Thursday, Jan 10, 2002
Food security in India
The focus on accelerated food grains production on a sustainable basis and free
trade in grains would help create massive employment and reduce the incidence
of poverty in rural areas.
INDIA AT present  finds itself in the midst of a paradoxical situation:
endemic mass-hunger coexisting with the mounting food grain stocks. The food
grain stocks available with the Food Corporation of India (FCI) stand at an all-time
high of 62 million tonnes against an annual requirement of around 20 million
tonnes for ensuring food security. Still, an estimated 200 million people are
underfed and 50 million on the brink of starvation, resulting in starvation deaths.
The paradox lies in the inherent flaws in the existing policy and implementation
India's food security policy has a laudable objective to ensure availability of food
grains to the common people at an affordable price and it has enabled the poor
to have access to food where none existed. The policy has focused essentially on
growth in agriculture production (once India used to import food grains) and on
support price for procurement and maintenance of rice and wheat stocks. The
responsibility for procuring and stocking of food grains lies with the FCI and for
distribution with the public distribution system (PDS).
Minimum support price: The FCI procures food grains from the farmers at the
government announced minimum support price (MSP). The MSP should ideally be
at a level where the procurement by FCI and the offtake from it are balanced.
However, under continuous pressure from the powerful farmers lobby, the
government has been raising the MSP and it has now become higher than what
the market offers to the farmers. Also, with quality norms in the procured grains
not strictly observed, farmers pressurise the FCI to procure grains beyond its
procurement target and carrying capacity. The MSP has now become more of a
procurement price rather than being a su