to produce food may even decline at a time when food security is being publicised as a big achievement by the government. So broad food security has to be understood in the sense of this decentralised food security including local self-reliance.

Local self-reliance in producing food will clearly not be adequate if the methods of producing and processing food are highly dependent. This is particularly true at a time when giant multinational companies are lobbying hard to gain increasing control over food and farming systems. One of the methods they are using is to increase control over seeds and more specifically to spread genetically modified seeds and crops as these offer to them an attractive opportunity for increasing their strong hold of patents and control over seeds (which lead to their increasing control over food and farming systems). In addition giant grain and food companies are keen to emerge as suppliers of national public distribution systems and nutrition programme.

In this situation self-reliance in producing local food as well as self-reliant nature of food producing systems are becoming more important. This is why sometimes analysts prefer to speak of 'food sovereignty' and 'food self-reliance' instead of just food security, but it is possible to also speak of food security in this broader sense to make the concept more comprehensive.

Self-reliant food production should emphasise long-term sustainability which is achieved best by adopting ecologically protective methods. Human nutrition is closely linked to soil nutrition, conservation of water and protection of green cover. This will also help to achieve the other important aim of ensuring safety and good quality of food.

All these considerations taken together provide a meaningful definition and understanding of food security.

Vol. 46, No. 24, Dec 22 -28, 2013

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