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Food Security, Agrarian Crisis and Rural Livelihoods

The livelihood of more than half of India's working population is involved in agriculture and its allied activities. Despite there being an increase in the quantity of foodgrains being produced domestically as well as in the imports of foodgrains, India has been unable to achieve food security. The group most adversely affected by this is women in agriculture: their contribution to farm labour is hardly recognised; they are remunerated poorly and they suffer from chronic energy deficiency.

Food Security, Agrarian Crisis and Rural Livelihoods Implications for Women

The livelihood of more than half of India’s working population is involved in agriculture and its allied activities. Despite there being an increase in the quantity of foodgrains being produced domestically as well as in the imports of foodgrains, India has been unable to achieve food security. The group most adversely affected by this is women in agriculture: their contribution to farm labour is hardly recognised; they are remunerated poorly and they suffer from chronic energy deficiency.


What Are Livelihoods?

A livelihood comprises people, their capabilities and their meansof living, including food, income and assets. Tangible assets areresources and stores, and intangible assets are claims and access.A livelihood is environmentally sustainable, when it maintains orenhances local and global access, in which livelihoods depend andnet benefit on other livelihoods. A livelihood is socially sustainablewhich can cope with or recover from stress and shocks, and providefor future generations [Chambers 1991].

ivelihoods are not just “means of living” – but what people possess as resources from which livelihoods are obtained and their ability to use such resources. The second point in the Chambers definition refers to inter-generational sustainability as well as strength to withstand risks. A heavily market-dependent livelihood imposes risks to withstand by which, other means are necessary – either by way of risk insurance, market stability through public action or demand management. Today, all over the world, including high productivity regions such as the European Union and the United States, agriculture as a livelihood is contingent on considerable public support, to be sustainable. In those cases, where the proportion of population in agriculture is barely 9 per cent, it is merely a matter of differential elasticity of supply and demand. In a country like India, with the major proportion of its workforce still dependent on farming and farm related activities, the issue assumes more serious dimensions. It is not just a matter of “proportions” but the sheer numbers of people involved – the millions whose means of living are increasingly becoming precarious. Livelihoods affect not just households but intra-household access to resources and claims for different members within it.

The livelihood approach, as opposed to the notion of “employment” is seen as more people centred. It is not enough to have means of living but those means must not be stray windfalls and instead, should endure over time. Such persistence does not imply clinging to one particular mode of earning one’s survival (or its enhancement) but the availability of alternatives in the light of changing circumstances. The alternatives, in turn, may be a “rational” choice in the present but could jeopardise livelihoods in the future – the telling example being the current predicament of cotton farmers, committing suicide due to indebtedness, failure of crop and fall in market prices. We now understand that poverty for instance, is not a static destiny but is often episodic in nature as people fall in and out of poverty. There has been a great deal of attention among scholars to the methodological issues inherent in the measurement of poverty as some recent articles in Economic and Political Weekly (October 22, 2005) show. It has been felt for quite some time that the income measure of poverty is onedimensional, and betrays reductionism. Secondly, there are serious misgivings on how meaningful is the concept of a poverty line. The adoption of this approach appears to be based on the notion of targeting an identified section rather than promoting an overall development perspective that would promote peoples’ strength to manage their livelihoods. Calorie requirement is subject to many methodological assumptions. There are choices to be made on the composition of the food basket, adult equivalence scales, inter sectoral and inter regional variations in diet and prices, income distribution data and so on [Saith 2005; Agarwal et al (eds) 2004]. The immense regional variations of this country preclude the meaningfulness of any national poverty line. Using 17 indicators, Shaban and Bhole (2000) found inter state disparities in rural development very high. Social transformation of rural India was expected to take place through planned development by improvements in health, education, income, safe drinking water, sanitation, energy, housing, transport and communication. There was a high degree of co linearity – regions that were developed had more of the 17 indicators than others. A surprising constant was that workforce participation of rural working males had least interstate disparity while that of females did not. Social vulnerability is a more important parameter to be taken into account than income or food deficiency alone. How does one interpret changes in the consumption pattern? Is a movement away from food items born out of choice or compulsion? Not withstanding these pitfalls we use official estimates of food consumption as they figure in the analysis of scholars. Given these shortcomings we argue an approach based on livelihoods and ways of sustaining them give us a better perspective. Decades of targeted anti-poverty schemes have borne little fruit.

Livelihoods may not be sustained or be sustainable over time. To ensure sustainability, policies and relevant institutions must safeguard people’s assets and capabilities. The UK based department for international development (DFID) was one of the first proponents of the sustainable livelihood (SL) approach. DFID’s approach was articulated thus, “a more realistic assessment of poor peoples’ livelihoods and the factors that shape them; building a policy and institutional environment that supports poor peoples’ livelihoods; support for development that builds on the strengths of poor people and provides them with opportunities to improve their livelihoods”. Such an approach to poverty eradication, according to DFID, takes care to link relevant aspects of peoples’ living to development planning, implementation and evaluation and pays attention to the links between policy decisions and household level activities. That recent macro changes and policies (and how they are actually implemented) have adversely affected vast sections of our rural population are ignored in the current euphoria over increasing rates of GDP growth.

While DFID gives a comprehensive definition of SL and brings in the role of policy and institutions, it does not adequately specify the composition of livelihood needs. The means by which people earn their living have to be such that they provide them with basics – food, clothing, shelter, education, health, clean air and water in quantities and qualities that ensure healthy lives, that enable them to function effectively in their personal and social lives. The definition also does not bring in explicitly the critical boundary set by the role of natural resources in countries like ours. In the 1960s, there was a general turn towards adopting a “basic needs” approach. At the present moment, within a coalition government, there is a mandatory commitment to a “common minimum programme”. Between commitment and action there continues to be a wide gap.

This paper attempts to show how the levels and quality of food consumption and nutrition for the poorer sections have connections to what is happening to agriculture, where policies pursued as well as neglect of needed interventions have created the present malaise. The gender effect follows from the fact that such events impact more heavily on rural women, given their unequal claims and rights to resources, both at the site of production and consumption at the household level. Most of the arguments in this paper are drawn from data and analysis provided by other scholars as well as secondary data from official data agencies of the government. The attempt is mainly to knit together available wisdom.

What Is Food Security?

As we are going to talk a lot about food, it may be useful to understand the different ways in which food security is viewed.

Is hunger a matter of peoples’ articulation – do they have to indicate in some way that they are going hungry? Is there a state of not being hungry by which you can measure hunger? Suppose there is no base level? If people have always eaten less than their needs, their bodies adjust to less food in what is known as biostatis. Some estimates of malnutrition have been recently published. We have formulated national nutrition goals by which iron deficiency among pregnant women would be reduced by 25 per cent and iodine deficiency in the population by 10 per cent. Since the beginning of the Plans, direct nutrition programmes largely funded by multilateral agencies have utilised our resources. However, this attention to specific deficiencies among specific target groups such as pregnant women and children, in addition to a sectoral approach, fails to link poverty to the increasing inability of rural livelihoods to generate subsistence or marketable goods. The integrated child development services (ICDS) – despite its excellent design – failed to make a dent in food inadequacy. Unless food availability and increase in family incomes accompany these well meant efforts, improvement cannot be sustained. After all, if these direct efforts are to bear fruit, they should result in progressive reduction in numbers that require them. Does the answer lie in expanding such programmes or making them progressively redundant by eliminating those conditions that generate such hunger and malnutrition?

In the 1970s, the requirement of the people for foodgrains was estimated at an aggregate level and accordingly the anxiety was to ensure aggregate supply; this was achieved through preferential attention to high productivity, irrigated regions and those sections of the farm population that could generate a surplus and to acquire their marketable surplus to create buffer stocks to handle fluctuations in supply. This was the logic of the setting up of the food corporation of India (FCI) and the public distribution system (PDS) of foodgrains to take care of the food requirements of the people. In this context, food security was identified with instruments for storage, domestic procurement, and international trade. Rao and Deshpande (2002) point out how inherently costly the PDS is. It is based on only two cereals – rice and wheat; it is too centralised and performance is poor. The system is absent on hardcore poverty areas. This blinkered view failed to perceive the critical role of self-provisioning by farming households. A large section of the population experiences hunger even in normal times despite overflowing food stocks at the national level. Household food security is contingent on many factors – the ability to grow enough for self-sufficiency among farming households, and/or having enough income to buy food. Access to food then depends on prices at which food can be bought or prices at which the cost of cultivation is covered to yield a decent return for others. The UN’s standing committee on nutrition (UN-SCN) had this to say (2004):

The overall trend in nutrition outcomes in India over the last few decades has manifested itself as a slight reduction in the numbers of severely malnourished pre-school children. At the same time, household food security has hardly changed, despite reported reduction in the proportion of people living below the poverty line. Trends in per capita food consumption of different income classes may tell us a different story. The built-in biases of the green revolution strategy now stand exposed.

According to the UN-SCN, “a household is food secure when it has access to the food needed for a healthy life for all its members, adequate in terms of quality and quantity and culturally acceptable”. A household is food secure if it is able to ensure a healthy life for all its members at all times. Of course, we are not talking of exceptional circumstances like wars and natural disasters. We must distinguish between short- and long-term aspects. If a household is unable to meet food requirements for its members over a long period of time marked by unstable up and down cycles, we would regard it as a victim of chronic food insecurity. Large proportions of our tribal population in parts of the country exhibit such chronic insecurity. When starvation deaths took place in the tribal regions in Maharashtra, officials reported that they were caused by malnutrition. Hunger is supposed to exist only in Africa – India suffers from only malnutrition. A conceptual framework provided by the international food and agricultural development organisation of the FAO is useful in this context. It lists four dimensions in the characterisation of food security: (i) the ability to improve and maintain the level of acquirement (ii) the ability to cope with shocks (iii) the ability to improve and maintain the level of utilisation and (iv) the ability machinery, livestock, water, natural resources and finally the to cope with shocks to the utilisation. In other words, there is extent of labour it can command. To convert this endowment a distinction made between acquirement and utilisation. Further, set into food for production or exchange, entitlement (the claims acquirement itself depends upon endowment that encompasses over those resources) is critical. The ability to withstand shocks all resources that a household has at its disposal such as land, will depend on not only the opportunities that a household has

Table 1: Per Capita Availability

Year Cereals Pulses Per Capita Net Avail Per Day (Gm)
Population Net Net Change in Net Avail Net Avail Cereals Pulses Total
(Million) Production Imports Government (Col 3+4+5) (Million
(Million (Million Stocks (Million Tonnes
Tonnes) Tonnes) (Million Tonnes) Tonnes)
1951 363.2 40.1 4.1 (+)0.6 44.3 8.0 334.2 60.7 394.9
1952 369.2 40.7 3.9 (+)0.6 44.0 8.0 325.4 59.1 384.5
1953 375.6 45.5 2.0 (-)0.5 48.0 8.6 349.9 62.7 412.6
1954 382.4 53.6 0.8 (+)0.2 54.2 9.7 388.1 69.7 457.8
1955 389.7 51.7 0.6 (-)0.8 53.1 10.1 372.9 71.1 444.0
1956 397.3 50.4 1.4 (-)0.6 52.4 10.2 360.4 70.3 430.7
1957 405.5 52.8 3.6 (+)0.9 55.5 10.6 375.3 71.8 447.1
1958 414.0 49.5 3.2 (-)0.3 52.9 8.8 380.5 58.5 439.0
1959 423.1 57.4 3.9 (+)0.5 60.8 11.6 393.4 74.9 468.3
1960 432.5 57.1 5.1 (+)1.4 60.8 10.4 384.1 65.5 449.6
1961 442.4 60.9 3.5 (-)0.2 64.6 11.1 399.7 69.0 468.7
1962 452.2 61.8 3.6 (-)0.4 65.8 10.2 398.9 62.0 460.9
1963 462.0 60.2 4.6 Neg 64.8 10.1 384.0 59.8 443.8
1964 472.1 61.8 6.3 (-)1.2 69.3 8.8 401.0 51.0 452.0
1965 482.5 67.3 7.4 (+)1.1 73.7 10.8 418.5 61.6 480.1
1966 493.2 54.6 10.3 (+)0.1 64.8 8.7 359.9 48.2 408.1
1967 504.2 57.6 8.7 (-)0.3 66.6 7.3 361.8 39.6 401.4
1968 515.4 72.6 5.7 (+)2.0 76.2 10.6 404.1 56.1 460.2
1969 527.0 73.1 3.8 (+)0.5 76.5 9.1 397.8 47.3 445.1
1970 538.9 76.8 3.6 (+)1.1 79.3 10.2 403.1 51.9 455.0
1971 551.3 84.5 2.0 (+)2.6 84.0 10.3 417.6 51.2 468.8
1972 563.9 82.3 (-)0.5 (-)4.7 86.5 9.7 419.1 47.0 466.1
1973 576.8 76.2 3.6 (-)0.3 80.1 8.7 350.5 41.1 421.6
1974 590.0 82.8 5.2 (-)0.4 88.4 8.8 410.4 40.8 451.2
1975 603.5 78.6 7.5 (+)5.6 80.6 8.8 365.8 39.7 405.5
1976 617.2 94.5 0.7 (+)10.7 84.4 11.4 373.8 50.5 424.3
1977 631.3 87.3 0.1 (-)1.6 89.0 10.0 386.3 43.3 429.6
1978 645.7 100.1 (-)0.8 (-)0.3 99.6 10.7 422.5 45.5 468.0
1979 660.3 104.8 (-)0.3 (+)0.4 104.1 10.8 431.8 44.7 476.5
1980 675.2 88.5 (-)0.5 (-)5.8 93.8 7.6 379.5 30.9 410.4
1981 688.5 104.1 0.5 (-)0.2 104.8 9.4 417.3 37.5 454.8
1982 703.8 106.6 1.6 (+)1.3 106.8 10.1 415.6 39.2 454.8
1983 718.9 103.0 4.1 (+)2.7 104.4 10.4 397.8 39.5 437.3
1984 734.5 122.0 2.4 (+)7.1 117.4 11.3 437.8 41.9 479.7
1985 750.4 116.9 (-)0.3 (+)2.7 113.9 10.5 415.6 38.4 454.0
1986 766.5 119.9 (-)0.1 (-)1.6 121.5 12.3 434.2 43.9 478.1
1987 782.7 115.2 (-)0.4 (-)9.5 124.4 10.4 435.4 36.4 471.8
1988 799.2 113.2 2.3 (-)4.6 120.1 10.7 411.8 36.7 448.5
1989 815.8 136.6 0.8 (+)2.6 134.7 12.5 452.6 41.9 494.5
1990 832.6 138.4 Neg (+)6.2 132.3 12.5 435.3 41.1 476.4
1991 851.7 141.9 (-)0.6 (-)4.4 145.7 12.9 468.5 41.6 510.1
1992 867.8 136.8 (-)0.7 (-)1.6 137.7 10.9 434.5 34.3 468.8
1993 883.9 145.8 2.6 (+)10.3 138.1 11.7 427.9 36.2 464.1
1994 899.9 149.6 0.5 (+)7.5 142.6 12.2 434.0 37.2 471.2
1995 922.0 155.3 (-)3.0 (-)1.7 154.0 12.7 457.6 37.8 495.4
1996 941.6 147.1 (-)3.5 (-)8.5 152.1 11.3 442.5 32.7 475.2
1997 959.8 162.0 (-)0.6 (-)1.8 163.2 13.0 466.0 37.1 503.1
1998 978.1 156.9 (-)2.9 (+)6.1 147.9 11.7 414.2 32.8 447.0
1999 996.4 165.1 (-)1.5 (+)7.5 156.1 13.3 429.2 36.5 465.7
2000 1014.8 171.8 (-)1.4 (+)13.9 156.6 11.7 422.7 31.8 454.4
2001 1033.2 162.5 (-)4.5 (+)12.3 145.6 11.3 386.2 30.0 416.2
2002 1050.6 174.5 (-)8.5 (-)9.9 175.9 13.6 458.1 35.4 494.1
2003 1068.2 143.2 (-)7.1 (-)23.2 159.3 11.3 408.5 29.1 437.6
2004(P) 1085.6 173.7 (-)7.7 (-)3.3 169.3 14.2 427.4 35.9 463.3

Neg: Negligible. P: Provisional. Notes: (1) Population figure relates to mid-year.

  • (2) Production figures relate to the agricultural year July-June: 1951 figures correspond to the production of 1950-51 and so on for subsequent years.
  • (3) Net production has been taken as 87.5 per cent of the gross production, 12.5 per cent being provided for seeds, feed requirement and waste.
  • (4) Per capita net availability given above is not strictly representative of the actual level of consumption in the country, because it does not take into account any change in stocks in possession of traders, producers and consumers.
  • (5) For calculation of per capita net availability, the figure of net imports from 1981 to 1994 are based on imports and exports on the government
  • of India account only. Net import from 1995 are, however, based on the total exports and imports (both government and private accounts). Sources: (1) Directorate of economics and statistics, department of agriculture and cooperation.

    (2) Registrar general of India.

    to turn to alternative livelihoods but also public support for tiding over misfortunes.

    Utilisation will hinge on several factors not the least being women’s time for preparation of food, the drudgery involved, lack of labour/time saving technology at household level. The shift from hand pounded rice to milled rice decreased women’s drudgery enormously but at the cost of nutritional loss. Women who de-husked paddy used to be paid in grain; the introduction of rice mills displaced women’s labour, and in so doing, reduced their food security by discontinuing payment in grain for wage work in general. Quite often, inferior food may be sought because it takes less time to process. Factory-made bread has, among better-off sections, been adopted1 as breakfast food, though unleavened bread like the traditional chappati is a superior food. Utilisation in the sense of the body’s ability to convert food into energy and body building also depends on leakages induced by intestinal infections, bad hygiene, unprotected water, and lack of sanitation. Per capita availability of foodgrains is one indicator of where we are but it has to be supplemented by which groups in fact acquire the needed amount (Table 1).

    Recent studies on chronic poverty and malnutrition [Radhakrishna et al 2004] bring out the stark reality that the apparent decline in official estimates of poverty has not eliminated multiple deprivation. Using national sample survey organisation (NSSO) data, they construct three income groups – bottom, middle and top; for these groups they estimate per capita expenditure on cereal, non-cereal and total calorie intake for the years 1970 to 1989, 1990 to 1998, 1998 to 2000. For the bottom income group, expenditure on cereals has fallen from 0.10 per cent per annum to -1.38; it is worse for non-cereals where the expenditure has decreased from 2.81 per cent per annum to 0.96 per cent per annum. The trends in calorie intake are even more dismal.

    The figures of different levels of poverty in the above study are useful: Between 1993-94 and 1999-2000, the proportion of extremely poor fell from 2.0 to 0.8, very poor from 11.7 to 8.2; moderately poor from 22.1 to 18.3 and the “poor” as defined by below poverty line from 36.8 to 26.5. Predictably, the percentage of poor in rural areas is highest among agricultural labour, followed by the self-employed. According to national nutrition monitoring bureau (NNMB) data (ibid), 37.4 per cent of adult females and

    39.4 per cent of males suffer from chronic energy deficiency.

    Sen and Himanshu (2004) conduct a very elaborate exercise in evaluating different rounds of NSS data on poverty and alternate estimates by other scholars. They conclude at the end of it all, that poverty reduction was less than 3 per cent between 1993-94 (50th NSS) and 1999-2000 (55th NSS). The rural head count ratio (unadjusted) was 27 per cent and adjusted to a sevenday recall was 28.8 per cent. The authors indicate that there are only a few regions that can be identified as definitely having witnessed a significant improvement.

    “The focus of poverty reduction should now be as much on ability of urban regions to offer escape and linkages and on determinants of mobility from poor rural areas, as it be on rural income growth” [Sen and Himanshu 2004]. They appear to give up on rural development – as it is, migration to urban areas particularly to metropolitan areas has resulted in huge blocks of shanty towns, slums, pavement settlers who live in sub-human living conditions. One would have thought that given our large rural areas, the solution would be to create urban-like facilities in rural areas with opportunities for food processing and other enterprises to offer off-farm and non-farm employment to our rural poor. To date, one has not seen any analysis of why we have been unable to create like in China, town and village enterprises? Kohli (2006) attributes this to the present political alignment of ruling powers with big business – the corporate barons – to the exclusion of any real market orientation which would have implied unleashing competitive forces and scope for small producers.

    An earlier study [Shariff and Mallick 1999] alerted us to the emerging trends in food consumption. They noted that the Indian food basket has changed drastically since 1973-74. Both the expenditure on and the quantity of food consumed indicate that the share of cereals in the food basket has decreased in rural and urban areas, while the share of other items has increased. Energy derived from food has also decreased considerably. The national council of economic and applied research (NCEAR) estimate of nutrition for rural and urban areas is less than NSSO estimates by 53 kCal. As one moves from poorer to richer households, per capita consumption of cereals reaches a plateau whereas in rural areas as one moves to better-off classes, consumption increases. Consumption is dominated by rice and wheat. Other cereals such as bajra, jowar, maize, barley and ragi are consumed only in rural areas and that too in tiny amounts. Per capita monthly expenditure in rural areas was Rs 399 of which 83 per cent came from cereals and 13.6 per cent from other food items. The recommended daily intake of proteins is 60gm per person per day of which the rural areas get barely 60 per cent. This data is for 1993-94. There is no reason to assume that the situation has improved. The situation is far worse today with rising prices of pulses and low yields of pulses, the main protein source in India.

    An analysis based on 59th NSS round by G S Bhalla confirms our apprehensions of increasing poverty among farming households. The 59th round of the NSS, according to the summary tables he presents, shows that for farming households at the all India level, the average monthly per capita consumption was Rs 503, less by Rs 9 for rural households as a whole across regions and income groups. This was Rs 155 above the rural poverty line

    Table 2:The Consumer Price Index for Agicultural and RuralLabour Households (Base:1986-87=100) of the All-India Leveland in 20 States during December 2005 and January 2006

    Agricultural Labourer Rural Labourer

    General Food General Food Sr State Dec Jan Dec Jan Dec Jan Dec Jan No 2005 2006 2005 2006 2005 2006 2005 2006

    1 Andhra Pradesh 375 370 381 374 375 370 381 373 2 Assam 367 361 350 340 369 362 354 344 3 Bihar 347 345 337 334 348 346 337 333 4 Gujarat 368 365 377 371 370 367 377 371 5 Haryana 372 374 381 384 374 376 382 385 6 Himachal Pradesh 345 343 351 347 351 348 355 351 7 Jammu and

    Kashmir 359 360 364 365 357 361 362 366 8 Karnataka 340 338 333 330 341 339 331 328 9 Kerala 358 359 350 351 361 362 351 353 10 Madhya Pradesh 348 346 346 343 353 351 347 343 11 Maharashtra 367 363 370 363 368 364 370 362 12 Manipur 326 329 305 308 327 329 306 308 13 Meghalaya 383 382 373 372 380 379 372 371 14 Orissa 337 332 320 312 337 333 320 313 15 Punjab 377 381 389 394 381 385 388 393 16 Rajasthan 376 379 376 380 373 376 374 378 17 Tamil Nadu 358 360 333 334 358 360 336 337 18 Tripura 351 346 337 329 344 339 335 326 19 Uttar Pradesh 368 374 371 379 370 375 372 379 20 West Bengal 345 338 322 311 349 342 322 312

    All-India 358 357 352 349 361 359 353 349

    Source: Ministry of agriculture, government of India.

    of Rs 349 per capita per month in 2003. The farming households spent Rs 278.74 on all food items as against Rs 298.57 for all rural households. Except for cereal consumption, farming households’ consumption of other food items like pulses, vegetables, fruits, eggs, fish and meat was consistently lower than that of rural households in general. While the incidence of rural poverty has declined from 27.09 per cent (55th round) to 23.99 per cent in 59th round for rural households, the incidence of poverty has in fact risen to 36 per cent for farming households. The lowest incidence is in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab; it is low in Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. Orissa has the highest (53 per cent) while Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh range from 35 per cent to over 39 per cent. The situation is believed to be worse than these figures as the weights used have not changed over the years.

    The all-India consumer price index for agricultural and rural labourers (base 1986-87=100) (Table 2) especially for food indicates a substantial rise in cost of living.

    These trends are not accidental outcomes but are the direct result of policies followed by the government to privilege the growth of rice and wheat through promotion of hybrid varieties, accompanied by high input technology and concentration on irrigated areas. Pricing policy has also had an impact. The area under cultivation of the so-called “coarse cereals” has declined continuously. These are grown primarily in rain-fed areas of the south and central parts of the country. Apart from decline in area under cultivation of these cereals which are nutritionally rich, their production and yield have not only stagnated but have also declined due to lack of support (Table 3). The increasing stress on farm incomes for meeting non-food expenditure has partly arisen because of increased expenditure on health, education and other needs, with the reduced access to the already poor quality of public services in these sectors making it necessary for people to seek private sources. Earlier NCEAR studies showed how substantial is the family’s expenditure on health and education.

    Contrary to conventional wisdom, market orientation poses greater hazards in a country like India where other safeguards such as crop insurance and easy credit are not available. A study by the international fund for agricultural development (IFAD) comes to the conclusion that while there can be positive results in the form of greater returns to household labour and land and household income may increase, the negative effects are often not taken note of. There has been a spate of reported suicides of cotton farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra followed by onion farmers in Nashik district in Maharashtra. In theory, improved technology in cash crops can spill over to food crops. This does not actually happen. The usual argument today is: what if there is a switch from food production to cash crops, the higher income can enable one to buy food – either locally or from imports. In reality, large numbers of landless and land poor do not have sufficient purchasing power to induce the market to import basic food rather than luxuries. My own reservation on this is that even if recourse is taken to imports whether such a dependence on imports is wise for a critical commodity like food. India has, after all, one of the best bio diversity eco-climate variation, large arable land and sunshine for most of the year. Should we throw away such nature’s bounty by installing glass houses to grow flowers for Europe? There is a conflict here between pure economic rationality (if it exists!) and intuitive wisdom of not pursuing a “profit calculus” which in any case has many caveats in its premises. World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements pose some imponderables for Indian agriculture. Under the present imperfectly competitive markets, gains from terms of trade are limited. Agricultural production’s response to favourable shifts in terms of trade are inelastic because of supply constraints. The oligopoly in agricultural commodity exports where three to six firms control 85-90 per cent of trade means that while they charge us a price higher than their marginal cost, they buy our products at lower prices. Our best bet is to focus on tariff and non-tariff barriers. However, even these may not guarantee perfectly competitive markets because of economies of scale and irreversibility of investments. The truth is that trade reform is unlikely to help farmers in India gaining from higher international prices.

    From our experience we see that commercialisation, if it has to ensure food security must be accompanied by public interventions that modify the rigours of the market. Cheaper food may be available from abroad, but the fact that their food is produced with enormous subsidies to their farmers (estimates put them as close to 40 per cent) should alert us against vociferous advocates of reducing food subsidies. The drive for import of food is probably more due to pressure from developed countries to open our agriculture in return for our access to their markets. To whom our subsidies actually go is another issue. I quote from the IFAD.

    There appears to be a strong negative relationship between the food security of the household and the dependence of the household on the market… Loss of subsistence income was thus far more damaging to food security than loss of income from market based self employment [IFAD 2004].

    In this context, a recent announcement by the government of India that the food for work programme of the national employment guarantee scheme will now pay cash instead of food is worrisome. Poverty, food and nutrition inadequacy are closely linked. Raising farm incomes through better returns to foodgrain cultivation for the small and marginal farmers then is the obvious answer. As it is, there is a considerable reverse tenancy where land is leased out to rich farmers or agribusiness under sharecroppingarrangements.

    Agricultural Situation

    What is the situation regarding growth in agriculture? For this we examine available data on area, production and yield of different crops. What is the contribution of agriculture to our national income (GDP)? Are incomes of farmers improving? How supportive are public policies and the institutional environment?

    Table 3: Area under Cultivation – Foodgrains

    (Million hectares)

    Year Cereals Pulses Total
    Rice Wheat Coarse Total Foodgrains
    Cereals (2+3+4) (5+6)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7
    1950-51 30.81 9.75 37.67 78.23 19.09 97.32
    1959-60 33.82 13.38 43.79 90.99 24.83 115.82
    1969-70 37.68 16.63 47.24 101.55 22.02 123.57
    1979-80 39.42 22.17 41.36 102.95 22.26 125.21
    1989-90 42.17 23.50 37.69 103.36 23.41 126.77
    1999-2000 45.16 27.49 29.34 101.99 21.12 123.10
    2000-01 44.71 25.73 30.26 100.70 20.35 121.05
    2001-02 44.90 26.34 29.52 100.76 22.01 122.78
    2002-03 40.28 24.86 26.31 91.45 20.05 111.50
    2003-04 AE 42.41 26.62 30.76 99.79 24.45 124.24

    AE: Advance estimates. Source: Ministry of agriculture, government of India.

    How do women fare in agriculture? What is their food and favourable monsoon. However, the growth rate dipped again nutritional security? to 0.7 per cent in 2004-05 (India budget 2006). The advanced

    The annual average growth rate of agriculture (at constant prices) estimates of national income released by the central statistical during the different plan periods (Table 4) gives us reasons to be organisation (CSO) in February 2006, give the figure of 2.3 per pessimistic about the fragility of our agriculture. There are wide cent for agriculture and allied sectors growth. Although India fluctuations but a definite downward trend overall including some accounts for 21.8 per cent of global paddy production our yields negative patches, the only exception being 2003-04, thanks to a are less than those in most countries. The bulk of our population

    Table 4: Average Annual Growth Table 5b: Production of Foodgrains

    (Per cent) (Million tonnes)

    Five-Year Plan Overall GDP Agriculture and Crop Year Growth Rate Allied Sectors 2000-01 2001-02 2002-03 2003-04 2004-05* 2005-06$ (at Constant Prices)

    Rice 85.00 93.30 71.80 88.30 85.30 73.80 Seventh Plan (1985-1990) 6.0 3.2 Wheat 69.70 72.80 65.80 72.10 72.00 – Annual Plan (1990-92) 3.4 1.3 Coarse cereals 31.10 33.40 26.10 38.10 33.90 26.40 Eighth Plan (1992-97) 6.7 4.7 Pulses 11.10 13.40 11.10 14.90 13.40 5.00 Ninth Plan(1997-2002) 5.5 2.1 Foodgrains Tenth Plan (2002-07) (i) Kharif 102.10 112.10 87.20 116.90 103.30 105.30 2002-03 3.8 -6.9 (ii) Rabi 94.70 100.80 87.60 96.60 101.30 – 2003-04(P) 8.5 10.0 Total (i+ii) 196.80 212.90 174.80 213.50 204.60 – 2004-05(Q) 7.5 0.7

    * 4th advance estimates. $ 1st advance estimates (kharif only).

    2005-06(A) 8.1 2.3 Source: Ministry of agriculture.

    P: Provisional, Q: Quick estimates, A: Advance estimates

    Note: Growth rates prior to 2001 based on 1993-94 prices and from 2000-01 Table 5c : Percentage Change in Production of Foodgrains onwards based on new series at 1999-2000 prices.

    1999- 2000-01 2001-02 2002-03 2003-04 2004-05 Source: Central Statistical Organisation.

    2000** AE

    Table 5: Index Numbers of Area, Production and

    Rice 17.96 -5.53 8.96 -29.96 18.65 -3.48

    Yield of Foodgrains, in India

    Wheat 34.73 -9.60 4.25 -10.66 8.81 -0.15

    (Base: Triennium ending 1981-82 = 100) Coarse cereals -14.61 2.41 6.86 -28.00 31.61 -12.38 Total 19.46 -5.73 6.89 -21.89 17.56 -3.81

    Year A Per Cent Pr Per Cent Y Per Cent Pulses 4.17 -21.23 17.20 -20.13 25.50 -11.66

    Change Change Change Total foodgrain 18.47 -6.60 7.54 -21.79 18.13 -4.33

    Weights 62.92 ** Decadal change over 1989-90. AE: Advance estimates.

    1949-50 78.00 51.5 70.3 Source: Ministry of agriculture, government of India.

    1959-60 91.50 14.75 64.9 20.6 75.6 7.0 1969-70 97.30 5.96 81.6 20.5 87.5 13.6

    Table 5d: Production of Major Commercial Crops

    1979-80 98.50 1.22 87.5 6.7 88.7 1.4

    (Million tonnes)

    1980-81 99.80 1.30 104.9 16.6 105.1 15.6 1989-90 99.90 0.10 139.1 24.6 135.5 22.4 Crop Year 1999-2000 97.00 -2.99 169.7 18.0 159.8 15.2 2000-01 2001-02 2002-03 2003-04 2004-05@ 2005-06$

    2000-01 95.40 -1.68 158.4 -7.1 152.8 -4.6 2001-02 96.40 1.04 172.0 7.9 163.9 6.8

    Groundnut 6.40 7.00 4.10 8.20 7.00 5.90 2002-03-P 87.80 -9.79 140.4 -22.5 146.1 -12.2 Rapeseed and 2003-04-AE 97.90 10.32 171.0 17.9 163.8 10.8 mustard 4.20 5.10 3.90 6.20 8.40 Soyabean 5.30 6.00 4.70 7.90 7.50 6.60

    A: Area Pr: Production Y: Yield. P: Provisional for non-foodgrains and all crops. Other oilseeds 2.50 2.60 2.10 3.00 3.20 2.10 AE: Advance estimates. Total nine Source: Ministry of agriculture, government of India. oilseeds 18.40 20.70 14.80 25.30 26.10 14.60

    Cotton* 9.50 10.00 8.60 13.90 17.00 15.90 Table 5a: Index Numbers of Area, Production and Yield of Jute and Mesta** 10.60 11.70 11.30 11.20 10.50 10.10 Non-Foodgrains and All Crops in India Sugar cane 296.00 297.20 287.40 237.30 232.30 257.70

    (Base: Triennium ending 1981-82 = 100)

    * Million bales of 170 kgs each. ** Million bales of 180 kgs each. Year Non-food Crop All Crops @ 4th advance estimates. $ 1st advance (kharif only)

    A Per Cent Pr Per Cent Y Per Cent A Pr Y Source: Ministry of agriculture, government of India Change Change Change

    Table 5e: Percentage Change in Production of Major

    Weights 37.08 100.00

    Commercial Crops

    1949-50 67.8 44.6 80.9 74.0 48.9 73.0 1959-60 82.3 17.6 59.6 25.2 77.5 -4.4 89.3 63.0 76.0

    1999-2000-01 2001-02 2002-03 2003-04 2004-05 1969-70 90.3 8.9 78.3 23.9 86.3 10.2 95.7 80.4 87.0

    2000** E 1979-80 96.6 6.5 90.8 13.8 93.9 8.1 98.1 88.7 90.0 1980-81 99.4 2.8 97.4 6.8 99.2 5.3 99.7 102.1 102.0 Oilseeds (Nine) 18.34 -12.36 10.75 -39.22 41.32 3.10 1989-90 115.8 14.2 149.7 34.9 126.7 21.7 103.5 143.0 131.0 Cotton 11.53 9.52 10.00 8.62 13.87 17.00 1999-2000 130.7 11.4 189.0 20.8 136.4 7.1 104.8 176.9 149.0 Jute and Mesta 21.50 0.00 9.59 -3.55 -0.45 -7.05 2000-01 127.0 -2.9 178.2 -6.1 133.2 -2.4 102.7 165.8 144.0 Sugar cane 24.64 -1.14 0.42 -3.42 -21.10 -2.15 2001-02 127.6 0.5 189.4 5.9 139.2 4.3 103.6 178.4 153.0 Tea 17.17 2.48 0.82 -1.84 2.17 -4.49 2002-03 P 115.0 -11.0 168.4 -12.5 127.3 -9.3 94.1 150.7 137.0 Coffee 59.57 3.05 -0.20 -9.20 -1.77 2003-04 AE 119.1 3.4 193.6 13.0 148.4 14.2 102.8 179.4 157.0 Tobacco -5.77 -52.94 38.18 -12.24

    A: Area. Pr: Production Y: Yield. P: Provisional for non-foodgrains and all crops. ** Decadal change over 1989-90. E: Estimates. AE: Advance estimates. The rest indicate change over previous year. Source: Ministry of agriculture, government of India. Source: Ministry of agriculture, government of India.

    continues to eke out their livelihood from agriculture and allied sectors but their contribution to GDP is diminishing over the decades. From 44.8 per cent to GDP in 1972-73 it was 27.6 per cent in 1999-2000 (national income statistics, 1993-94 prices). In industrialised countries, the movement away from agriculture was through more income from manufacturing initially and later from services but this was accompanied by transfer of people from agriculture to other sectors. Today, the percentage of population in agriculture in these countries varies from 9 per cent to 11 per cent. In India, the decline in agriculture dependent proportion of the population has been modest – from 73.9 per

    Table 6: Yield Per Hectare – Foodgrains


    Year Cereals Total Pulses Total
    Rice Wheat Coarse Cereals Foodgrains
    1950-51 668 663 408 542 441 522
    1959-60 937 772 522 713 475 662
    1969-70 1073 1208 578 865 531 805
    1979-80 1074 1436 652 982 385 876
    1989-90 1745 2121 922 1530 549 1349
    1999-00 1986 2778 1034 1926 635 1704
    2000-01 1901 2708 1027 1844 544 1626
    2001-02 2079 2762 1131 1980 607 1734
    2002-03 1804 2619 962 1790 556 1562
    2003-04 AE 2051 2707 1228 1989 623 1707

    AE: Advance estimates. Sources: (1) Ministry of agriculture, government of India.

    (2) Economic Survey 2004-05, government of India.

    cent in 1972-73 to 60.2 per cent in 2000. Besides, the majority of them are subsistence farmers. The relative productivity of agriculture is less than one-fourth of that in non-agricultural occupations. Though we do not have much open unemployment, the growth rate of employment has lagged behind population growth. This phenomenon is attributed by some to increasing capitalisation of agriculture, where man hours used per hectare have declined. There is a secular decline in employment elasticity in agriculture over time [Bhalla and Hazell 2003]. Small and marginal farmers depend on agricultural labour on better off landowning classes for sustaining their livelihood.

    Looking at data available on area, production, yield of food crops and non-food crops over the years (Tables 5, 5a, 5b, 5c, 5d, 5e) the conclusion is inevitable that crop production in general has suffered. The dominance of wheat and rice among food crops and lower importance to other so-called coarse cereals has several implications – lower area under these crops, lower production, shift in consumption of people to more rice and wheat and the declining importance to other traditional coarse cereals in policy.

    Looking at the area under foodgrains, taking 1981-82 as base year, we see an increase from a low of 78 till 1989-90 almost catching up to1981-82 levels, it has declined thereafter, particularly in the 1990s. From 1950-51 the net area sown was only

    118.75 million hectares and it peaked to 141.10 million hectares – that is, over 50 years the growth in agriculture was not much in terms of area but in increases in yield. If we look at yield per hectare for rice, wheat and coarse cereals, the increase in 50 years is

    Table 6a: Yield per Hectare – Major Commercial Crops


    Year Oilseeds
    Groundnut Per Cent R a p e s e e d Per Cent Soyabean Per Cent Total Per Cent Sugar Cane Per Cent
    Change and Mustard Change Change Change Change
    1950-51 775 368 481 33422
    1959-60 708 -9.46 365 -0.82 470 -2.34 36414 8.22
    1969-70 720 1.67 493 25.96 522 9.96 49121 25.87
    1979-80 805 10.56 411 -19.95 568 516 -1.16 49358 0.48
    1989-90 930 13.44 831 50.54 801 29.09 7 42 30.46 65612 24.77
    1999-00 766 -21.41 960 13.44 1138 29.61 853 13.01 70935 7.50
    2000-01 977 21.60 935 -2.67 822 -38.44 810 -5.31 68577 -3.44
    2001-02 1127 13.31 1002 6.69 940 12.55 913 11.28 67370 -1.79
    2002-03 733 -53.75 866 -15.70 777 -20.98 710 -28.59 64562 -4.35
    2003-04 1384 47.04 1152 24.83 1208 35.68 1072 33.77 59119 -9.21

    AE: Advance estimates. Sources: (1) Ministry of agriculture, government of India.

    (2) Economic Survey 2004-05, government of India.

    Table 6b: Yield per Hectare – Major Commercial Crops


    Year T e a Per Cent Coffee Per Cent Cotton Per Cent Jute and Per Cent Tobacco Per Cent
    Change Change (Lint) Change Mesta Change Change
    1950-51 0 0.0 0 0.0 8 8 0.00 1043 0.00 731 0.00
    1959-60 0 0.0 0 0.0 8 6 -2.33 1049 0.57 716 0.00
    1969-70 0 0.0 0 0.0 122 29.51 1120 6.34 770 -2.09
    1979-80 1455 0.0 889 0.0 160 23.75 1177 4.84 1031 7.01
    1989-90 1652 11.92 534 -66.48 252 36.51 1646 28.49 1335 25.32
    1999-00 1685 1.96 947 43.61 225 -12.00 1836 10.35 1211 22.77
    2000-01 1679 -0.36 959 1.25 190 -18.42 1867 1.66 1318 -10.24
    2001-02 1675 -0.24 937 -2.35 186 -2.15 2008 7.02 1565 8.12
    2002-03 1625 -3.08 839 -11.68 193 3.63 1968 -2.03 1506 15.78
    2003-04 1656 1.87 307 37.13 1923 -2.34 -3.92
    2004-0AE 1584 -4.55

    AE : Advance estimates. Note: Data for 1950-51 relate to Jute crop only. Source: Ministry of agriculture, government of India.

    around 200 per cent but the difference lies in absolute numbers: rice (2,051 kg per ha) and for wheat the yield was 2,707 kg per ha (Tables 6, 6a) whereas for coarse cereals it was 1,228 kg per hectare.

    The story repeats itself for production of foodgrains – the index moves up till the 1990s but in the years after 2000 it becomes negative. As for yields per hectare, improvements last only till the beginning of 2000. As mentioned earlier our yields are far below what has been achieved in other countries (Table 7). If we look at the area under cultivation and production of non-food crops, there is a significant rise over the entire period from the early decades, pointing to increasing shift to cash crops.

    To go into specific figures: rice production shot up from around 20 million tonnes in the early 1950s to almost 90 million tonnes in 1999-2000, 93.34 million tonnes in 2001-02. Not only has the production of rice and wheat reached a plateau but it has even declined in absolute numbers. Production of coarse cereals doubled in the five decades, a good thing, but we cannot forget that this was from a low base of 30 million tonnes (about one-third of the wheat production) – it has also hovered around the same level for the last few years, and has registered a noticeable decline.

    Commercial crops have recorded a huge increase, most prominently for tea, sugar cane and to a lesser extent, coffee. Unfortunately the yield of these export crops is also slowing down and decreasing post 2000.

    A large part of cultivation takes place in rainfed areas and coarse cereals are grown and consumed in these fragile eco-climatic regions mainly by the poor. Rainfed agriculture is characterised by low, uncertain rainfall, low wages and higher levels of poverty, whereas in irrigated areas, the individual farmer could undertake improved technology, install pumps, introduce mechanisation. In these areas, improving the quality of infrastructure (such as land, soil, water regeneration) requires community effort plus state support.

    All these factors together reinforce the truth that our agriculture is in the doldrums. Several reasons are advanced for this denouement: earlier cutback in public investment in agriculture, later rectified (Table 8). There is apprehension that despite this additional investment – increased further in the Eleventh Plan, there is a marked political shift towards big industry and jobless growth in manufacturing which might have otherwise absorbed the rural workers.

    The broad-based federations of farmers’ lobby active in the 1980s have become weaker and non-existent, with many former farmers drawing most of their income from trade, construction, transport and in urban areas. They no longer wield a strong voice for the farming community [Suri 2006] though they appear to represent them for getting into power. Only 2.2 per cent were members of registered farmers’ unions, according to situation assessment of farmers by the NSSO quoted by Bhalla (2006).

    Others mention the disjuncture between agriculture and non-agriculture severing the backward-forward linkages that would have energised agriculture. Going through earlier literature on this issue (for example issues of Economic and Political Weekly of the 1960s), it is clear we have abandoned our concern with terms of trade between agriculture and industry because the kind of industrial development we have today no longer needs linkages with agriculture. Development economics holds that agricultural growth is necessary for fuelling industrial growth through supply of food and raw materials and the income of farmers would then induce the demand for industrial/nonagricultural goods. Initially this conventional wisdom held sway in our plan approaches but after 1980s there developed a growing divergence between these two sectors, altering the structural links between the two sectors. Despite output per worker increasing in the non-agricultural sectors, this increased income because it accrued mostly to managerial profits and salaries of the upper classes, whose demand for wage goods was relatively satiated, this demand expressed itself for white and luxury goods – imported or otherwise [Chandrasekar 2006]. NCAER data on human development (2003) showed the heavy expenditure a poor rural family incurs on non-food items. Recent data on lower consumption of food and diversion to non-food items is an expression of the financial squeeze the poor face in the light of lower incomes given poor returns from agriculture, and inadequate availability of critical pubic services especially in health and education. This forces them to forgo food to meet other urgent requirements.

    Table 8: Gross Capital Formation in Agriculture

    Year Investment in Agriculture Share in Investment in
    (Rs Crore) Agricultural Agriculture as
    Gross a Per Cent
    Investment of GDP at
    (Per Cent) Constant
    Total Public Private Public Private Prices
    Old Series (at 1993-94 prices)
    1990-91 14836 4395 10441 29.60 70.40 1.92
    1995-96 15690 4849 10841 30.90 69.10 1.57
    1996-97 16176 4668 11508 28.90 71.10 1.51
    1997-98 15942 3979 11963 25.00 75.00 1.43
    1998-99 14895 3870 11025 26.00 74.00 1.26
    1999-2000 17304 4221 13083 24.40 75.60 1.37
    New Series (at 1999-2000 prices)
    1999-2000 43473 7754 35719 17.8 82.2 2.2
    2000-01 38176 7018 31158 18.4 81.6 1.9
    2001-02 46744 8529 38215 18.2 81.8 2.2
    2002-03 45867 7849 38018 17.1 82.9 2.1
    2003-04 47833 12809 35024 26.8 73.2 2.0
    2004-05* 43123 12591 30532 29.2 70.8 1.7
    * Quick estimates.
    Source: CSO.
    Table 7: International Comparisons of Yield, Selected Commodities – 2002


    Rice/Paddy Wheat Maize Sugar Cane Tobacco Leaves Groundnut (in shell)
    Bangladesh Egypt India J a p a n Myanmar Pakistan Thailand USA World 3448 9135 2915 6582 3532 2882 2597 7372 3916 Bangladesh China France India Iran Pakistan UK World 2164 3885 7449 2770 1905 2262 8043 2720 China Egypt France India Italy Pakistan Philippines World 5022 7789 8813 1705 9560 1769 1803 4343 Bangladesh China Colombia Egypt Guatemala India Pakistan World 39890 66353 94789 119893 94032 68049 48042 65802 Bangladesh C ana d a France India Indonesia Italy Pakistan World 1233 2600 2778 1353 829 3333 1848 1589 Argentina Brazil China India S uda n USA Uganda World 2329 2043 2986 79 4 630 2869 701 1381
    Source: Ministry of agriculture and cooperation.
    Economic and Political Weekly December 30, 2006 5383

    From a pre-reform growth rate of output (2.51 per cent), input (2 per cent) and value added for agriculture (2.62 per cent) the post-reform growth figures are: output (1.69 per cent), input

    (1.84 per cent) and value added (1.85 per cent). The anti-agriculture bias in policy is clear [Chand 2006]. Both the share in gross cultivated area under foodgrains and value added have been on the decline. Inevitably farmers’ income reflect this sorry state: according to Chand (ibid) the growth rate of average income per worker has declined from 0.696 in the late 1970s and early 1980s to 0.29 in 2003-04.

    What of public investment in infrastructure and other supportive measures for agriculture? There was decline in the share of agriculture’s capital formation in GDP from 2.2 per cent in late 1990s to 1.7 per cent in 2004-05. Some reversal has taken place in 2005 when the share of public investment in gross investment rose to 29.2 per cent in 2004-05. This enhancement is expected to help towards agricultural diversification, agricultural marketing, strengthening national schemes for repair and maintenance and restoration of water bodies. A recent announcement of the establishment of a national body for rainfed farming augurs well for the future. How well these intentions will be carried out is any body’s guess.

    Among the instruments for coping with fluctuations in food supply is the PDS. There were zonal restrictions on movement of grain from surplus to deficit areas by private trade. The government procures foodgrains from farmers, offering minimum support prices. These stocks are released at retail shops (Tables 9, 9a).

    Table 9: Minimum Support Price for Foodgrains accordingto Crop Year

    (Fair Average Quality)

    (Rs per quintal)

    Year Paddy Coarse Wheat Gram Arhar Moong Urad
    Common# Cereals (Tur)
    1975-76 7 4 7 4 105 9 0 . . .
    1976-77 7 4 7 4 110 9 5 . . .
    1977-78 7 7 7 4 112 125 . . .
    1978-79 8 5 8 5 115 140 155 165 .
    1979-80 9 5 9 5 117 145 165 175 175
    1989-90 185 165 215 421 425 425 425
    1999-00 490 415 580 1015 1105 1105 1105
    2000-01 510 445 610 1100 1200 1200 1200
    2001-02 530 485 620 1200 1320 1320 1320
    2002-03 530 485 620 1220 1320 1330 1330
    2003-04 550 505 630 1400 1360 1370 1370
    2004-05 560 515 640 1425 1390 1410 1410

    # From 1997-98, minimum support price (MSP) is announced for two varieties of paddy – common and grade “A” as against the earlier three categories of common, fine and superfine. Source: Ministry of agriculture, government of India.

    The level of procurement has been increasing over the years, the FCI holding stocks beyond the needed buffer stocks [Krishnaraj 2004]. The minimum support prices (MSP) have gone up substantially, being highest for rice. The issue prices, that is the prices at which the consumers get their supply from ration shops in later years became closer to the market price leading to the accusation that the subsidy for food was really eaten up by the administrative and storage costs of the FCI. The offtake slows down further over the years. However, growth in the commodities market, especially future trading in agriculture in 2003 led to a spurt in agricultural prices. Unfortunately, this benefit was confined to the rich farmers who had a marketable surplus. The development of the futures’ market has helped to stabilise prices and prevented the sudden fall after harvest.

    The uneven coverage of the PDS between rural and urban areas, traders spiriting away subsidised grain to the black market, poor quality of grain in the ration quota were controversies that dogged the programme [Swaminathan 2003]. The survey by the NSS in 1986-87 on the targeting of the PDS was not followed in later years to permit inter temporal comparisons. By way of relief measures to the poor who could not buy the foodgrains for lack of income various food for work programmes were launched. The employment guarantee scheme of Maharashtra ran into trouble for many reasons. Failing to increase employment through developmental inputs, these schemes remained relief measures so that the need for such relief did not abate over time [Krishnaraj et al 2003]. After the reform, the universal outreach of the PDS was converted into a targeted programme, where identifying the BPL families gave scope for a lot of irregularities. There was a huge outcry by the public that FCI godowns were bursting with grain, eaten away by rats while the poor were dying of hunger. Food for work programmes did not ease the situation. [Banerjee and Sen 2003]. After the reform, between 2001-02 and 2004-05 with trade open to private operators, FCI stocks have whittled down from 51 million tonnes to 17.37 million tonnes. According to the latest news reports, private agencies such as Reliance are now procuring directly from the farmers. MSP did include coarse cereals but the figures on stocks are not shown separately. Actually, the net increase in MSP for coarse cereals is more than in rice and wheat starting as it does from a lower base but this does not seem to have induced greater consumption or production for these cereals. The question is does this mean that production of coarse cereals is not price elastic. The data on per capita availability of foodgrains has improved for all cereals but has gone down steeply for pulses – the main source of protein for the majority of Indians. All these different data on food production,

    Table 9a: Minimum Support Price for Non-Foodgrains according to Crop Year

    (Fair Average Quality)

    (Rs per quintal)

    Year Sugar Cane@ Cotton# J ut e Groundnut Soyabean Sunflower Ra peseed/ Safflower
    (in shell) Black Yellow S e e d Mustard
    1975-76 . . 135 . . . . . .
    1979-80 12.50 . 155 190 175 . 175 . .
    1989-90 23.00 690 295 500 325 370 530 575 550
    1999-00 56.10 1775 750 1155 755 845 1155 1100 1100
    2000-01 59.50 1825 785 1220 775 865 1170 1200 1200
    2001-02 62.05 1875 810 1340 795 885 1185 1300 1300
    2002-03 69.50 1875 850 1355 795 885 1195 1330 1300
    2003-04 73.00 1925 860 1400 840 930 1250 1600 1500
    2004-05 74.50 1960 890 1500 900 1000 1340 1700 1550

    @Statutory minimum price linked to a basic recovery of 8.5 per cent of sugar with prop. # Minimum support price (MSP) of cotton for H-4. Sources: (1) Ministry of agriculture, government of India. (2) Economic Survey 2004-05, government of India.

    Economic and Political Weekly December 30, 2006 yield, availability, public support, converge to the depressing conclusion that after half century of development, this country is unable to feed a large number of its people either in quantity or quality. The latest news report cites import of wheat. From the earlier slogan of self-sufficiency we have come to accept selfsufficiency as no longer a useful or viable goal.

    Awareness regarding MSPs among farmers was low. NSSO carried out a situation assessment survey of farmers covering 51,770 households in 6,638 villages. Only 19 per cent knew about MSPs and only 10 per cent who knew about it had any idea as to from whom and where was procurement undertaken [Bhalla 2006]. Fifty-seven per cent knew nothing of crop insurance. Nearly half of the farmers purchase seeds, showing the reliance of farmers on markets for inputs. Many have to travel long distances to buy seeds or fertilisers. As for diversification, only households with land above 0.40 hectare are able to shift to orchards. Dairying is dominant among the marginal farmers.

    How are women faring in this scenario? The attempt in the foregoing is to place women’s situation in the broad picture of agriculture today. It would be no exaggeration to say that women are left holding a sinking ship.

    That women today are the main stay for agriculture is documented by a comprehensive review in Krishnaraj and Shah (2004). The percentage of rural households with cultivated land is over 55 per cent and that of the landless households is almost 40 per cent. Employment trends in rural areas thrown up by different rounds of the NSS reveal that the work participation of rural women has remained low and stable at a level of 3234 per cent. There are several snags in the official data because apart from wage labour, women’s work in family farms gets entered as subsidiary work – despite their full work load in farming. Lacking titles to land, they do not get listed as cultivators. The NSS round in 1999-2000 recorded a fall in work participation for both males and females. The precise interpretation of this is still subject to controversy; part of the change could be more non-farm employment and seasonal outmigration. What is of special significance is the predominance of women among rural workers and their larger numbers as subsidiary and casual workers in contrast to males who were no more than 1 per cent in this category. Even as late as 2000, more than 85 per cent of female workers continued to languish in the primary sector. It is not an exaggeration to say the face of the farmer in India is female. Yet when the authors Krishnaraj and Shah (2004) titled their book Women Farmers the publishers changed it to Women in Agriculture there by giving away their inherent male bias.

    Over the last 50 years important changes have taken place in Indian agriculture, which have affected the women’s work situation. Demand for labour increased in some ways, and fell in other ways. In irrigated regions as cropping intensity went up, more labour was needed but at the same time as the mechanisation of some operations emerged, this reduced the need for labour in those operations previously handled by women such as harvesting. More commercialisation intensified market dependence. The effects were not uniform across classes. In the HYV areas, for the landless women who depend on wage labour, improved seeds increased the demand for their labour but the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides reduced it. On the other hand, for land poor women as well as landowning women new seeds generally increased work load; use of fertilisers and pesticides conserved their energy. Mechanisation in tilling made little impact but when it took place in harvesting and processing it displaced women in the landless class though landed class women gained through less drudgery. Thus, the impact of technology was uneven [Krishnaraj and Shah 2004]. Similarly, women’s work as either agricultural labour or as cultivators varies between agro-climatic regions: it tends to be high for female wage labour in irrigated areas but as cultivators women do not gain due to lack of land rights. Rainfed paddy has moderate demand for female agricultural labour. Irrigated wheat attracts less labour but rainfed wheat in parts except hilly and tribal belts needs more female labour. A positive outcome is that wage differences as between male and female labour has diminished over time.

    The fortunes of women in agriculture vary according to class, eco-climatic regions and nature of the crop. Apart from agricultural work, women’s involvement in activities known as “extended system of national accounts (SNA) activities” (that is in collection, processing of goods, house repair and sundry activities) amounts to 30.30 hours per week to a low of 3.57 hours per week for men. These are unremunerated work, critical for the well-being of the family [Hirway 1999]. Current discourse on women’s roles in natural resource management celebrates their role in gathering, conserving and sustaining them but obscures the issue of rights to such resources [Krishna 2004]. The thrust of these foregoing discussions is to demonstrate the centrality of women’s work in agriculture in India, their heavy work burdens and unequal returns to their labour. Government extension work to improve knowledge, skills and technology to women farmers remains woefully inadequate.

    Population growth has altered land-man ratio, which is further exacerbated by the subdivision of holdings leaving us with a large number of small and marginal farmers whose cost of cultivation exceeds yield and returns. Degradation of natural resources, particularly forests and privatisation of traditional common property resources have led not only to erosion of soil and water bodies but has also increased the reliance of the poor on these natural resources, which is precarious. It is within these broader economywide changes that we must view women’s position to understand poverty, food insecurity and nutritional deficiencies of women. Gender as a defining parameter in poverty is now well acknowledged [World Development 2000].

    Food security as discussed in the introduction is about both quantity and quality, to sustain well-being at all times, weathering whatever shocks might ensue due to unavoidable circumstances. Our argument is these unavoidable circumstances are not induced by nature but by political economy inspired policy shifts as well as by demographic imperatives.

    A widely used measure of nutritional status is a combination of weight and height measurements known as the body mass index (BMI). This is defined as weight in kg divided by height in metre squared. A BMI of below 18.5 indicates chronic energy deficiency. Chronic energy deficiency refers to an intake of calories less than the requirement for a period of several months or years. The percentage of women with BMI below 18.5 ranges from 41.7 for the age group 15-19 to 43.2 for 20-24, 39.4 for 25-29, 35.1 for 30-34 and 31.1 for 35-49. Ironically, at the most vulnerable ages when their reproductive demands are highest women are most deficient. So much for this country’s esteem for mothers! Predictably the percentage of women in rural areas with BMI below 18.5 is 41.2 which is twice that among urban women 22.7 [Arnold, Nangia and Kapil 2004]. Among the states, the highest malnutrition of over 44-48 per cent prevails in Orissa, Maharashtra and West Bengal followed by Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu fare better. Chronic energy deficiency is most pronounced among rural women in general and among the ever married women 15-49.

    A decade ago, C Gopalan, India’ s foremost nutrition expert had warned us that,

    while the challenges involved in food and nutrition security relate to both production and distribution of food, inequitable distribution rather than inadequate production is the major factor underlying India’s current problem of malnutrition. The inequality cannot be corrected through exercises in tokenism and populist ‘give away’ programmes, but only through creation of and support to income generating skills among the poor [Gopalan 1995:134].

    This is no longer true as the rate of agricultural growth has come down, though picking up is yet to make up for decades of loss.

    Anaemia in women and children exceed medically advisable limits affecting psycho motor performance and general metabolism. Fifty-two per cent of married women (15-49) have severe anaemia. Other studies lend further credence to this bleak scenario of the health of women [Radhakrishna and Ravi 2004]. Poverty reduction has not led to improvement in the nutritional status of the people and women and children exhibit unacceptable levels of malnutrition. It is true that food intake and its conversion to energy levels is a complex process. However, clinical symptoms and biochemical indicators do give us a message about the state of health and functional capacity of the poor and of women and children in particular. Those who argue that the body’s biostatis make adjustments for the lower intake by modified height – weight are extolling the status quo instead of seeking improvements. It displays a callousness to the current unsatisfactory status. It has been demonstrated that increased consumption of quality protein like milk has led to better height and weight in the better off population. A warning that needs to be heard is on the flip side, the emergence of obesity among the middle classes who indulge in unbalanced diets: more quantity, more processed items, higher intake of fats and all this with near absence of exercise. Here is a telling, visible picture of India’s increasing inequalities if one needed one – the fat and the thin. The NNMB conducted diet and nutrition surveys in three periods: 1975-79, 1988-90 and 1996-97 covering rural areas separately. A subsample of NSS 2000-01 also recorded chronic energy deficiency among adults in nine states. Ravi and Radhakrishna (2004), present the results of the 2000-01 survey. Granted that poverty alone is not responsible for under nutrition, they argue that a 10 per cent reduction in poverty reduces malnutrition by 3 per cent and severe malnutrition by 7 per cent. There are of course all kinds of problems of definition and measurement of poverty.

    The national family health survey 1997-98 in identifying the determinants of malnutrition concluded that social stratification and gender plays a major part. SC/ST and OBC women also have poor access to healthcare and nutrition programmes. We know from other data that these sections of women are those whose livelihoods are undergoing stress especially in the rural areas.

    Questions of livelihoods for the rural poor take on agonising proportions in the light of the data presented by Sen (2004) cited above.

    New Initiatives

    In the national food security summit organised by the M S Swaminathan Foundation in collaboration with the UN world food programme in New Delhi, February 2004, the slogan “hunger free India” was enunciated. Swaminathan’s food insecurity atlas of rural India with 19 indicators and its companion volume food insecurity index of urban India with 17 indicators tell us the state of affairs after 60 years of our independence. The New Delhi summit made 10 recommendations which emphasised the following: (i) ecological security, water security, energy security, health security (ii) child friendly village movement with no discrimination against girls (iii) conservation and enhancement of land resources (iv) augumentation, demand management and tapping untapped sources through new technologies of water (v) sustainable forestry programme

    (vi) sensitizing local communities on biodiversity (vii) atmosphere and climate management (viii) effective discharge of duties by panchayats of common property resources (ix) sustainable intensification and diversification of farming systems and value addition (x) routine food for work programmes should be recast as food for social and human resource development programmes using food to support skill development and development of social capital [Bose 2006].

    Some positive results of women’s collectives doing well give us hope of what is possible to retrieve the situation. These are as yet isolated examples but can be replicated given dedicated intermediaries. There is enough cause for our disillusion with the ambitious anti-poverty programmes mounted as part of populist undertaking by different governments. The inherently fragmentary approach of these interventions sidelines the issue of addressing structural inequalities. Poor landless women are willing to undertake land-based activities. The regeneration of wasteland according to a survey [Datar and Prakash 2000] holds promise for improving food security at the household level. Given rights over land they have worked on leads to social, economic and political empowerment of poor women. The authors argue that equity in access to natural resources can alone ensure sustainability and efficient use of resources. In watershed programmes, the newly created water through public money should be treated as common property. Control of additional resources generated should vest in the community of the rural poor. Women can be given wages during the period of asset formation, such as preparation of fuel, fodder, horticulture plots. An interesting thesis put forward in the study is the contradiction in our country between political democracy that opens space for local autonomy vitiated by the economics of a highly centralised market economy geared to maximising profits. Watershed development is premised on promoting higher productivity, necessary for food security. The authors cite four critical steps that ensured local food security in an experiment by the Deccan development society in Andhra where the ‘sangams’ – women’s collectives (i) improved 6,000 acres of degraded land, (ii) dalit women took cultivable land on lease, (iii) organised their own public distribution of grains with accent on coarse cereals consumed by 65 per cent of our rural population; built grain banks at village level, and (iv) made systematic collection and preservation of seed varieties.

    An IFAD supported development project in Tamil Nadu used self-help groups (SHGs) to take loans from their own savings plus from banks and 1,571 members leased land for collective cultivation where responsibility for planting, weeding, watering, harvesting was shared. These experiments illustrate how the form of organisation facilitated by the politics of democracy can be used to rework its contents through reworking the existing framework of rights in land, water, produce and seeds. These initiatives create a hope for generating countervailing power to the rural poor women. Through regenerating the environment they can ensure their own food security. To what extent the appropriate institutional support can be engineered is the moot question. There is a tiny trickle among professional workers to take up organic farming. One such venture (which I happened to visit) is ‘Navadarshanam’, located a few hundred kilometres from Bangalore, run entirely by dedicated engineers, scientists and activists on hundred acres of what was barren land.

    Another such success story is in a Tamil Nadu village, 65 km from Bangalore. An organisation called Green Foundation has established a community gene bank, to propagate and preserve seed diversity. Dryland farming is made sustainable through water conservation, seed banks and participatory plant breeding. Hombalamma, a woman farmer has grown nine varieties of ragi on her six acres of land and has sold 4,00 bags of ragi. She also grows paddy, vegetables ground nuts, oil, tamarind [Indian Express 2006].

    The national horticultural research and development foundation is promoting the cultivation of nutritionally rich spine gourd in the north-east.

    Agricutultural scientists like M S Swaminathan see a great future for biotechnology. One new discovery is the use of fly ash from thermal plant as fertiliser. Tried in Nashik district, 15 to 20 per cent rise in yields of soy, banana and cotton was noticed [Indian Express 2006]. Elsewhere women farmers have formed collectives according to newspaper accounts but no firm data is available at this stage. All these while inspiring, are stray stories without any clear link to concerted policy.

    Microfinance (MF) has been another initiative where poor women by and large have been the main beneficiaries. Hailed as a success story, there are both positive and not so positive appraisals of how exactly this helps women and to what extent. Its rapid expansion is due to the enormous support given by policy-makers, financial institutions and international donors to this mode of credit delivery. India has one of the largest microfinance programmes in the world. The SHGs linked to the national bank for agriculture and rural development has the patronage of the state; there also exists a parallel system where the players are NGOs and donor agencies. Despite its outreach, the SHG advances only 0.15 per cent of priority lending and 0.51 per cent of accounts of scheduled commercial banks [RBI 2003]. Today, there are a plethora of studies on MF. One of the concerns against the exclusive focus on supply side is the failure to appreciate the low absorption capacity of the poor rural women in the absence of major developmental inputs such as rural infrastructure including irrigation, marketing, outlets and adequate information on improved technology. The preferred lending appears to be for enterprise expansion in the non-farm sector. Repayment is taken as the main indicator of success – this is true insofar as it promotes thrift, we still have no clear idea of to what extent it has actually improved the returns from agriculture. Some of the research studies reported only show how the loan is used but no systematic inquiry has been undertaken to examine the linkage between microcredit and the issue of higher productivity that would significantly improve consumption levels. It is feared – and such a fear is a legitimate one – that inadvertently MF leads to a kind of involuntary diversification where the rural household engages in a multiplicity of low productivity enterprises – a goat here, a cow there and so on. It is not denied that the members increased their assets but in the absence of structural reforms in factor and product markets this does not enhance consumption levels of the household [Nair 2005].

    The time is ripe for moving away from pessimism and seeking instead innovative alternatives for agriculture, ensuring livelihoods of poor rural women and for food security that does not put all its resources in mono culture baskets; that release peoples’ own responsibility, where the state lends a helping hand but does not take over, does not smother with ‘mai-bap’ paternalism. WTO agreements for Indian agriculture [Deodhar 2001] may give gains for Indian agriculture, if we adhere to our priorities.




    [I am grateful for the support given by Mina Swaminathan of M S Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai to undertake this study. I benefited greatly by the help given by Sunando Roy of RBI, who not only gave me access to data but went through my paper meticulously and offered very useful comments. The research for the article was done while I was a Distinguished Fellow of the Uttara Devi Research Centre for Gender and Development at the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation].

    1 A Punjabi woman once told me that when she was young, the older females would make piles of chappatis and stack them in the kitchen. Children could eat them whenever they were hungry – morning, noon or evening. For the bottom group, there is as teep decline from 0.16 per cent per annum to -0.96. Even for the middle group per capita calorie intake according to the authors’ estimates have declined from 0.40 to -1.76


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