In fact, the real issue today is not the availability of food but of its affordability by the poor the issue is also of food and nutrition security based on the access to a diet of high nutritional quality. From this point of view, the modern concept of food security has become rather broad-‘ based, encompassing livelihood security and poverty alleviation as means to ensure economic capacity to buy food. Once that is achieved, and then comes the question of adequate nutrition.
This has assumed significance in India because the problem of malnourishment has been more acute than stark hunger, which has more or less been overcome.
Furthermore, there are different planes at which the food security needs to exist right from individual level food security to household, social, regional and national level food security.
Indian policy planners have treated food security as a national priority and, therefore, an integral part of the food policy right from the beginning. The strategy to achieve this has been three-pronged: consistent increase in production, maintenance of food supply line, and ensuring access to food for all, especially the poor and the under privileged.
The food security system, thus, did not remain confined to mere food self-sufficiency, which had, of course, been the prime objective but went beyond it to take care of buffer stocking and distribution as well.
A “Food Insecurity Atlas of Rural India”, brought out by the Chennai based M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, in collaboration with the World Food Programme has managed to captive the lacunae that still plague food security in India.
This Atlas has measured food insecurity in terms of its spread (proportion of population consuming less than 1890 kilo calories per capita per day) and depth calorie consumption of the lowest 10 per cent of the population.
It has revealed that the spread and depth of hunger are more in areas with deficit production and those with a large number of people dependent on casual employment as in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Maharashtra, though these are prima facie not among the poorest of the states.
The other factors that contribute to the depth of hunger appear to be lack of non-agricultural employment opportunities and low wages to the labour as in the case of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.
Interestingly, the Atlas reveals that the states with access to more land and less dependence on casual labour are protected from hunger. The depth and spread of hunger is very little in these states, as in the case of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh under normal circumstances though these can also face grave food insecurity in the wake of drought or other natural calamities.
Diversification of agriculture, particularly into horticultural crops as in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra or diversification into livestock products as in Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, improve livelihood access and hence food security.
Here again, the market forces might prompt the grower to reduce the home-consumption component of the produce. Many landless households are even today producing milk for sale, but hardly any for domestic consumption.
These aspects apart, environmental degradation might jeopardize sustainability of food production at the high level and, hence, its availability. For instance, states like Punjab and Haryana are exploiting natural resources, notably water and soil nutrients, at a much faster pace than the rate of replenishment, leading to rapid drop in the groundwater table and deterioration of soil fertility, jeopardizing crop productivity in several pockets.
On the other hand, some other states such as Assam and Bihar, are under-utilising even the available utilizable natural resources, resulting in a vast untapped production potential.