Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Food Security - Mad, Sad, Bad or Glad

India is the second most populated nation in the world, with approximately 1.30 billion people and experts forecast India to equal China’s population in 2021 at 1.47 billion and top at 1.68 billion by 2050 [1].

A developing nation with a large segment of young population base, is witnessing rising individual incomes and rapid urbanization. Further, a shift in dietary patterns from carbohydrate to protein and vitamin rich diets and preference for processed and semi-processed food, is presenting a new set of challenges and opportunities for the existing food supply chains in India [2].

Base-of-Pyramid (BoP) households spend nearly 50-70 percent of their incomes on food. Inflation among food prices, force base-of-pyramid households (BoP) to budget and spend more on food and less on other essentials such as clean water, education, health, hygiene and sanitation facilities [3].


Indian agricultural output ranks globally; #3 in food grains production at 252.68 million metric tons (MMT), #2 in horticulture at 86.283 MMT in fruit and 167.1 MMT in vegetable production, #1 in milk production at 146.3 MMT and among top 10 in freshwater and marine products at 10.431 MMT [4].

In 2015-16, India exported INR 1.692 lakh Crores or 25.517 billion USD worth of agri commodities, with; buffalo meat, basmati rice, spices, rice (non-basmati) and sugar among Top 5 exports.

India also imported agri commodities valued at INR 1.443 lakh Crores or 21.795 billion USD, with; vegetable oils, pulses, fresh fruits, cashew and spices ranking among Top 5 imports in the country [5].

In 2015-16, Government spent 1,39,419 INR Crores or 54.08 percent of total subsidies and 7.81 percent of total Government of India’s (plan and non-plan) expenditure on food subsidies [6].


Yet, in 2015, India lagged in key health and social indicators; 15.2 percent prevalence of undernourishment (% of population), high infant and child mortality rates; neo-natal 695,852, infants 946, 304 and under five 1.201 million deaths [7].

In 2015, 12,602 agri professionals committed suicide, of which 8,007 were farmers/ cultivators and 4,595 were labourers. 3,097 or 38.97 percent of farmer/ cultivator suicides were due to bankruptcy or indebtedness, while 1,843 or 40.1 percent of suicides among labourers were due to family problems. Since 1997, a total of 2,96,979 farmers have committed suicides; 2,54,579 or 85.72 percent were males and 42,400 or 14.28 percent were females [8].


Food security in India remains an enigma given the numerous stakeholders ranging from millions of farmers, agri input-providers, agri entrepreneurs, food processing entities and end-consumers. From 1998-2012, national and state agencies entrusted with the procurement, storage and transportation of food grains in the country, incurred food-losses totalling approximately 638,000 MT. The present value of this food-loss is estimated at INR 700 Crores or 100 million USD. Further, India’s losses among annual fruit and vegetable production are pegged at INR 2 lakh Crores or 28.5 billion USD [9].

These losses represent a very small fraction of the total losses incurred across the country due to poor warehousing infrastructure, tardy logistics, fragmented supply chain linkages, little or no access to markets and credit. Food-losses reduce food available for human consumption, impact livelihoods, drain tax-funded food subsidies, and create price volatility among essential food commodities.


Food-losses emit deadly greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and emissions from food systems are estimated to contribute from 19-29 percent of total GHG emissions. 75 percent of global deforestations are due to agriculture and stimulation studies at IFPRI suggest that a 20C rise in temperature could shrink almost 50 percent of wheat production in the Indo-Gangetic belt, thereby threatening the food security of 200 million people [10].

Clearly, these food-losses are not sustainable in the long run, incur economic and environmental costs, loss of livelihoods and therefore, present a compelling case for closer examination of reasons and possible interventions to stem such losses.


These social indicators are unacceptable in light of the quantum of subsidies provided by Government of India to poor masses.Governments are faced with the challenge of ensuring constant and adequate supply of nutritious food at economical prices. While developed nations have ensured food security by defining and refining their food supply chains, India needs to revamp and streamline its age-old food supply chains.

This blog series presents an insight into food-losses in India with verifiable and quantifiable evidence, identifies key drivers that necessitate mitigation of such losses, and presents technology and business process interventions to plug food-losses.

[1]FFS Pardee Center for International Futures. (2014, January 17). IFs Forecast - Version 7.00. Retrieved December 10, 2014, from Google Public Data:
[2] Reardon, T., &Minten, B. (2011, September 23). The Quiet Revolution in India's Food Supply Chains. Retrieved March 13, 2014, from International Food Policy Research Institute:
[3] WEF, BCG. (2009, January). The Next Billions: Unleashing Business Potential in Untapped Markets. Retrieved May 2013, from World Economic Forum:
[4]Govt. of India. (2015, January 28). Agriculture Statistics at a Glance. Retrieved February 10, 2015, from Directorate of Economics & Statistics, Department of Agriculture & Cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture:
[5]Awasthi, A. (2016, January 10). India's Agri Imports - FY 2009 - 15 [Web log post]. Retrieved June 15, 2017, from
[6]GoI (2016), “Expenditure Budget Vol. 1, 2016-17”, Ministry of Finance, Government of India, Annexure 3
[7]Google Public Data [World Development Indicators]. (n.d.).
[8]NCRB. (2015). Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India 2013. Retrieved May 20, 2015, from National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India:
[9] Awasthi, A. (2017, August 15). Post Harvest Loss Statistics. Retrieved August 30, 2018, from Save Indian Grain, Post-Harvest Loss Statistics. (2015, August 15). Retrieved September 30, 2016, from
[10] Nelson GC, Rosegrant MW, Koo J, Robertson R, Sulser T, Zhu T, Ringler C, Msangi S, Palazzo A, Batka M, Magalhaes M, Valmonte-Santos R, Ewing M, Lee D. 2009. Climate change: Impact on agriculture and costs of adaptation. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute. (Available from