National Food Security Bill 2013

Improving Food Productivity & Food Management Efficiency

Dr Amrit Patel

The poor need the food most. However, inadequate resources severely constrain the demand for food. The poor have now to spend more than before, out of their limited resources, on health, children’s education, transport and fuel. Lack of nutritious and balanced food directly impairs their health and in the process they get stunted and malnourished. According to the latest Global Hunger Report, India continues to be among nations where hunger is “alarming”.It is most disappointing that despite high growth, the hunger index in India between 1996 and 2011 has increased from 22.9 to 23.7.

National Sample Survey Organization data reveal that the average per capita food expenditure during the period from 1993 to 2010 increased only by 0.2 % annually in rural India, and fell slightly by 0.1% per annum in the urban areas.At any given point of time, the cereal intake of the bottom 20% in rural India which is engaged more in manual work continues to be at least 20% less than the cereal intake of the top decile of the population, despite better access of the rich to fruit, vegetables and meat products. Endemic hunger continues to afflict a large proportion of the population.

national food security bill 2013

National Food Security Bill 

Per capita availability, leave alone consumption of food grains and other essential food products in India is below the world average and significantly lower than in developed countries. Acknowledging the fact that the food is un-affordable for a large number of the poor in India, the Union Government has recently promulgated the ordinance to implement the National Food Security Bill 2013.

The National Food Security bill mandates to provide each person,including the pregnant women, children and the poorest households, per month five kg of coarse cereals or wheat or rice at, two and three a kg respectively. The National Food Security Program would benefit estimated 81 crore to 84 crore beneficiaries, the largest population in the world.Around 62 million tons of food grains are expected to be distributed under the National Food Security Program through country’s inefficient but massive network of about 500,000 ration shops under the existing Public Distribution System.

The food subsidy under the National Food Security Bill will cost the nation annually about Rs.131,000 crore, including Rs.8,000 crore for incidentals like setting up food commissions at the Central and State levels and in setting up grievance redress mechanisms. Under the proposed legislation for food security, the Expert Committee has estimated procurement and distribution of food not less than 63.98 million tons, rising to 73.98 million tons by 2016-17 against the likely procurement of 57.61 million tons in 2013-14.In this context, this paper attempts to focus the key areas that need priority attention to improve substantially food productivity and food management efficiency.

Optimum Use of Resources

The earlier phase of agricultural growth after Independence relied heavily on the expansion of the area under different crops and developing irrigation potential. Resources viz. land, water and fuel/energy, among others, are scarce, costly and limited, besides having the most competing demands for urbanization and industrialization. Scope of expanding the area in particular is now extremely limited, except through multiple and multi-storied cropping in irrigated area. While additional irrigation facilities in next 10 years need to be created, irrigation facilities already created so far have to be necessarily utilized, along with land and fuel/energy resources, most judiciously and efficiently to maximize crop productivity through committed efforts in a mission mode involving public-private-partnership.

Research Efforts

Integration of agricultural research, education and extension system to enhance the productivity and profitability per unit of resources deployed and money invested is considered a sine qua non. The emphasis has to be on productivity improvement [without impairing soil-heath], the scope of which is vast since average yield in case of most of the crops in India is quite low compared to their potentials. There has to be planned efforts including adequate financial investment to evolve food- crop varieties which are high-yielding and that resist drought, flood & salinity.

While the first Green Revolution had its genesis in the Seed-Fertilizer-Irrigation technology, the second Green Revolution should originate from radiation-induced mutation technique and Biotechnology along with integrated nutrient, pest & water management technology. The International Atomic Energy Agency has called for increased investments in radiation-induced mutation techniques that help in producing crop varieties with high yields and disease resistance, and can grow in stressful conditions such as drought, flood and salinity. This technique has been in use since 1920s and more than 3000 varieties of 170 different plant species have been released for cultivation.

Similarly, biotechnology in recent years has created unprecedented opportunities and revolutionized research activities in the area of agriculture viz. plant tissue culture and Genetic engineering leading to transgenic plants carrying desirable traits like insect and herbicide resistance; tolerance to salinity, drought and major pests; enhancing nitrogen fixing ability, improving storage, proteins and crops for food processing, thereby addressing problems related to malnutrition, poverty and hunger. India should, therefore, concentrate on inventing new seeds & planting material of various field crops through application of new technology

Research institutes of ICAR and State Agricultural Universities should concentrate on developing agro-ecological region-wise package of improved practices for different crops which are yield-enhancing, cost-minimizing, environment-friendly and economically viable [higher return on investment] and should demonstrate these proven advantages on farmers’ fields. For this purpose, State Agricultural Universities and ICAR system can develop successful public-private-partnership models involving easy accessibility to

[i] inputs of production [seeds. planting materials, fertilizers, pesticides] and farm equipment of approved quality on time and at reasonable price

[ii] scientific methods of cultivation

[iii] institutional credit and

[iv]domestic and export markets. These successful models can later be replicated by the public and private system. Research should focus on food crops, pulses, oilseeds, vegetables, fruits, milk, fish, eggs, broilers and meat so that people can access nutritional and balanced food.

Innovative Extension Models

Agricultural extension has to be adequately strengthened organizationally and financially to support the chain of transfer of technology from the research institutions to farmers’ fields in a most cost-efficient manner. This calls for innovations in extension models.During the Twelfth Plan, the Public Sector Broadcasting, as indispensable media of communication to accelerate agricultural growth in India, has a unique role to play. Government’s past initiatives, viz.

[i] successful pilot projects on Radio Farm Forum

[ii] Kheda [Gujarat]agricultural development TV project and

[iii] involvement of AIR and State Agricultural Universities in dissemination of agricultural technology, should be reviewed, redesigned and expanded countrywide. Additionally, the Government’s policy and programs must inform, educate and motivate farmers in geographically remote rural areas and widen and deepen the outreach of Public Sector Broadcasting when it is facing challenges from private commercial channels.

Capital Formation

The capital formation is a must as it has a profound role to build the production capacity of agriculture but its impact is felt in future years as most projects supported by capital investment take time to express their potential. More importantly, public investment in critical areas stimulates private sector investment and accelerates the flow and efficiency/productivity of bank credit.To accelerate the process of agricultural growth and agricultural growth rate, which has significant influence on country’s GDP and reduction in poverty, significant amount of capital formation in  agriculture supported by public and private sectors is a sine qua non in specific areas such as,

[i] development of irrigation [exploiting potential surface irrigation & groundwater resources, generation of electricity/power to draw groundwater]

[ii] intensifying soil & moisture conservation measures and land improvement

[iii] improving drainage system [iv] strengthening flood control measures

[v] all weather roads connecting all villages and towns to facilitate easy and timely transport

[vi] storage, warehousing, preservation and processing facilities

[vii] Value chains and integrated marketing infrastructure

[viii]developing sound information, communication and market intelligence system

[ix] building integrated agricultural research, extension & education system

[x] effective soil & water testing facilities

[xi] production, quality control and pricing system to facilitate competitively and timely availability of farm inputs [seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, fuel, farm equipment & machinery etc.] and

[xii]establishing agro-ecological region-wise state-of-the-art agri-meteorology.

Service delivery

As decentralization efforts are pushed and local bodies are given more prominence in the basic service delivery, the establishment of accountability mechanisms becomes critical. Capacity of local bodies to identify local priorities through participatory budgeting and planning needs to be strengthened. This, in turn, would improve the rural investment climate, facilitating the involvement of the private sector, creating employment opportunities and linkages between farm and non-farm sectors.

Efficient use of public funds

Despite large expenditure in agricultural and rural development, a highly centralized bureaucracy with low accountability and inefficient use of public funds limit their impact on agricultural development and poverty alleviation. In 1992, India amended its Constitution to create three tiers of democratically elected PRIs bringing governance down to the villages. However, the transfer of authority, funds and functionaries to these local bodies is progressing slowly in part due to various reasons. The local level PRIs must be empowered to contribute to shaping public programs and make them accountable.

Regulatory & Development Authority

Since resources, viz. land, water and energy are limited, scarce, costly and having competing demand for urbanization, industrialization and meeting farming needs, there is greater need now than before to consider appointing an independent Regulatory and Development Authority manned by professional to look these resources in totality and evolve appropriate legal framework, mechanism and procedure to deal with existing and emerging issues..

Farm productivity improvement depends significantly upon the use of inputs, viz. seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, water, farm equipment and machinery etc. which have necessarily to be of standard quality, available on time and at reasonable price protecting buyer’s rights. This, therefore, calls for putting in place Regulatory and Development Authority to consider legal framework, mechanism and procedure to ensure that farmers as users invariably are guaranteed to receive farm inputs of these characteristics.      

Land records system

State Government’s initiatives to computerize land records have reduced transaction costs and increased transparency. While all States need to strengthen and streamline the land records system through computerization in a planned manner during the Twelfth Plan, institutional weaknesses revealed in the computerized system need to be addressed.

Food Management

Past experiences reveal that cost of food production, procurement, transport, storage and distribution has significantly increased and inefficient food management system has resulted into huge wastage, pilferages and deterioration in food quality, not even acceptable as cattle-feed. In particular, problem of persistent inadequate storage facilities including unsafe storage leading to huge wastage of precious food accompanied by the most corrupt public distribution system leading to black-marketing and food inflation has to be seriously addressed by policy makers emphasizing policy-implementation with total commitment, good governance, accountability and grievance redress mechanism

.It is necessary to develop effective system, methods and procedure through policy intervention and programs that can

[i] produce food grains as expected annually under frequent unpredictable conditions of drought and floods in some parts of the country

[ii] facilitate the estimated level of procurement and safe storage preferably district-wise in each State

[iii] create additional facilities for quick and cost-efficient transport, processing and storage and

[iv] redesign the public distribution system and transparent grievance redress mechanism.

Long-term perspective

The issue of the national food security would have to be addressed in light of the fact that theperformance of agricultural sector in India since Independence reveals that the continuous growth of population, gradual depletion and degradation of natural resources, diversion of land and water to non-agricultural uses, production of bio-fuels from grains, emergence of second generation problems, market fluctuations, changing agricultural trade regime, farmers’ income etc. have brought concerns of agricultural sustainability to the center stage.

Beside, in the present context of vastly different production conditions in the country side, three features characterize the scenario

[i] two decades of stagnant public capital formation has significantly weakened the foundation of public infrastructure necessary for sustainable agriculture

[ii] compared to the 1960’s, today’s agricultural producers have to severely confront a more or less open trade regime and as a result, face a far greater international competition and

[iii] the natural resource base is shrinking due to declining farm-size and environmental degradation due to prioritizing and concentrating on accelerated farm production

The task now is not merely achieving a satisfactory growth rate in agriculture but also imparting greater stability to production through

[i] constant improving productivity and profitability

[ii] developing post-harvest technology and its management and creating processing and safe storage facilities.

[iii] equitable distribution, focusing sharply on food and livelihood security.

Country’s growth processes had put huge pressure on its resources, particularly natural resources. The Government’s policy should, therefore, focus to develop sustainable technologies that could produce more from less, particularly in the background of new challenges of global warming and climate change. Ecological and agricultural sustainability should go hand in hand. In this process, three fundamental principles of sustainable agriculture must be acknowledged, such as a live soil; protection of biodiversity; and precision farming and nutrient cycle.

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