Road to Food Security Through Policy Tools and Strategies

Background: The National Food Security Mission (NFSM) is being implemented with the new target of additional production of 25 million tonnes of food grains by the end of 2016-17. This figure comprises 10 million tonnes of rice, 8 million tonnes of wheat, 4 million tonnes of pulses, and 3 million tonnes of coarse cereals.

Streamlining the Public Distribution System
Achieving food security for the nation is high on the agenda of the Government of India. On the marketing front, the announcement of the creation of a National Agricultural Market is a welcome step. India is self-sufficient in rice and wheat. The pulses component has also been allocated fifty percent of the total funds under the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) in a bid to increase their production. However, we believe that one of the key policy hurdles to ensuring food security (in terms of food grains, rice, wheat and pulses) is in the implementation of the Targeted Public Distribution System (PDS).

Given the present state of affairs, it is imperative to rethink the Targeted Public Distribution System. This has become more important as the scope of PDS is changing from being a mere instrument for equitable distribution of food grains to one that will ensure food security for the nation. Several deficiencies currently plague the TPDS – identification errors, ghost cards, leakages, issues of quality, to name a few. By reforming the PDS system and making it more efficient, we will be able to reach scores of BPL families that are presently not benefitting from this program. Simultaneously, we can curtail the management cost of this program.

The Power of Food Vouchers
Global experience shows that one of the better ways to introduce efficiency in the food grain distribution system is through the usage of ‘food stamps’. Under this system, the government would provide food vouchers to BPL families instead of a direct supply of food grains.

These vouchers (of fixed value with occasional revisions to allow for inflation) should offer beneficiary families the flexibility to buy food items of their choice. Further, grocery stores should be bound by contracts and penalties to adhere to the terms of usage of the food vouchers. Secondly, these vouchers should be distributed to people who meet certain specified criteria. These could include enrolling children in public schools, getting regular medical check-ups, receiving scheduled vaccinations, etc. In this way the government can ensure that beneficiaries participate in other broader schemes as a pre-condition for food security for their families.

A Focus on Pulses
For many years now, the production of pulses in India has been inadequate relative to demand. Integrated public-private partnership projects should be encouraged to oversee all related value chain activities, including inputs, production, harvest, procurement, capacity building and awareness programs. In one such project evaluated by FICCI for the state government of Maharashtra, an increase of 30- 40% increase in productivity of pulses has been reported following the adoption of certain best practices in this area.

Better Handling of Perishables
To move closer to the goal of food for all, we should seek to apply non-conventional energy sources to the cold chain. The main bottlenecks in the cold chain business include factors such as high capital and power costs and low capacity utilization. To improve the operating viability, non-conventional energy sources such as paddy husk should be explored.

The Importance of Technology
• Farm machinery: It is a widely acknowledged fact that the global agricultural workforce (as a percentage of the total) declined from 56.7% to 48.8% in the period from 2004-05 to 2011-12. This illustrates how crucial modern farming equipment has been in anchoring the second green revolution. The contribution of agricultural mechanization in enhancing productivity has been widely recognized. Timely farm operations and better management practices enabled by modern equipment can increase productivity by about 30% and reduce the cost of operations by 20%

• ICT: Secondly, ICT should be deployed in agriculture for implementing projects, delivery of subsidies and more. States like Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Gujarat that have adopted online subsidy distribution systems are finding that it is working to the satisfaction of farmers and the industry. ICT can also be used in weather forecasting, market information systems and more.

Potential of Public Private Partnerships
Public private initiatives enable the entities involved to work together to facilitate large scale projects that seek to aggregate farmers, create critical rural infrastructure, introduce new technologies, add value and integrate the agricultural supply chain.

For instance, FICCI has also been appointed as a nodal agency by the state government of Maharashtra to evaluate pilot projects under PPPIAD. We evaluated five different crop value chains (i.e. cotton, maize, pulses, white onion and soybean) in Maharashtra and assessed the outcomes of the projects in terms productivity, farming incomes. We documented the linkages of farmers with input and output markets and identified the processes that enable a successful partnership between the Government, private industry and farmers.

Our observation is that this model – encompassing quantifiable outcomes and defined timelines and strategies – yields good results and should be expanded to achieve food security.