Global and regional food security have been deliberated upon as one of the priority agendas of the G20 for many years now. The situation has worsened with growing conflicts, and spiralling climate crises marked by droughts, floods, cyclones, and economic downturns in the past few years.
In this context, India’s presidency of the G20 offers a historical opportunity for the country to share its successful journey in moving from a food-deficit nation to a food-surplus nation, and address the growing challenges of food security for creating resilient and equitable food systems.
In 2021, through the Matera Declaration, G20 ministers recognised that poverty alleviation, food security, and sustainable food systems are key to ending hunger. “The Matera Declaration reflects the Indian concern for the welfare of small & medium farmers, promoting local food cultures and recognising agri-diversity,” External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar tweeted in June 2021 from Rome. There are many reasons why India is well placed to champion these ideas and rally commitments, as it takes over the presidency of G20 for a year starting December 1, 2022.
Leading the conversation
India’s journey in the last 50 years provides learning on sustaining growth in foodgrain production and improving food systems. One of India’s greatest contributions to equity in food is the National Food Security Act, 2013, which anchors the targeted public distribution system, the mid-day meal scheme, and the Integrated Child Development Services. Today, India’s food safety nets collectively reach over a billion people.
Since Independence, India initiated policy measures, land reforms, public investments, institutional infrastructure, new regulatory systems, public support, and intervention in agri-markets and prices and agri-research and extension. The 1991-2015 period saw the diversification of agriculture with greater focus being given to the horticulture, dairy, animal husbandry, and fisheries sectors. The continued learning encompassed elements of nutritional health, food safety, sustainability, etc.
In the past three years, while responding to the pandemic, India has set a global example in alleviating hunger by bringing in the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana. Through the mechanism of purchases of cereals from farmers, the government was able to provide a swift and resilient response to the COVID-19 pandemic, avoid supply chain disruption and economic shock using its robust public distribution system, add new measures, and underline how critical food and social safety nets are to achieving the right to food and the dignity of its population.
International trade is crucial to ensure access to inputs, goods, and services to produce safe, nutritious, and affordable food. The Matera Declaration also emphasised keeping international food trade open and strengthening global, regional, and local diversified value chains for safe, fresh, and nutritious food, as well as promoting a science-based holistic One Health approach.
In the face of climate change and a sudden decline in wheat harvest and decline in rice production, India formally announced an export ban on wheat and rice. However, it maintained a flexible approach to help countries like Afghanistan with humanitarian aid and others such as Bangladesh, Egypt, Yemen with commercial supplies, in collaboration with the respective governments.
Five action points
There is also an opportunity to fast-track the processes and commitments that were started through the pioneering UN Food Systems Summit, held by the G20 leadership, for global food systems transformation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The summit created a mechanism focused on five identified action tracks: Ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all; shift to sustainable consumption patterns; boost nature-positive production; advance equitable livelihoods, and build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks, and stress.
The war in Ukraine and the restriction on the export of wheat have shown how dependent nations are on a single source of global food supply. This vulnerability is linked with production being impacted by the changing weather, and disruption in the availability of inputs. It is important to note the vulnerability visible in foodgrain production and supply or in the availability with regards to exports will also raise the growing demand for India’s wheat and rice.
Over the decades, the Government of India has institutionalised buying grains from farmers and food stocks as strategic reserves for national food security. The minimum support price has encouraged farmers to produce, and protects them from financial fluctuations. This process has protected people, especially the most vulnerable and poor, during difficult times. Such measures, which are context-driven, are needed for managing the uncertainties that have become the new normal for ensuring food security for high-population countries and many other countries across the globe. There needs to be greater investment in agriculture; food safety nets for the poor and vulnerable; new ways of farming; and diversified livelihoods. We need to expand south-south cooperation to share experiences on food and agriculture production and make expanded efforts to share India’s experiences for countries in Africa and Asia.