India’s food insecurity
Data from the latest edition of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report show that India retains the dubious distinction of being the country with the largest population of food insecure people.
- Estimates presented in the report which was released by several United Nations organisations show that the prevalence of food insecurity increased by 3.8 percentage points in India between 2014 and 2019.
- By 2019, 6.2 crore more people were living with food insecurity than the number in 2014.
What is SOFI Report?
- SOFI report is a join report issued annually by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organisation.
- Since 2017, SOFI presents two key measures of food insecurity: the conventional measure called the Prevalence of Undernourishment (PoU) and a new measure called the Prevalence of Moderate and Severe Food Insecurity (PMSFI).
- Both of these are globally-accepted indicators of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Target 2.1 to end hunger and food insecurity.
About the indicators
- While PoU is focused on estimating the proportion of population facing chronic deficiency of calories, the PMSFI is a more comprehensive measure of the lack of access to adequate and nutritious food.
- Estimates of PoU are based on food balance sheets and national surveys of consumption. Given that consumption surveys are done infrequently in most countries, these estimates are often based on outdated data and are revised when better data become available.
- In contrast, the PMSFI is based on annual surveys that collect information on experiences of food insecurity (such as food shortages, skipping meals, and changing diet diversity because of a lack of resources).
What does the report say about India?
- The report provides three-year average estimates of the number of food insecure people for South Asia as a whole and for South Asia (excluding India).
- These estimates show that while 27.8% of India’s population suffered from moderate or severe food insecurity in 2014-16, the proportion rose to 31.6% in 2017-19.
- The number of food insecure people grew from 42.65 crore in 2014-16 to 48.86 crore in 2017-19. India accounted for 22% of the global burden of food insecurity, the highest for any country, in 2017-19. It is also noteworthy that while the PMSFI increased in India by 3.7 percentage points during this period, it fell by 0.5 percentage points in the rest of South Asia.
- While the per capita dietary energy supply in India increased by 3.8% between 2011-13 and 2015-17, the consumption survey data that became available through a media leak showed that the average consumption expenditure (covering food and other expenses) fell by 3.7% between 2011-12 and 2017-18.
What ails our India’s food security?
- The significant rise in food insecurity, as shown by these data, is a clear manifestation of the overall economic distress during this period marked by a deepening agrarian crisis, falling investments across sectors and shrinking employment opportunities.
- The latest PLFS data have shown that the unemployment rates in the recent years have been higher than in the last four decades. It is widely believed that demonetisation and introduction of the Goods and Services Tax were two prime causes of economic distress during this period.
- A sudden imposition of an unprecedented and prolonged lockdown in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought renewed focus on the problems of hunger and food insecurity.
- Given this, these estimates of the PMSFI provide an important baseline estimate for the situation before the COVID-19 pandemic. It is critical for India to conduct a national survey on food insecurity to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food security of different sections of the population.