Three things are very important for food security according to experts. One is the availability of the food, second is access to the food and third is the absorption of food. But currently all three are under threat due to the pandemic.
The current National lock-down to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic has brought highlight to the problems of food, nutrition and livelihood security. Confronting a large number of rural people in particular migrants to cities because of some measures which announced provision of additional rice, wheat, some pulses and oil-free of cost as well as 1000 cash for the purchase of others essential commodity through to PDS.
We need to understand the different dimensions of food security in a very detailed manner in order to address these problems.
The first dimension is the availability of food in the market. Availability is directly related to production. Fortunately, we should thank the Green Revolution, as today we have enough food in the market. Government’s policies and the farmers who could make the drastic shift for right to food are all major players.
This time however, the farmers are consulted about labours shortages yet most of the input, including seeds, are expensive or unavailable. Marketing arrangement including supply chains are not fully functional. Pricing is not stable and public procurement is also not adequate so there is a lack of storage. Value addition facility is a necessity especially for perishable products which looses value after some period of time. We are yet to figure out the impact of the current pandemic on the Kharif sowing and food availability in the future.
The second dimension is Access to food. Access is a function of purchasing power. Fortunately, National Food Security Act (NFSA) and the PDS system ensures some additional food for every individual during this crisis. For access to food however, an important factor is job security. If people lack jobs, they won’t be able to afford the food, no matter the availability.
Food security and access to nutritious, good quality food are all contingent on job security. Today, a lot of people depend on the farming and non-farming sector for stable jobs. Now, they are without jobs. If job security is under threat, then so is the nutrition and food security. Ensuring that people don’t lose jobs is a priority. For this, one way is ensuring value addition to primary products like milk. Amul adds value to the milk so we can perhaps follow the Amul model for the horticultural crops and vegetables. The second thing is strengthening the MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural employment guarantee act). We need to secure skilled labour related to farmers and their farming activity.
Third dimension is absorption for utilization of food, which is dependent upon sanitation, clean drinking water and other non-food factors including public health services. So we need to ensure that the functional services depend on the capacity of the local villages and their coordination with other local bodies. There is currently a lack of supply of clean water in both rural and uran slums. This is an issue because now they are unable to prepare food in a hygienic way, which may lead to more outbreaks of food-borne or water-borne diseases. In addition, they cannot wash their hands frequently which is an important measure to prevent spread of the pandemic.
Therefore, we can conclude that food security under dire threat because of the pandemic. If we can ensure food availability, food access and food absorption then we have a fairly robust system of food and nutrient security. But the pandemic now poses a threat to them. It is very critical to highlight the linkage between agriculture, nutrition and health. While the PDS may be able to meet calorie needs, the inability to harvest, transport and market perishable fruit and vegetable at remunerative prices during the current crisis, not just deprive farmers of income and livelihoods, but consumers too of micro-nutrients in their diets. The agriculture sector is moving from being the ones providing the most jobs to the ones losing the most. This raises questions about the sustainability of production cycle.
To conclude, I would say that India has avoid many famines. In 1969, also through the help of technology and public policy so we need to do something right now also need to ensures that the three A’s ( Availability, Access and Absorption) work properly. Through a combination of farmer’s corporation, technological upgrading and favorable public policy in procurement, pricing and distribution. We hope that through this pandemic, the resilience of farmers remain in highlight.
B.Sc (Agriculture), MBA
Also if you wish to read more on the increase of consumption of goods during the pandemic, do check our article.