Saturday, February 1, 2014

Food Security Vs Food Production & Usage


                                            (Modified version of posting dated January 11, 2012)


How Much Food is needed?

Normally, the amount of food a given population- be it in a country, a region, or the world- needs is the product of two factors-numbers of people and the average food requirement per person. Unlike with many other forms of consumption, there are limits to the physical quantity of food that people can consume. The actual food consumption by the population is determined not only by its basic needs, but also by its income and dietary preferences.

This is particularly important in high-income countries, where the crops that could be consumed directly are instead fed to animals to produce eggs, meat and milk. Therefore the amount of food, a given population requires depends on food system efficiency, reflecting the extent to which food is spoiled or wasted in going from Farm to Mouth.  

Disparities in Food Consumption

It is estimated that as many as 700 million people do not eat enough to live and work at their full potential. The average African is estimated to consume less than 90% of calories needed for a healthy productive life.  On the other hand, the diets in many rich countries are so laden with animal fat as to cause high rates of heart diseases and cancer.

Moreover, the meat-intensive diets of the wealthy are known to usurp a disproportionately large share of the earth’s agriculture carrying capacity, since producing one kilogram of meat takes several kilograms of grain. If all people in the world required as much grain for their diet as the average American does, it is estimated that the global harvest would need to be about 2.5 times greater than it is today- a highly improbable scenario.

Food Production Limitations

If global population gets doubled by 2050, providing everyone with a rich and varied diet enjoyed by today’s wealthiest countries, we may require a tripling of food production. Alternatively, with improvement in food system -farm to mouth- efficiency, and adoption of a healthier diet in high-income countries, it may be possible to provide such a diet for the entire global population, with just a doubling of food production.

But even a doubling of current production could strain Earth’s ecosystems, as modern agriculture practices based on intensive use of land, energy, fertilizer and pesticides could jeopardize the health of the environment.  The key questions are whether there would be enough Land and Water to produce the amount of food needed and whether technology could keep increasing the yield of food grains from the land.

Food Demand Management 

The debate on food security focused on the potential for increasing the food production/ supply (Supply Syndrome like in all other sectors), but interestingly enough, little attention is being paid to the issue of food demand management, a cost effective, environment friendly and sustainable alternative. Like Energy & Water, Food can be conserved and the demand for it adjusted to meet human needs (not the greed) and lessen the burden that modern agriculture places on the environment. The demand for food supply can be curtailed by motivating changes of dietary preferences in rich countries, leading to food system efficiency – Farm to Mouth.

Imitation of Western Habits

India, with about 4 times the population and about one-fourth of the area of USA, cannot afford to indulge in extravagant & unsustainable food habits/ dietary practices, inherent with very poor food system efficiencies. As it is, around 42% of under-fives children in India are reported to be malnourished, despite impressive growth rate of country’s GDP.

BPL Beneficiaries & Delivery System

 As per National Food Security Act being implemented, the Below Poverty Line (BPL) Census is the basis of identifying the beneficiaries at the village level. Depending upon the parameters to classify the BPL beneficiaries, the total number could be ranging anywhere between 30% and 60% of the total population coverage under the Act.  

 Many of the well-intended welfare schemes of Govt. do not seem to have the desired impact on the targeted BPL groups, due to lack of good Delivery System at Grass-Roots Levels of Villages. Because of political patronage, the key functionaries at grass roots levels seem to have become a law onto them, practically ignoring the writ of higher officials with impunity. As a result, the schemes get derailed without any accountability.


With a view to minimize inherent malady in the system, the realistic identification & recording of genuine BPL beneficiaries of food-security, ensuring good delivery system at grass roots levels & an effective supervisory and monitoring mechanism, need to be  focused. The conservation of food grains by good post-harvest practices & storage systems to prevent avoidable wastage & prevention of contamination in supply chain need to be given priority. To prevent wastage at consumer end, the German example quoted below is an Eye-Opener:

 "Order only what you can consume, to avoid wastage. Money may be yours but Resources belong to the Society. You have no right to waste resources. There are many others in the world who are facing shortage of resources.”