Food Security and Nutrition in Rural India: Understanding State Level Heterogeneity

Date01 March 2018
Published date01 March 2018
Food Security and Nutrition in Rural India:
Understanding State Level Heterogeneity
Andaleeb Rahman, Prabhu Pingali and Bhaskar Mittra1
While nutritional outcomes in India have improved, albeit slowly,
the policy framework fails to recognize the importance of food and
agricultural policies in improving nutrition. is paper provides
evidence on the sub-national variation in food security and nutri-
tional outcomes and links it to the governance structure and policy
priorities. Sub-national unit of analysis has been a common theme
in the comparative literature and we apply the same to understand
the nutrition-food-agriculture nexus within India. We nd that
the states with a better agricultural system and public provision of
health and hygiene perform much better on the nutritional out-
comes. is hearkens to the academic understanding of nutrition
as a multi-dimensional concept, which has been ignored by poli-
cymakers. We further call for more careful analysis of sub-regional
heterogeneity and the changing policy paradigms at the sub-na-
tional level to address poor nutritional outcomes in India.
Keywords: Nutrition; Food Policy; Sub-national politics; India.
Seguridad alimentaria y nutrición en India:
comprendiendo la heterogeneidad a nivel estatal
Si bien los resultados nutricionales en la India han mejorado, aun-
que lentamente, el marco de políticas no reconoce la importancia
de las políticas alimentarias y agrícolas para mejorar la nutrición.
Este documento proporciona evidencia de la variación subnacio-
nal en seguridad alimentaria y resultados nutricionales y lo vincula
a la estructura de gobernanza y prioridades políticas. La unidad de
análisis subnacional ha sido un tema común en la literatura com-
1 Tata Cornell Institute (TCI), Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell Uni-
versity, Ithaca, NY, USA
doi: 10.18278/wfp.4.2.7
World Food Policy • Vol. 4, No. 2 / Spring 2018
World Food Policy
parativa y aplicamos lo mismo para entender el nexo entre nutri-
ción, alimentación y agricultura dentro de la India. Encontramos
que los estados con un mejor sistema agrícola y con mejor provi-
sión pública de salud e higiene se desempeñan mucho mejor en los
resultados nutricionales. Esto apunta a la comprensión académica
de la nutrición como un concepto multidimensional, que ha sido
ignorado por los responsables políticos. Hacemos un llamado adi-
cional a un análisis más cuidadoso de la heterogeneidad subregio-
nal y de los paradigmas políticos cambiantes a nivel subnacional
para mejorar los malos resultados de alimentación en India.
Palabras clave: nutrición, políticas alimentarias, políticas subna-
cionales, India
Food Security and Nutrition in Rural India:
Understanding State Level Heterogeneity
1. Introduction
There has been a very slow evo-
lution of Indias food policy to
tackle malnutrition in its mul-
tiple dimensions. While the policy has
gradually begun to give due consider-
ation to household level food access,
staple grain self-suciency continues
to be the primary focus. In doing so,
household nutrition security is com-
promised. Policy debates around food
and agriculture in India continue to
focus on hunger and calorie deciency,
at a time when balanced diets and bet-
ter nutrition are a paramount concern.
ere has been a rise in the incidence of
obesity which co-exists chronic micro-
nutrient deciency and high levels of
undernutrition. Triple burden of mal-
nutrition as this phenomenon is called,
poses important challenge for the food
and nutritional security in the country.
e principal instrument of In-
dia’s food policy is procurement of food
from farmers and its distribution to the
consumers. Every year, the government
of India announces a price, known as
the Minimum Support Price (MSP) at
which it agrees to procure rice, wheat
and other essential commodities from
the farmers through the parastatal
Food Corporation of India (FCI). e
procured food is distributed to the
consumers at highly subsidized prices
through the Fair Price Shops (FPS) as
a part of the Public Distribution System
(PDS). rough this, the government
aims to ensure that agricultural pro-
duction remains remunerative through
stable farm prices, while ensuring ade-
quate supplies. At the same, poor con-
sumers are shielded from the vagaries
of open market price uctuations. e
coupled twin objectives of consumer
welfare and farmer protection has led
to a signicant role of the FCI, which is
primarily responsible for the procure-
ment, storage and distribution of the
grains. e role of parastatals such as
FCI became instrumental in the 1960s
and 1970s when the India government
was committed to agricultural develop-
ment and productivity increase through
a combination of high-yielding seed
varieties, greater fertilizer usage, and
technological improvements, which are
generally known as the Green Revolu-
tion (GR). Government intervention
during that period was critical to attain
food security in India given the prob-
lems of market failure, technological
backwardness, volatile world markets,
liquidity constraints, low levels of pri-
vate investment and underdeveloped
rural institutions (Cummings, Rashid,
and Gulati 2006; Rashid, Cummings,
and Gulati 2007). Government oper-
ation of foodgrains, though has been
heavily criticized for their economic
eciency, rampant corruption and the
political benets accrued to the “farm-
er lobby”. Ganesh-Kumar, Gulati, and
Cummings, Jr. (2007) argue that with
time, the government’s foodgrains poli-
cy has “outlived its usefulness”. ey ar-
gue that for a greater role for the private
traders and market forces to replace this
in order to achieve a “higher, sustain-
able, and more-inclusive growth rate”.
e other set of criticism point
out to the major shortcomings of the
food and agricultural policy in improv-
ing nutrition. e prevalent ‘‘procure-

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