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Food security: India is food exporter but bottlenecks remain

The ongoing agitation of farmers from Punjab is showcasing the paradoxes in Indian agriculture where surplus yields co-exist with food wastage. Many unhappy farmers who are yet to embrace the opportunities and challenges of entering the international food-supply chain present another obstacle to Indian rise as a global agri-superpower.

According to official data, India’s total food grain production was estimated at a record 295.67 million tonnes in the 2019-20 — 10.46 million tonnes higher compared to the previous year. When it comes to food grain production, India is second only to China in the Asia Pacific region, data collation portal statista.com revealed. “Recent development of industry standards and reduction of wastage of food grain accompanied with efficient farm productivity can help the country embody both self-sufficiency and a global export market,” it said.

The United Nations highlighted that India’s food grain production has increased five-fold from 50 million tonnes in 1950-51 to about 250 million tonnes in 2014-15. This has helped India move away from dependence on food aid to become a net food exporter.

Yet, the agriculture sector in the country has been presenting a picture of paradoxes.

Reports suggested that the government-owned Food Corporation of India (FCI) has ample stock of food grains – rice and wheat both — to be able to feed every PDS-dependent family for two years. Despite this, India ranked 94 among 107 countries in the Global Hunger Index 2020. Last year, India’s rank was 102 out of 117 countries.

“While overall production of foodgrains and other food items has been more than adequate, distribution has been a key concern area,” Pahle India Foundation’s (PIF) senior fellow and head of research Nirupama Soundararajan told Indianarrative.com.

The main lacunae has been in the serious shortcomings in distribution leading to a rise in chorus on the need to reform the PDS mechanism.

“The priority for the government now is to manage the domestic supply chain and distribution to ensure the farm to fork policy and for that, we would need a substantial increase in investment, which includes private sector investment,” Gopal Krishna Agarwal, Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) national spokesperson said.

<strong>Reforms in the farm sector</strong>

The government, with a view to creating a free market for the sale of farm produce, has already introduced the Farmers’ Produce Trade And Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Act, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act. The reform measures will help in eliminating the role of the middle-men while continuing with the existing practice of minimum support price (MSP) mechanism.

Agarwal pointed out that these critical reform measures will help in drawing investments. “We have not had any problem with the production of food grains, fruits and vegetables but we now need to create the right cold storage facilities and markets to take care of the supply chain side,” Agarwal said, adding that the reforms in the farm sector will help farmers get the right remunerative prices of their produce. “They are not getting the right prices and these pieces of legislation will only help them in getting the correct prices,” he said.

Soundararajan noted that it is not just important to focus on distribution but the priority should be on reaching “quality” food items to each and every PDS dependent family.
“The reform measures in the agriculture sector should have been brought about much earlier, as it is imperative to remove the middle-men for farmers to be able to improve their incomes,” Soundararajan said..