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Re-Localization and Re-Socialization of Food Production Using Public Distribution System

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Pooja Paswan
March 26, 2021

“If agriculture goes wrong, nothing else will have a chance to go right in the country.”

~Dr. M. S. Swaminathan (Father of the Green Revolution in India)

Food is fundamental to human wellbeing, and human development is central to achieving food security. Yet, despite global food production over the past half century keeping ahead of global demand, around 1.3 billion people today do not have enough to eat, and a further billion lack adequate nutrition. As a response to the incumbent crisis affecting the food system, alternative food networks are a promising link for a new food chain, founded on a sustainable paradigm. The modern food production-consumption regime has developed around ideas of productivism. Efficiency of the past follows the Malthus Theory and is based on profit-seeking, global supply and resource exploitation. Food insecurity has caused a series of externalities and negative impacts on the social, economic and environmental scenarios that now seem to have reached a critical threshold.

Sustainable Development Goals and Food Security

In 2015, countries adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In 2016, the Paris Agreement on climate change entered into force, addressing the need to limit the rise of global temperatures. It recognizes that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and address a range of social needs including education, health, social protection and job opportunities, while tackling climate change and environmental protection, according to United Nations.

The main targets of Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2): Zero Hunger include, according the UN, end hunger and ensure access for all people—in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants—to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round. By 2030, end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age. SDG2 also calls for addressing the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons.

It aims to double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources, markets and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment. Through this, it aims to ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, which strengthen the capacity for adaptation to climate change and other disasters that progressively improve land and soil quality.

India’s Public Distribution System Feeds 10% of the World’s Population

The government of India runs 5, 37,000 Fair Price Shops. This is the largest food distribution network in the world, spread across 3.3 million sq km serving 80.74 Crore people. The National Food Security Act (NFSA) came into effect on 5 July 2013. It marked a paradigm shift to food security from welfare to a rights-based approach by legally entitling a large portion of the population to receive subsidized grains.

According to the Act, 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population (overall two-thirds of the total population at the national level) is to be covered by the Public Distribution System under two categories: 

  • AAY (Antyodaya Anna Yojana)—These are the poorest of the low-income families, entitled to 35 kg of food grains per household. 
  • PHH (Priority Households)—States/UTs determine the families eligible for PHH Ration Cards, who are entitled to 5 kg of food grains per person per month at subsidized prices. 

Under the leadership of the former Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Late. Shri. Ram Vilas Paswan, the Public Distribution System developed better efficiency, transparency and accountability by automation and the quantity of food grains distributed per card per month has gone up significantly. In contrast, there has been some rationalization on the number of beneficiaries per card. Earlier issues of duplicate and bogus cards and obsolete information of card-holders (deceased/newly-born) have been solved to a large extent through the Aadhaar-based authentication. By having an extensive network of Fair Price Shops (there’s a shop per 6 sq km in India) and the digital infrastructure by way of ePos and Aadhaar-based authentication, food grains reached every corner of the country within weeks and were distributed. In the absence of a robust and responsive infrastructure, no quick relief measures could have been implemented. Even during a long and uncertain COVID-19 lockdown, this infrastructure was silently working to transport the grain to each of those 5.3 lakh shops from Kupwara to Kanyakumari and Kutch to Mon.

The achievement of SDG 2 Goals must include an inclusive approach to encapsulate social, natural, economic and institutional conditions from the baseline of the country’s population.

Author: Pooja Paswan is currently enrolled at the John.F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, India. She has Ph. D in Public Administration and specializes in Public Policy. She was recipient of the ASPA 2019 Founders Fellow. She has worked extensively in the area of development administration and policy. She can be reached at https://jmi.academia.edu/PoojaPaswan and [email protected]. Twitter @poojapaswan

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