Can Food Security Contribute to Economic Growth?

Food security is in the news once again. First, the Supreme Court pulled up some states for their failure to implement the National Food Security Act, 2013, even after two years since it was signed into law. Then came the murmurs about the NDA government planning to allocate 130,000 crore to this Act.

Though food security is more often in news for all the wrong reasons in most countries, the fact that it ignites a debate in India, where an estimated 194.6 million people are undernourished (The State of Food Insecurity in the World, 2015), definitely comes as a surprise.

So why is a system that promises to do good to people, subjected to brickbats? It promises food grain entitlements for poor under the Public Distribution System (PDS), entitlements like mid-day meals for school children and nutritious food for children below the age of six, and even maternity benefits in monetary form. Why then, is it still receiving flak from most quarters?

It’s worth noting that the debate surrounding the national food security mission is largely fueled by unfounded claims and exaggerated figures. And amidst all the chaos, genuine concerns and positives of the concept seem to have taken a backseat.

Most people fail to understand that food security doesn’t just protect people from poverty and insecurity, but also plays a significant role in economic growth. While being overtly critical about how much it will cost the exchequer and arguing that the country doesn’t have the revenue to support it, people seem to ignore the fact that it can do some good as well.

One area where it can yield positive results is the field of human development. In an economy where malnutrition is prevalent, human resource is the most affected. In the absence of a well-developed food security system, the government is as it is going to spend a huge chunk of the GDP on temporary solutions. It might as well steer the same towards other areas of economic development.

Then again, food security results in improved nutrition, which, in turn, results in reduction of costs incurred in health sector. The same can then be used for other welfare schemes meant to eradicate poverty and other such social evils.

Being nourished and secured makes people more productive, and as obvious as it sounds, a productive workforce reflects positively on the economy. In contrast, insecure and malnourished workforce is most likely to have the opposite of desired effect on the economy.

It may seem like economic growth can address the problem of malnutrition, but that is not entirely true; not with uneven distribution of food resources and wastage of food, at least.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations the number of chronically undernourished people has come down from 1.3 billion in 1990 to 794 million as of 2014. While the reduction by 209 million means things are working, it also implies that more proactive steps are needed as there are 794 million people out there who still don’t receive nutritional food.

While the food security scheme is no doubt proactive, it’s the implementation part that needs to be given attention, which is difficult with all the negativity surrounding it.

Having enough food to eat is definitely a strong incentive; it’s as simple as it get. It’s another thing that such initiatives often get drowned in the game of political one-upmanship.

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