Food is the essence of life and the bedrock of our cultures and communities. It can be a powerful means to bring people together to grow, nourish and sustain the planet. The exceptional circumstances we have all been living in through 2020 underscores this — not only does COVID-19 pose a threat to food security and agricultural livelihoods, it compounds the threats already faced by 690 million people around the world. This World Food Day, we — the food agencies of the United Nations (UN) — pledge to work together to end hunger, eradicate food insecurity and achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2.
India has gone from being a net importer to a net exporter of food grains. This strength has been evident through the pandemic. Central and State governments were able to distribute around 23 million tonnes from India’s large domestic food grain reserves in three months (April to June) through the Public Distribution System, providing much-needed emergency assistance to families around the country. The government also successfully mobilised food rations for 820 million people from April to November 2020, including finding alternate solutions to provide food rations to 90 million schoolchildren. Throughout the national lockdown imposed in March, there were efforts to remove bottlenecks in the food supply chain due to restrictions on movements, and to ensure that agricultural activities weren’t disrupted. Thanks to these measures, agriculture grew at 3.4% during the first quarter this financial year and the area cultivated this kharif exceeded 110 million hectares. This is a major achievement.
But the focus on food during the COVID-19 containment measures has also brought out the multi-dimensionality of India’s food challenges — not least those centred around malnutrition and climate change. Even as malnutrition in India has notably declined over the past decade, the Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey 2016-18 revealed that over 40 million children are chronically malnourished, and more than half of Indian women aged 15-49 years are anaemic. Initiatives such as the Integrated Child Development Services — which provides cooked meals and take-home rations to 100 million children under the age of six, as well as to pregnant and lactating mothers — and the mid-day meal programme, are however stellar examples of how the government is working to fix these challenges.