Friday, December 26, 2008

Review of Literature on Food and Nutrition Security


“Maximum City does not simply tell us a set of stories that we might or might not belief. Rather, it shows how cities are constructed not only through bricks and mortar, glass and steel, asphalt and concrete, but also through stories. Our plans and blueprints are stories. Our plans and blue prints are stories that we find convincing; our histories are stories we collectively believe to be true. There is of course, a politics to this storytelling that has been critical to all forms of scholarship within the social sciences: which stories are hegemonic? Which stories becomes history? Which stories becomes authoritative knowledge? But Mehta takes us a few steps further. Precisely because his stories defy the distinction between fiction and reality, he is able to show how the modern, capitalist city is constructed through fictions: the fictions of stock market speculations; the fictions of the Bollywood movie industry; the fictions of the big city that draws the desperate migrant; the fictions of the squatters hoping for the legislation of their settlements; the fictions of Hindu fundamentalists as they seek to create a homeland. These fictions are like Baudrillard’s simulera—copies, fakes, and exaggerations that cannot be judged against any authentic or original reality”.

--------Book Review on Building Blocks for a Methodology for Comparative Urban Political Research—Bas Deuters and Karen Mossberger in Urban Affairs Review, Vol. 41, No. 4, March 2006 on Suketu Mehta’s Book Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found (New York: Vintage, 2005), pp. 560.


Article 47 of the Constitution of India states that “the State shall regard raising the level of nutrition and standard of living of its people and improvement in public health among its primary duties”. Successive Five-Year Plans laid down the policies and strategies for achieving these goals [Tenth Five Year Plan, 2002-2007]. Food security in the past referred to the overall regional, national or even global food supply and shortfalls in supply compared to requirements, but with increased observation of disparities in the sufficiency of food intake by certain groups, despite overall adequacy of supply the term has been applied more recently mostly at a local, household, or individual level and has been broadened beyond notions of food supply to include element of access, vulnerability and sustainability. There are two things which are essential for food security, production/import of foodgrain (i.e. physical availability) and household-level purchase of foodgrains (i.e. economic accessibility). Since household is the logical social unit, the question of access to food should be seen at the household level. Similarly, one should keep in mind that household food security should be considered a necessary but not sufficient condition for food adequate nutrition. Stated in a different way, food security at the household or even individual level is an “input” not an “outcome”—hence the distinction between food security and nutrition security. From the entitlement perspective, one can say that the problem of food security does not lie entirely on per capita availability of food, but also on the economic access to food or what is termed as entitlement.

The entitlement of a person stands for the set of different alternative commodity bundles that the person can acquire through the use of the various legal channels of acquirement open to someone in his position. In a private ownership market economy, the entitlement set of a person is determined by his original bundle of ownership (what is called endowment) and the various alternative bundles he can acquire starting respectively from each initial endowment, through the use of trade and production (what is called his exchange entitlement mapping). A narrow interpretation of ‘entitlement thesis’ would suggest that given the ‘endowments’ a household could access food from any place. In other words, entitlement could be equated to accessibility. Hence household’s economic access to food is directly related to income and indirectly related to the labour supply (initial endowment) or the employment status of the earning members. Speaking on the availability of foodgrain, one can say that in the case of India, the households can rely either on the public distribution system (PDS) or the open market. PDS in India has undergone major changes in the year 1992 (in the form of Revamped Public Distribution System) and in 1997 (in the form of Targeted Public Distribution System), thus converting the universal system into a targeted one. Some of the factors behind the reforms have been the weaker sides of the universal PDS such as: urban bias of the PDS, limited accessibility of the PDS by the poor, regional disparity in the PDS, inefficiencies of the PDS (in terms of mounting food subsidy) and leakages from the PDS.

In a number of developing countries, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank, have recommended cuts in government subsidies, including food subsidies, as part of a structural adjustment package. Under the Structural Adjustment Policy (SAP), the Government of India hoped for a phased withdrawal of the subsidies by targeting the PDS that would control the inflation. However, there are problems associated with the targeted PDS and other related arrangements such as the Antodaya and the Annapurna schemes. Identification of the poor household which comes below the official poverty line is a major problem of the TPDS. There have been reports of excluding the households which comes below the official poverty line and including those households which comes above the official poverty line, while issuing the TPDS ration cards. Cornia and Stewart (1993) attempt to measure the costs of switching from a universal system of food distribution to a targeted system. Universal schemes are associated with Type-I or E-mistakes, that is, mistakes arising from the inclusion of non-poor in the scheme while targeted schemes are associated with Type-II or F-mistakes, that is, errors arising from omission of the poor. Rise in net per capita availability of food grain at the national level do not ensure food security at the household level. But still there is a necessity to become self-sufficient in food production. There are limits to increasing production through area expansion as the country has almost reached a plateau in so far as cultivable land is concerned. Hence the emphasis has to be on productivity increase. Overall growth rate of foodgrains decelerated to 1.80% per annum during the decade of 1990s from 3.54% during the 1980s. This is a matter of concern taking into account the growth rate of population. There is a growing consensus among economists and social scientists to widen the connotation of food security by including the concept of nutritional security at the household level. Calorie based definition of food security has to be replaced by nutrition based definition of food security at the household level. Without an assurance of nutritional adequacy food security has very little meaning.

The rationing system was first introduced in 1939 as a wartime measure to combat inflation in food grain prices arising out of shortages, in Bombay. This was later extended to six other cities and a few regions due to the shock of Bengal famine of 1943. The famine of 1943 led to the appointment of first Foodgrains Policy Committee, which recommended procurement of foodgrains from surplus areas, rationing for equitable distribution and statutory price control for checking the price rise. The Department of Food under the Government of India was created in 1942, which helped in food matters getting the serious attention of the government. However, before Independence the rationing system was confined to the urban areas. After Independence, Foodgrains Procurement Commission of 1950 besides making other recommendations suggested the rationing in all the towns with a population of more than fifty thousand, with informal rationing in other towns and some regulated supply of grains in rural areas. The Foodgrain Inquiry Committee of 1957 suggested maintenance of food buffer stocks and amongst other measures recommended setting up of a foodgrains stabilization organization to undertake purchase and sale operations of foodgrains. In order to tackle mass discontent on account of food scarcity, the government entered into the PL-480 agreement with the USA for the import of 31 lakh tonnes of rice in April 1956. Imports under PL-480 became a regular feature for a long period that did not help the government to build up sufficient buffer stock. India’s concern for food security led the policy makers to adopt measures for food availability—both physical and economic. For increasing the physical availability of foodgrain, India had to resort for the adoption of new technology. India adopted the high yielding varieties programmes during the mid-sixties. The government introduced an intensive development programme in 7 districts selected from 7 states in 1960 and this programme was named Intensive Area Development Programme. This programme was later extended to the remaining states by selecting one district from each state for intensive development. In October 1965, the net was extended and 114 districts out of 325 were selected for intensive development and the programme was labeled as Intensive Agricultural Areas Programme. In the face of skyrocketing food prices from the early 1960s the Congress government started a system of public procurement and distribution of foodgrains from 1965 aka Public Distribution System (PDS), and at the same time it pushed the HYV fertilizer technology in irrigated areas. The main agency providing foodgrains to the PDS is the Food Corporation of India (FCI) set up in 1965. The essential commodities supplied through the PDS are rice, wheat, sugar, edible oils, kerosene and coal (soft coke). A small quantity of coarse cereals and cloth is also distributed in some states. The objectives of PDS have changed from time to time. During the period 1945-1970s the main objective of PDS was to protect the urban consumer, ensure food availability through rationing in major urban centres, and thereby, to prevent speculation and undue rise in prices. From the 1970s onwards, the objectives have become rather ambiguous. One of the suggestions, which have come, owing to the inefficiency of the PDS, is to go for food stamps programme. The suggestion is to dismantle the PDS and FCI and move to a system of well-targeted food stamps whereby the beneficiaries pay a part of their purchases from the market in terms of these stamps. Thus the food stamps are redeemable for the purchases of foodgrains and other essential commodities at unsubsidized prices. Such a strategy has the advantages of higher food consumption effects and lower administrative and budgetary cost of operations. Since 1991, food subsidies in India have come under attack from the policy-makers. Arguments have been given to reduce food subsidies to control inflation. In the context of structural adjustment, suggestions have been made for altering the public food delivery. Most of the suggestions relate to methods of including or methods of excluding certain number of persons from the system of public distribution (Swaminathan, 1996). The Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) induced the government to restructure the PDS by targeting specific areas with special reference to ‘the population living in the most difficult areas of the country, such as, drought prone areas, desert areas, tribal areas, certain designated hilly areas and urban slum areas’ The major objectives of the Revamped Public Distribution System (RPDS), introduced by the government in 1992, were: (i) to increase coverage of the population in the target areas; (ii) to improve the access of income poor consumers to the PDS; (iii) to increase the range of commodities supplied by FPSs, and (iv) to provide selected commodities at prices lower than in the general PDS. Adopting an approach, what could be termed as, help for all the people living in poor areas, the government shortlisted 1752 blocks under the RPDS to improve the food availability situation in these backward areas. The offtake of both rice and wheat has increased steadily from 1992-93 to 1996-97 under the RPDS. The offtake of cereals under RPDS aggregated to 3.5 million tonnes during 1993, 3.6 million tonnes during 1994 and 4.1 million tonnes in 1995, but it was considerably lower than the assessed requirement of about 8 million tonnes for these areas. The TPDS was introduced in June 1997 in an attempt to limit the mounting cost of subsidy, and at the same time, ensuring that the BPL population does get subsidized food grains. Under this system subsidized foodgrains are provided only to people to below the poverty line. There are arguments in favour of universalism and against targeting. First, there is the argument for universal entitlements on the basis that all individuals have certain basic rights. In a poor country, majority of people lack these basic rights. Secondly, targeting in itself involves private and social costs and these costs may be high. The most obvious costs are the costs of administration, and cost due to loss of quality. Social costs arise when targeting excludes the needy (what is commonly referred to as a Type-II error and termed ‘informational distortions’ by Sen). Targeting may also lead to ‘incentive distortions’ whereby people alter their behaviour in response to targeting, leading to losses in social output. Social costs can also be attached to the invasiveness of targeting (as the identification procedure can involve probing and policing people’s lives). In short, the costs of targeting can be sizeable and may outweigh the fiscal gains to be obtained from targeting.

Anthropometric indices (height, weight and BMI) are widely used for the assessment of the adequacy of energy intake. Body weights and heights of children reflect their nutritional and growth status; weights and heights of adults represent the cumulative effect of dietary intake over a long period. The BMI is the most widely used anthropometric index for the assessment of the nutritional status in adults as it reflects the effect of both acute and chronic energy deficiencies/excess. BMI, however, does not clearly bring out the entire extent of chronic under-nutrition. For instance those who are stunted and have low body weight may have a normal BMI. An increase in energy intake will result in improvement in BMI both in adults and in children, but in adults and children with severe stunting, improvement in dietary intake will not result in an improvement in height. Continued over-consumption of energy especially in stunted individuals could lead to over-nutrition, obesity and increased risk of non-communicable diseases. BMI has been used to assess energy deficiency as well as energy excess. The currently used norms (<18.5—undernutrition>25 overweight) were evolved on the basis of data from the developed countries where adverse health consequences of under-nutrition have been shown to be associated with BMI values below 18.5 and the health hazards of over-nutrition have been reported with BMI of over 25. Household food security and nutritional status are not the same things. This is because nutritional status depends not only on household level food security but also on gender norms and access to health care etc. Micronutrient deficiency—especially deficiencies in iron, iodine and vitamin-A—are even more widespread worldwide than that of protein-energy malnutrition. Besides being important causes of disability in themselves, micronutrient deficiencies often underlie other types of morbidity. Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anaemia worldwide. The consequences of iron deficiency are more serious for women. Iodine deficiency disorder (IDDs) occur when iodine intakes are less than physiological requirements (about 150 micrograms daily per person) over a long period. In India about 200 million people are estimated to be at risk of IDD. Vitamin-A deficiency (VAD) occurs when body stores are depleted to the extent that physiological functions are impaired. Depletion occurs when the diet contains over a long time too little vitamin-A. to replace the amount used by tissues or for breast-feeding. The South-East Asia Region of WHO (including India) has the highest prevalence of Vitamin-A deficiency, as well as the largest number of people affected.


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