Last week, India’s executive branch passed the historic National Food Security Bill (NFSB), an act that will dramatically increase the number of people who receive food subsidies from the government. While India’s existing food distribution system, the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), is already enormous, the NFSB proposes to increase coverage to 75% of India’s rural population and 50% of the urban population – a whopping 800 million people. At face value, the bill appears to be an important step in India’s fight against hunger, but much debate still exists regarding whether the bill’s flaws outweigh its benefits and whether the program will be sustainable in the long run.

The NFSB aims to simplify how food subsidy beneficiaries are identified, viewing households as either covered or uncovered based on data provided by the states. Whether or not a household is covered is determined based on a national cutoff-level for per capita consumption. Covered households will receive an entitlement of 5 kg per person per month of wheat and rice for the price of Rs. 2 and 3 per kg, respectively. Coarse cereals, including sorghum and pearl millet, will be sold at Rs. 1 per kg. Extremely poor households, currently classified as Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY), will receive an additional 10 kgs of grain per household. The bill, which is a revision of previous proposals, also includes an additional allocation of 6.5 million tons of food grains for other welfare schemes, such as school feeding programs and additional subsidies for pregnant women. All told, the NFSB will provide 61.2 million tons of food grains per year throughout India.

Clearly, such a wide-reaching program will have significant financial costs. A conservative estimate places the bill’s costs at over 23 billion dollars a year, equivalent to about 0.72 percent of India’s GDP. These costs don’t just come from the grains themselves: setting up and maintaining distribution centers and government agencies to monitor the subsidies also creates a big expense. Critics of the bill argue that this money could be better spent on generating employment, improving rural and urban infrastructure, investing in agriculture, and a number of other competing uses.

Another point of contention between the NFSB’s critics and supporters is the household identification system itself. While the system will generally expand the number of households who receive grain entitlements, it can have varying impacts on individual households. The existing TPDS system has three classifications: households above the poverty line (APL), households below the poverty line (BPL), and extremely poor households (AAY). All AAY households will remain covered with essentially the same benefits under the new system, but 62 percent of households currently classified as BPL will see a 2 kg reduction in their monthly entitlement. While they will receive 5 kgs at a lower price than they do currently, the reduction in quantity will outweigh the reduction in price for many of these households. The impact on APL households is also mixed: while 71 percent of households currently classified as being above the poverty line will move into the new covered category (meaning both a 2 kg increase and a reduction in price from their current entitlement), the rest will move into the uncovered category. Analysis (forthcoming in Economic and Political Weekly) suggests the following breakdown: of the households currently covered under the TPDS, 46 percent will be better off under the NFSB, 14 percent will remain in their current condition, and 40 percent will actually be worse off.

Implementation also poses a significant challenge to the NFSB and will require careful attention at both the national and state levels. Storage, transportation, and distribution infrastructure and systems need to be improved in many parts of the country in order to prevent grain from going bad before it reaches the people who need it. Food safety and malnutrition due to micronutrient deficiency rather than simple caloric intake are also overlooked by the bill; these issues will need to be addressed in order to improve India’s food security in the long run.

As the NFSB made its way through various levels of the Indian government, several political challenges became clear. The first is the potential incompatibility of the NFSB with existing state programs. Many states in India have tried to implement their own food distribution policies. In states that have already successfully implemented the TPDS system, such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Chattisgarh, the new system will not have significant impacts; in fact, the national government could see political pushback from these states, which may want to protect their already-functioning systems. While the NFSB proposes a grievance redressal system, through which households can fight for increased access, weak infrastructure and political institutions in many parts of the country make the success of such a system somewhat doubtful. The second political challenge is the NFSB’s potential incompatibility with other development programs, such as a proposed cash transfer program for food and fertilizers. While this program has been tabled for now, it is unclear how cash transfers and food subsidies could impact each other, and India’s economy, in the future.

Finally, the NFSB has several implications for India’s agricultural sector. Providing food subsidies to more people means that more grain will be needed; it is likely that in order to procure the needed additional grain, the government will have to raise its minimum support price, potentially leading to higher food inflation. Farmers’ production choices may also be affected by the NFSB; with increased demand for staples like wheat and rice, farmers may choose to invest more in these crops rather than in other (potentially higher value) crops, leading to a decrease in agricultural diversification towards high-value agriculture. In addition to its potential economic and nutritional impacts, an increased focus on just a handful of crops can also have environmental effects: for example, the Punjab faces water scarcity and thus is not ideally suited for persisting rice production, but it may be tempted to continue increasing rice production in order to take advantage of the increased demand and higher government payments.

All in all, the NFSB is a complicated program that could impact many aspects of India’s economy and food security. While time will tell if the program’s benefits are extensive enough to outweigh its flaws, it is crucial for India’s policymakers to acknowledge and address those flaws in order to truly benefit the country as a whole. Proper targeted implementation remains the key to achieving any significant impact on food security for India’s poor, with or without the NFSB. Unfortunately this is one area in which the record of social safety net programs in India has much room for improvement.

Read the entire bill and analysis.
Read an interview from IFPRI's Director for South Asia, PK Joshi.

August 27 Update: The lower house of the Parliament of India, the Lok Sabha, has passed the National Food Security Bill. The bill has yet to make its way through the upper house. Below are the most recent news articles relating to the passage of the NFSB.
Lok Sabha Passes Food Security Bill - The Hindu
Food Security Bill Passed in Lok Sabha after Nine-Hour Debate - FirstPost
Lok Sabha Passes Food Security Bill - Business World
Lok Sabha Approves UPA's Landmark Food Security Bill with Amendments - India Today

National food security bill
Wed, 07/31/2013 - 12:39

a) Nearly 251MT. (Million Tons) food grains available now can give 200 Kgs/ man/ yr (ie. 0.6 kg daily). But staple food, nutrition, bio-diversity and opportunity to work for a dignified living is missing.
b) “70% of rice & 80% wheat is procured from Punjab, AP, Chhattisgarh, UP, Haryana & MP. This requires huge funds to erect infrastructure, man power and transport.
c) Expected Cost of transport, leakage is up to 40.4 % of the production cost. It is alleged that Rs 2,07,000 cr is siphoned by middlemen and rats destroy 35% food stuff.
d) Obligation to procure cereals lead to a severe market imbalance to animal products, fish, oil seeds and pulses.
e) Egg, fish, vegetable & fruits being perishable get wasted with long transport, are sold in distress or get adulterated. This cause national loss & earning loss to small holders and poor who are the major stake holders of animal sector. Apart from loss, this impedes the entitlement [ a legal clause of “Food security policy”].
f) Food & Agriculture policy misses the poor man’s access to delivery system, energy to cook. Rate of inflation of animal products being far less, preference for it increased; but wrongly claimed to indicate poverty reduction, better buying power or health awareness.
g) Distribution within a household like voluntary low priority to house-wife is discussed only by economists or sociologists.
h) Averting the crisis arising from distance, transport/ loading delay, social unrest etc. is possible if we encourage local production of staple food, especially animal products. The stake holders being mostly landless & small holders and. animals being equitably distributed, supporting animal resource development assumes significance. Pattern of animal distribution is similar to population distribution.
i) Social status, cultural imprinting and emotional out look influence wellness and social health provided by equal opportunity that animal rearing provides. Earning opportunity from animals is available all through the year (as against seasonal labour demand in agriculture) This need emphasis in FNS

Anatomy of food security part 1
Wed, 07/31/2013 - 05:35

In the early five year plans of India Agriculture got the top billing as the desire of the country was to mitigate hunger (not malnutrition). Focus was on food grain production, for belly filling, in sufficient quantity. Some states utilized the support and met 70% cereal needs of India. Nutrition suffered. National Food security (NFS) is without ensuring sufficiency of materials (except that of cereals), logistics or social and cultural acceptability of 85 regions, sub-regions and localities. Though we discussed diversification of agriculture from 9th plan still we discuss cereals, PDS and budget for the same but not nutrition. A new strategy to replace the past planning trend is urgent.
1.1. Nutrition Security
‘Nutrition Security’, is adequate protein, energy, vitamins and minerals for all household members at all times (Quisumbing 1995). Ability of body to ‘Utilize/Absorb’ food, requires a healthy physical environment, safe drinking water and sanitary facilities (avoid disease).Proper food preparation and storage is essential for nutrition that support attitude and efficacy of rich human resource which India is endowed with.
1.2. Food and Nutrition Security (FNS)
FAO expanded the definition in 2002 as: “Food security [is] a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”
This includes 4 components:
Food Availability: in quantities, appropriate quality, through domestic production or import Food Access: Legal, political, economic and social entitlements of opportunity for individuals to resources to buy nutritious diet. Ideally access must be equitable or linked with an opportunity to earn to buy nutrients not free lunch, that discourages one from work
Utilization: Proper absorption of food needs physiological health, clean water, sanitation. Protein and non-food inputs are integral parts of food security.
Stability: Population, household or individual must nutrients at all times with risk to access covered ensuring availability and access of acceptable food.
a) Nearly 251MT. (Million Tons) grains available is sufficient to give 200 Kgs/ man/ yr (ie. 0.6 kg daily). But staple food, nutrition, bio-diversity and opportunity to work for a dignified living is missing.
b) “70% of rice & 80% wheat is procured from Punjab, AP, Chhattisgarh, UP, Haryana & MP. This require need huge funds for infrastructure, man power and transpor.
c) Expected Cost of transport, leakage is up to be 40.4 % of the production cost. It is alleged that Rs 2,07,000 cr is siphoned by middlemen and rats destroy 35% food stuff.
d) Obligation to procure cereals lead to a severe marketing imbalance to animal products, fish, oil seeds and pulses.
e) Egg, fish, vegetable &fruits being perishable for long transport, get wasted, sold in distress or get adulterated, causing national loss & earning loss the small holders and poor who are major stake holders animal sector. Apart from national loss, this impedes the entitlement [ a clause of “Food security policy”].
f) Food & Agriculture policy misses the poor man’s access to delivery system, energy to cook. Rate of inflation of animal products being far less preference for increased. This is misinterpreted as better buying power, poverty reduction or better health awareness
g) Preference of distribution within a household (voluntary low priority to house-wife?) is discussed by eminent economists or sociologists.
h) Alternative to crisis arising from distance, transport/ loading delay, social unrest etc. need be discussed. Encourage local production, especially staple food, especially of animal products as stake holders are landless and small holders. Animals are equitably distributed. Pattern is similar to population distribution.
i) Social status, cultural imprinting, emotional out look that influence wellness and social health provided by equitable opportunity that animal rearing provides is largely seen unreported. Earning opportunity all through the year (as against seasonal earning in agriculture need emphasis in FNS
j) Drinking water: Is the second largest killer among young. A study conducted in Delhi reveal that fluorosis in water flattened the intestinal villi supply causing anemia in spite of free supply of iron. This got reversed in 15-21 days following Supply of low fluoride water
k) A number of packed snacks, churans, Pickles, garam masala, salad dressings, soups, juices etc. contains rock salt (black salt) which is a good source of fluoride.
l) Distribution: Statistics show that from each rupee spent on PDS, only 13-22 paise reaches the beneficiary.

As per its preamble, the
Thu, 07/18/2013 - 05:43

As per its preamble, the current Food security bill is “….. to, provide food and nutritional security in Human life cycle approach by ensuring access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices to people to live a life with dignity and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
STAPLE FOOD: Staple food is that food that is eaten regularly in such quantities as to constitute dominant part of diet. Typically, staple foods are well adapted to the growth conditions of their source areas ie. tolerant to drought, pests or soil low in nutrients. In the Indian sub-continent the staple crops are Rice, banana, bean, cow pea, citrus, cucumber, egg plant, mango, mustard, sugar cane.* In Kerala: fish, Tapioca, egg & chicken form regular diet; milk is inevitable for tea.
NUTRITIONAL SECURITY: Nutritional security includes drinkable water, safe staple food, fresh air, clean energy to cook and time to rest peacefully (without uncertainty) to lead a healthy life. It assumes importance in view of malnutrition in 42-47% of the children of India. Therefore food of animal origin & ancillary development of animal resource must receive priority. Priority must also be given to production of water based food production like duck, fish, and edible water plants as it saves on land use, require less energy to produce protein with rich minerals and low bad cholesterol.
ONLY HUMAN FOOD CONSIDERED. Food & feed is required for animals whose population and distribution is similar to human population. In order to ensure that animals have enough food/ feed and that animals do not have to compete with man for food, govt. has to seriously consider the requirement of food for live-stock and domestic animals
* Dimentions of need, 1994-95: An atlas of Food & Agriculture (FAO) Pp.21,34,35

National Food security act
Thu, 07/18/2013 - 05:40

Though agriculture is a state subject, centre gets involved in collection & distribution of food grain, and some sugar & kerosene through PDS shops. Studies of NSS (national sample survey) indicate that PDS were not benefiting the poor. Leakage, losses and diversion to free market are alleged (Venugopal, 1992).
Studies show that despite heavy incidental of FCI only 13-22 paise out of every rupee spent reaches the poor. Restructuring of PDS in 1990’s did no betterment. This needs closer study (research). *(Parikh, Kirit.S.: India Development report, 1997; Oxford Univ. Press). Targeting Beneficiary (TB) that involves establishment of offices of profit and powerful posts for public men is another process where public money gets squandered.
So, process of selecting Targeted Beneficiary (TB) may be done away by providing low cost food to all Aathaar / NPR holders. Monitoring can be covered under RTI, citizen’s charter or right to service. But grievance cells would work only if the masses are aware of their power and has the courage and patience to stand up and talk against the minority that rules (ie. the < 2 crore govt. employees and people in power.
 Salaried employees who form <3% of population control the fate of the rest 97%
 As crimes are getting increasingly politicized, monitoring committees too may get misused for political ends at govt. cost.

Subsidy at input and support price at output for agriculture had always been exploited by landlords who sell food grains in open market at a premium. Instead of providing subsidies at input stage and support price at output stage, govt. may provide direct one stage support price (which must include the intended subsidy) only to farmers who sells food grains to govt. agencies. Indirect subsidies on fertilizers go to producers or reach elsewhere.
 India holds half of the landless of developing world most marginal farmers of the world and nearly 85% of the land is with 16% people.
Encourage mixed farming, sustainable farming and production of staple food which generally adopts a low input –low out put regimen. Agriculture being a state subject local govt.s can encourage and quality control staple food production
 The focus of food security plan has to be through regional strategies for high productive zone, low productivity-high potential zone, low productivity zone and ecologically fragile zone

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