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Essay on Food Problems in India


In this essay we will discuss about the Food Problems in India. After reading this essay you will learn about: 1. Introduction to Food Problems in India 2. Food Problem and Food Policy in India since Independence 3. Different Aspects 4. Factors Responsible 5. Policy Measures Adopted by the Government.


  1. Essay on the Introduction to Food Problem in India
  2. Essay on the Food Problem and Food Policy in India since Independence
  3. Essay on the Different Aspects of Food Problem
  4. Essay on the Factors Responsible for Food Problem in India
  5. Essay on the Policy Measures Adopted by the Government to Solve the Food Problem

Essay # 1. Introduction to Food Problems in India:

India has been facing food problems since long period. During Second World War India experienced a severe food crisis leading to a phenomenal increase in the prices of foodgrains. Again in 1943, Bengal faced a serious Agriculture and its Development in India famine where nearly 3.5 million people died out of starvation.


In order to meet the situations, the rationing system was introduced and about 45 million people were covered by this rationing system. But due to corrupt and inefficient administrative structure, the entire system failed leading to a widespread hoarding and speculation of foodgrains causing huge suffering of millions of people of the country.

The partition of India in 1947 again aggravated the food crisis as after partition the country received about 82 per cent of the population but had to manage with nearly 45 per cent of the total cultivated area under cereals and with 69 per cent of the irrigated area. The country had to forego the surplus area of West Punjab and Sind.

Thus, while the separation of Burma aggravated the situation and forced the country to import rice but the partition of the country again forced the country to import wheat from foreign countries.

Essay # 2. Food Problem and Food Policy in India since Independence:

India had to face a serious food crisis at the time of independence.


To meet the deficiency in the supply of foodgrains in the short run, the Government made the following provisions:

(a) Extension of the rationing system to cover both urban and rural areas;

(b) Import of foodgrains to make easy the situation and the amount of import reached the level of 2.7 million tonnes in 1947; and

(c) Introduction of subsidy for the distribution of imported food grains as it was expensive as compared to indigenously produced foodgrains. But the public distribution system which was mostly maintained in the urban areas primarily had been suffering from huge degree of inefficiency and corruption. .


To meet the situation, the First Five Year Plan accorded highest priority to agriculture. During the First Plan period, the country experienced a series of good harvests leading to an improvement in the food supply situation, curtailment of imports and a consequent fall in the prices of food grains by 23 per cent.

Considering the situation the planners became very much optimistic and an impression was created that the food problem was finally solved. But the situation was short-lived because whatever improvement in food situation was achieved that was mainly due to better climatic conditions and timely arrival of monsoons.

PL-480 Agreement, 1956:

Soon after, the Second Plan again experienced a serious food crisis especially in 1958-59, in various parts of the country due to drought, floods and cyclone. To meet the crisis the Government of India entered into an agreement in 1956 with U.S.A. to import 3.1 million tonnes of wheat and 0.19 million tonnes of rice for the next three years. This agreement was known as Public Law-480 (PL- 480) Agreement, 1956 which the government utilised to reduce and stabilise the prices of foodgrains in the country.

That marked the beginning of the present public distribution system (PDS) which was introduced to distribute cheap imported foodgrains through network of “fair price shops” at a price which was far below the prevailing market price.

Again the Third Plan set a target to raise the production of foodgrains by 100 million tonnes but the plan failed to achieve the target. Under such a situation the government had no other alternative but to import foodgrains heavily.

Thus, the volume of import of foodgrains which was a negligible 6 lakh tonnes in 1955-56 went up to 1.4 million tonnes in 1956-57 (the first year of PL-480 imports), 3.6 million tonnes in 1956-57, 6.3 million tonnes in 1963-64, 7.4 million tonnes in 1964-65 and then to 10.3 million tonnes in 1965-66.

Foodgrains Enquiry Committee, 1957:

This huge import of foodgrains was endorsed by the foodgrains Enquiry Committee appointed by the government in 1957. This committee categorically observed that, “Food problem was likely to remain with us for a long time to come, assurance of continued imports of certain quantities- of foodgrains will constitute the very basis of a successful food policy for some years to come.”

Thus, under such a situation a stable and long term food policy based on heavy imports of foodgrains emerged gradually. Accordingly, India signed an agreement with U.S.A. for importing 16 million tonnes of wheat and 1 million tonnes office for the next 4 years.

During this 10 years period (1956-66), the food policy of the Government of India was mostly based on imports (under PL-480) from U.S.A. and the country imported nearly 60 million tonnes of foodgrains or an annual average of 6 million tonnes.


About 75 to 80 per cent of foodgrains distributed through public distribution system was brought through imports which was really a humiliating dependence. Instead of all these steps, the prices of foodgrains started to rise continuously and thus the Government realised that its food policy based on imports failed to save the situation.

Integrated Food Policy, 1966:

In order to save the situation the Government set up another food-grain Policy Committee, 1966 to review the situation. This committee recommended to prepare and implement a National Food Budget involving a national plan of supply and distribution of foodgrains through (a) procurement of foodgrains (b) control of inter-state movement (c) a public distribution system and (d) building a buffer stock for difficult years.

This Policy was known as Integrated Food Policy 1966 which recommended partial procurement, partial public distribution and simultaneously permitted private trade of foodgrains with free market prices.

Impact of New Agricultural Strategy:

In the meantime, the Government adopted new agricultural strategy during the Fourth Plan and set a production target of 129 million tonnes of foodgrains at the last year (1973-74) of the Plan. But at the end of Plan,’ the production of foodgrains could be started to increase. After 1968 the government gradually reduced the volume of imports of foodgrains from nearly 8.7 million tonnes in 1967 to 0.5 million tonnes in 1972.


But the Government raised its procurement of foodgrains since 1972 and put the public distribution system on a permanent basis. Inspite of that when prices of foodgrains rose considerably; the Government took a major decision to take over the wholesale trade in wheat from April 1, 1973.

But there was considerable opposition from the wholesale traders and rich farmers leading to a huge chaos and confusion in the wheat growing states. Due to a mounting pressure from within and outside the party, the Government ultimately forced to scrap the takeover of wholesale trade in wheat.

The new agricultural strategy, popularly known as green revolution was also continued during the Fifth and Sixth Plan. At the end of Fifth Plan total production of food grains rose to about 132 million tonnes and then the same figure rose to 145.5 million tonnes at the end of Sixth Plan (1984-85).

After two years acute drought, the production of foodgrain in 1988-89 reached a record level of 169.9 million tonnes and then it further rose gradually to 146.4 million tonnes in 1990-91. But due to bad weather, the total production of foodgrains again declined to 167.1 million tonnes in 1991-92 and in 1996-97 it is likely to reach the level of 192.0 million tonnes.


In spite of this positive trend in the production of foodgrains of the country, the Government had to continue its dependence on import of foodgrains for building buffer stock in different years excepting those favourable years viz., 1972, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1991.

India imported 4.1 million tonnes of cereals in 1982-83, 2.4 million tonnes in 1983-84 and also in 1987-88. In 1993, the Government has taken a decision to import 1 million tonnes of wheat for direct sale in the market and not for replenishing its buffer stocks.

Another aspect of the food problem is that prices of foodgrains have been rising continuously causing serious difficulties to the rural poor. The index of foodgrains price (base 1970-71 = 100) rose from 103 in 1971-72 to 1985 in 1979-80 and then to 390 in 1988-89.

Under such a situation income disparities have widened and the proportion of population lying below the poverty line has also increased considerably. Demand for foodgrains of those people lying below the poverty line gradually declined because they do not have sufficient purchasing power.

Essay # 3. Different Aspects of Food Problem:

Food problem in India bas the following three different aspects:

(i) Quantitative Aspect:

Supply of foodgrains in India is totally inadequate as the per capita calorie intake in India is very low in comparison to other developing countries. The report of the Food Advisory Committee (1958) states that in India a normal working adult person requires 2300 calories and 62 grams of protein daily. But unfortunately only 35 per cent of the Indian population is provided with this minimum consumption standard.

(ii) Qualitative Aspects:


There is a deficiency in the nutrient content of the diet of average Indian and this deficiency is mostly marked in respect of sugar, fish and milk.

(iii) High Prices of Foodgrains:

In India, the prices of foodgrains have been increasing rapidly and prices were double in 1970-71 as compared to that of 1960-61. The index of food grains prices (1970-71 = 100) has increased from 108 in 1971-72 to 390 in 1988-89. Again the new index of prices of foodgrains (1981-82 = 100) again increased from 118 to 179 in 1990-91.

This continuous rise in the prices of foodgrains has eroded the purchasing capacity of the Indian people and thus aggravated the food problem severely.

Essay # 4. Factors Responsible for Food Problem in India:

Food problem in India was very much acute during 1950s and 1960s. With the adoption of new agricultural strategy, the intensity of food problem in India has declined. But as Indian agriculture is continuing its dependence upon weather conditions thus the production of foodgrains is fluctuating abruptly with the variation of weather conditions, as experienced recently in 1991-92.

Thus, even in recent years, the country had to import foodgrains from foreign countries although at a lesser quantity. Thus, India has not yet reached the level of self-sufficiency in foodgrains.

The following are some of the important factors which are responsible for this persisting food problem in the country:

(i) High Rate of Population Growth:


The population of India is increasing at a very high rate. The annual average growth rate of population in India has declined slightly from -2.5 per cent during the decade 1961-71 and 1971-81 to 2.1 percent in 1981-91 and then to 1.9 per cent in 1991-2001.

The size of population has become more than double during the post-independence period which has raised the aggregate demand for foodgrains significantly. Thus, this ever increasing size of population is responsible for the persisting food problem in the country.

(ii) High Marginal Propensity to Consume:

Due to acute poverty the marginal propensity to consume of the people of India is very high. This is mainly due to high income elasticity of demand for food articles. With the increase in money income, the demand for food articles of average Indian is increasing rapidly leading to a huge pressure in the food market.

(iii) Inadequate Increase in the Production of Foodgrains:

In the pre-green revolution period, the production of foodgrains in India was totally inadequate. It is only due to adoption of new agricultural strategy the production of foodgrains has reached the level of 233.9 million tonnes in 2008-09. But considering the high rate of growth of population to (2.5 per cent per annum) this rate of increase in foodgrains production is totally inadequate.

Thus, the per capita net availability of foodgrains has failed to increase substantially as it has increased marginally from 494.4 grams per day in 1965 to 509.9 grams per day in 1991.

(iv) Hoarding of Foodgrains:

There is a continuous tendency on the part of traders in India to hoard foodgrains and to accentuate the shortage of foodgrains in order to push up the prices for reaping extra­ordinary profit. Thus, this speculation and hoarding has created artificial crisis of foodgrains in the country.

(v) Increase in Farm Consumption:


In India the farm consumption of foodgrains is increasing with the increase in agricultural output. Thus, due to this increasing home consumption the marketable surplus of foodgrains could not increase substantially.

(vi) Corrupt Administrative Practices:

To improve the food situation in the country, the Government has imposed various measures like price controls, rationing, zoning, surprise checks etc. But as the administrative machinery in India is totally corrupt, these measures failed to provide any benefit to the general masses of the country.

Essay # 5. Policy Measures Adopted by the Government to Solve the Food Problem:

During the planning period, the Government of India adopted various measures to tackle the food situation of the country at different times. Neither the free market mechanism nor the full control was adopted by the Government rather a compromise solution consisting of partial control, food procurement, public distribution system, import of foodgrains etc. has been followed to tackle the food problem of the country.

The policy measures adopted by tile Government during the planning period can be broadly classified into following four headings:

(i) Measures to increase output,

(ii) Measures to improve the distribution system,


(iii) Import of foodgrains, and

(iv) Price incentive to agricultural producers.

(i) Measures to Increase Agricultural Output:

In order to tackle the food crisis the Government had taken following measures to increase the agricultural output:

(a) Technological measure:

In order to face the serious food crisis faced by the country; the Government adopted’ technological measures to boost the agricultural production of the country. Since 1966, the Government adopted New Agricultural strategy through the application of HYV seeds, fertilizers, pesticides etc. and adopted farm mechanisation technique through the use of tractors, oil engines, pumpsets, tubewells, threshers, harvester combines etc.

All these technological measures have helped the farmers to raise the agricultural output considerably. But this technological change was very much restricted to some particular states like Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh.

(b) Land reforms:

In order to raise agricultural productivity through the removal of intermediary tenure, the Government introduced various land reform measures and also adopted legislation to bring ceiling on land holding, regulation of rent, conferment of ownership to tenants etc.

But due to half hearted approach of state governments the land reforms in India could not yield much result in raising the agricultural production and productivity in the country.

(ii) Measures to Improve the Distribution System:

In order to regulate and control the distribution of foodgrains in the country the Government adopted various measures as follows:

(a) Food Zones:

In order to stabilise the prices of foodgrains and to rationalise its distribution, the government adopted zoning system where the country was divided into food deficit zones and food surplus zones. This system restricted the private movement of food from one zone to another zone and facilitated procurement of food grains for public distribution system (PDS). But due to its various evils this system was later on abolished.

(b) Buffer stock and state trading:

In order to ensure regularity and certainty in food supply throughout the country the Government advocated for building up of buffer stock of 5 million tonnes of food grains by 1973-74. In January 1965, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) was set up to undertake purchase, handling, transport, storage and distribution of foodgrains on behalf of the government. As on 1st October, 1997 total buffer stocks of foodgrains with public agencies were 15.34 million tonnes as against 19.88 million tonnes in October 1996.

(c) Procurement and Public Distribution System:

In order to supply foodgrains ‘through public distribution system FCI is allowed to undertake procurement operations in different states on a large scale. Accordingly, the volume of procurement has increased substantially from 1.4 million tonnes in 1964 to 24.8 million tonnes in 1990-91 and then it declined to 18 million tonnes in 1991-92.

Moreover, the network of Public Distribution System (PDS) was introduced to supply essential commodities at subsidised price which was an essential element of Government’s safety net to the poor. The system started to operate with fair price shops and ration shops. As on 31st March, 1992 there were over 4 lakh such outlets in the country.

At present the PDS roughly distributes about 10 to 12 per cent of the annual grain production or it meet only 12 to 15 per cent of the individual foodgrains requirement. In 1991-92, 21.72 million tonnes of foodgrains were allocated to the states for the PDS against which 18.77 million tonnes were lifted for distribution. From January 1992, a scheme to revamp the PDS has been launched in about 1700 blocks falling in drought prone desert, integrated tribal development project areas and certain designated hill areas.

In these areas, additional commodities like tea, soap, pulses and iodised salts are also envisaged to be distributed through PDS.

But the PDS in India suffers from some serious defects:

(a) the distribution system is very much restricted to wheat and rice,

(b) the system remained restricted to urban areas for a considerable period,

(c) the coverage of PDS is still inadequate as it fails to cover all those persons living below the poverty line, and

(d) the PDS has now turned into Frankenstein’s monster for the Government.

The system has become very much expensive and a burden on the public exchequer as no efforts have been made for targeting, i.e., limiting the system to the vulnerable sections of the population. Due to its wide coverage, the PDS quota of ration per household is very poor.

C.H. Hanumantha Rao, Sushanta K. Roy and K. Subbarao made an estimate that PDS in some states accounts for nearly 10 per cent of the annual plan outlay. The high cost of maintaining PDS is “threatening its long run sustainability” and the small impact of the system on the poor is reducing its effectiveness.

(d) Other Measures:

As per the recommendations of foodgrains Policy Committee made in 1957, the government took over the wholesale trade in wheat and rice in 1972-73. But as this measure was vehemently opposed by the wholesale traders and large farmers thus the government scrapped the system in March, 1974. Again the another measure to produce 50 per cent of the stocks from wholesalers also flopped miserably.

(iii) Import of Foodgrains:

In order to face severe food crisis in the economy, it is quite essential to enforce stability in the prices of foodgrains. As there was deficiency in the supply of foodgrains, thus the Government of India entered into the first PL-480 agreement with U.S.A. in 1956 to import 3.1 million tonnes in wheat and 0.19 million tonnes of rice for the next three years.

Thereafter the government resorted to continuous import of foodgrains for meeting the deficiency in the food supply as the country failed to maintain a buffer stock of foodgrains. Accordingly, the volume of import of foodgrains gradually increased from a negligible 6 lakh tonnes in 1955-56 to 1.4 million tonnes in 1956-57, 3.9 million tonnes in 1959-60, 6.3 million tonnes in 1963-64, 7.4 million tonnes in 1964-65 and then finally to 10.3 million tonnes in 1965-66.

Again inspite of significant increase in the production of foodgrains in recent years, the country had to continue its dependence on import of foodgrains for building buffer stock excepting nine years (1972, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1991).

Accordingly, India imported 4.1 million tonnes of food-grains in 1982-83, 2.4 million tonnes in 1983-84 and in 1987-88. In 1993, the Government took a decision to import 1 million tonnes of wheat for direct rate in the market and not for replenishing its buffer stock.

A recent study conducted by World Food Programme (WFP) the U.N. in consultation with the Government of India observed that India still needs external food assistance to help large sections of its population for achieving food security and self-reliance despite the country’s achievements in agricultural development and its ability to meet the market demand for foodgrains.

There is a continuing role for food assistance to India as an estimated 200 million—almost a quarter of the country’s population are undernourished and live on conditions of extreme poverty.

This import of foodgrains although had a favourable impact in the food situation in the short run but it had a bad impact on the production front in the long run. Economists like S. Chakraborty and Rosenstein Rodan also argued in the similar line. Decline in the prices of foodgrains due to import discourages farmers to increase agricultural production.

If food aid is continued in the long run then agricultural sector cannot develop itself at a sufficiently fast rate so as to attain self sufficiency in foodgrains. Similarly, B.M. Bhatia argued that Import of foodgrains under PL-480 from USA did not allow the farmers to secure remunerative prices of foodgrains.

(iv) Price Incentives to Agricultural Producers:

Price incentives are very much important to induce the farmers for further agricultural development. American experts argued that high price incentives can be considered a key to any scheme for intensive development in agriculture. Various Indian economists like Raj Krishna, V.S. Patwardhan, A.M. Khusro also argued that Indian farmers do respond to price changes in determining their marketable surplus. The Government is also of the view that there exists a close positive relation between price incentives and agricultural production both in traditional and commercial farming.

Accordingly, the Government set up an Agricultural Prices Commission (later on renamed as Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices), which is making important decisions in connection with determining and announcing minimum support prices of agricultural produce regularly.

This commission has been recommending incentive prices policy for various agricultural crops since last 28 years. Thus, care should be taken that the pricing and procurement policy of the Government should not generate any disincentive to the expansion of agricultural production.

(v) Market Intervention Scheme (MIS):

The Market Intervention Scheme is an important ad-hoc scheme which includes horticultural commodities and other agricultural commodities, which are again perishable in nature and which are not covered under the minimum price support scheme.

In order to protect the growers of these horticultural and agricultural commodities from making distress sale in the event of bumper crop during the peak arrival period when prices fall to a very low level, Government implements the M.I.S. for a particular commodity on the request of a State Government concerned.

Losses so suffered are shared on 50: 50 basis between Central Government and the State itself. The market intervention scheme has already been implemented in various states of our country.

Thus, from the foregoing analysis we can come to conclusion that the food problem in India cannot be tackled on food front alone. Instead efforts should be undertaken to control the growth of population in order to solve the food problem of the country permanently.

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