In this article we will discuss about the food problem in India and measures to solve it.
Frankly speaking, our food problem, dates to the partition of Burma from India in April 1937 when India lost her best rice producing areas and had to import 15 to 20 lakh tons of rice from Burma. India faced its first serious food shortage in 1943, when millions of people perched in the Bengal famine.
This famine showed India’s weakness in rice production. Separation of Burma forced India to import rice; the Partition in 1947 made India dependent on import of wheat. Rapid increase of population sine 1920, the separation of Burma in 1937, the creation of Pakistan in 1947 and occasional crop failures due to failure of monsoons have had been the basic causes for the origin of food problem in India.
During the First 5-Year Plan (1951-56):
The Government introduced the First Five-Year Plan in 1951 to achieve self-sufficiency in food. The Government undertook measures of agricultural development, irrigation, etc. Production increased rapidly. In 1950-51 India produced 55 mm. tonnes of food grains; but in 1955-56, India produced over 69 mn tonnes of food grains-an increase of more than 25% in 5 years.
As a result of this increase in food production, the prices of foodstuffs fell and there was plenty of foodstuffs available to the people. The imports of food grains were cut down from 48 lakh tonnes in 1941 to 6 lakh tonnes in 1955. Finally, the Government gave up controls and rationing of foodstuffs. The Government and the people felt happy that at least the food problem was solved.
During the Second 5-Year Plan:
The feeling of happiness and optimism which the Government felt about the food problem at the end of the First Plan was short-lived. For, even from 1955, prices of food grains started rising. In the beginning, the rise in prices was very mild and was not even noticed; but soon prices of food grains rose rapidly.
By 1958-59, the food problem became very acute and there was almost a crisis. But the strange thing was that throughout this period the production of food grains was increasing; food grains production increased from 69mn. tonnes in 1955- 56 to 82mn. tonnes in 1960-61. There was actually no shortage of food grains, but what worried the people and the Government was the increase in food grains prices.
So long as food was available at reasonable prices, people believed that there was no food problem. But when the prices of food grains increased rapidly, they felt panicky even though there were adequate stocks. This phenomenon has continued till today—of abundant supply and rising food grains prices, creating a feeling of crisis.
During the Third 5-Year Plan:
During the first decade of planning food grains production in spite of some setbacks, had shown significant increase. Between 1950-50 and 1960-61 the production of food grains increased from 55mn. tonnes to 82mn. tonnes—the increase in production of food grain was over 50%.
During the same period, population of India increased only by 22%. After 1960-61, the food production had gone from bad to worse. In the first place, the production of food grains was more or less constant, till it reached a record high of 89mn. tonnes in 1964-65. But in the last year of the Third Plan (i.e., 1965-66) production came down badly to 72 mn. tonnes. India went through severe famine conditions in Bihar and U.P.
The Government set about the task of facing the food problem with courage and vision. On the one hand, large imports of food grains specially wheat were effected. Internally, the new agricultural strategy of food production was rigorously followed. The weather gods also were favourable. Thus output of food grains increased to 95 million tonnes in 1967-68, 108 million tonnes in 1970-71 and 14 million tonnes in 1971-72.
The favourable output in the first three years of the Fourth Plan gave the impression that the country has solved the food problem finally. Visions of food self-sufficiency and even the possibility of exporting food grains were openly discussed. But the successive bad crops of 104 million tonnes and 95 millions tonnes of 1971-72 and 1972-73 respectively created panic again in the food front.
The decline in agricultural production in 1972-73 was particularly severe—the output in that year was 8 million tonnes less than the previous year and 11 millions tonnes less than the year before. The revival in 1973-74 was only marginal. But the food situation has been fluctuating from year to year.
Revival in 1973-74 decline in 1974- 75 and record bumper crop in 1975-76 (115 million tonnes) good crops in 1976-77 and 1977-78 -this has been the picture in our food situation. The Production of food grain has achieved record production 234.47 million tonnes 2008-09.
Measure to Solve the Food Problem:
The Government of India has been expected to solve the problem of food in the country. In co-operation with the State Governments, the Central Government has been taking vigorous steps to solve the food problem.
These steps can be discussed conveniently under two headings:
(A) Short- term measures, and
(B) Long-term measures.
(A) Short-Term Measures:
(1) Increase in Imports:
India’s food problem normally takes two aspects, i.e., shortfall in internal production and high prices of food grains. These two aspects are, in fact, inter-related. It is the internal shortage of production, combined with the increased demand for food, which leads to rise in prices of food grains.
Now, the Government has made great effort in increasing imports of food grains from other countries during periods of shortage. Between 1961 and 1966, as much as 35 million tonnes of food grain were imported. India had become the biggest importer of food grains in the whole world. But we should appreciate the difficulties of the Government in this matter.
In the first place, the Government does not have sufficient foreign currencies to buy foreign foodstuffs. Naturally, the Government has to depend upon the United States of America which has been the most generous nation in the matter of helping India Secondly; India has not been able to import much of rice because of the shortage of rice in the international markets. Besides, India Russia and China have also started importing wheat from U.S.A. and Canada, making India’s position really difficult.
(2) Procurement of Food grains:
The second step taken by the Government is the procurement of foodstuffs with the country. There are some States which have surplus food. Punjab has surplus wheat and Andhra has surplus rice. Moreover, in each State, there are large farmers and landlords who produce more food grains than the market: sometimes, they hoard up the surplus so as to push up the prices still further.
The State Governments collect some amount of food grains from each farmer who has above the minimum necessary for his own consumption. This collection is known as procurement of food grains. In recent years, the State Governments have increased their procurement. The Food Corporation of India has been set up to buy food grains in surplus areas and sell them in deficit areas.
It is strongly believed by the Government that a strong procurement drive, along with fixing of wholesale and retail prices of food grains, will compel the farmers to sell their surplus stock. The prices of food grains will then come
(3) Price Control and Rationing:
The Government has fixed the prices of food grains both for wholesale and retail trade. The Government has set up fair price shops throughout the country-they number more than a lakh now. It is through these fair price shops that the Government sells its stock of food grains.
There are two advantages in this system. Firstly, fair price shops help to hold down the prices. Secondly, they provide essential food grains to low income groups at comparatively low prices. The fair price shops are actually meant for the low income groups in the country.
Besides fair price shops, the Government had introduced rationing in urban areas and by 1977 nearly 42 mn. people had been covered by rationing. Under the system, a minimum quantity of food grain is assured to every persons and family in a town.
Altogether, the volume of retail sales through rationing shops and fair price shops rose from about 44 lakh tonnes in 1962 to about 101 lakh tonnes in 1965 and nearly 188 lakh tonnes in 1977. All town and cities are covered by fair price shops.
(4) Government Takeover of Wholesale Trade:
To check prices and to eliminate hoarding and speculative activity in food grains trade, wholesale dealers in food grains were licensed in many States. The Government has also sought the help of associations of food grains traders in regulating their activities and improving trade practices. The Government has also fixed margins to profits of stop profiteering by traders. Moreover, traders were asked to declare their stocks: this is done to prevent hoarding and profiteering.
In April 1973, the Government nationalised the wholesale trade in wheat and underfeed its intention to take over Price trade from the coming kharif crop. When the take-over was a failures the Govt. reversed its policy and brought back the wholesalers.
Thus the Government of India, in cooperation with State Governments, has taken various steps to solve the food problem in a short period. But as we know, India’s problem is not a sudden one but has been a chronic problem. It will continue to be with us for many more year to come. Hence, the Government has been taking some long-term measures also.
(B) Long-Term Measures:
The ultimate solution to India’s food problem is increased production and control of population. This can be brought about by the use of better seeds, more fertilisers, more irrigation, and so on. The Government has been following these steps for many years. But nothing substantial was achieved. The Government has introduced a new strategy to increase agricultural production.
(1) Increase in Agricultural Production:
The new strategy concentrates resources and attention to only certain areas with assured water supply. Supplies of the high-yielding varieties of seeds, adequate quantities of fertilisers, pesticides and agricultural equipment will we made to these selected regions.
The farmers will also get sufficient amount of credit to help them. The result of this concentration of resources in selected regions has been very encouraging. The farmers in these regions have shown great interest in these schemes and their response to the new technology is most encouraging as is seen from the willingness of farmers to try new improved seed varieties and to use large amounts of fertilisers. Besides, they are putting up enthusiastically wells, pumping sets, etc.
The second feature of the new agricultural strategy is to raise rapidly the area under double cropping. This is to be done through the use of quick yielding varieties of seeds. In recent years, new varieties of rice, wheat and potatoes have been developed in India and are being introduced in selected regions.
At present only 15% of the irrigated area produces a second crop. By introducing quick maturing varieties, it is possible to raise two crops in a year, or even three corps. The new agricultural strategy has ushered in a green revolution.
Policies regarding the development and efficient use of water resources have also received a new emphasis. At one time the Government gave too much attention the large multipurpose irrigation works.
But the emphasis has shifted to minor irrigation works, for the benefits of these schemes are available for everybody and they can be realised more quickly. Between 1966 and 1968 over 6.5 mn. acres have benefited from the installation of pump sets and construction of tube-wells and ordinary wells.
(2) Control of Population:
Side by side, with the steps to increase agricultural output, the rate of increase in population will have to be reduced. Otherwise, whatever steps India takes to raise the volume of production will become useless and the food problem cannot be solved at all. The Government has been using various methods to check population growth in urban and rural areas. The latest of these methods is the legislation of abortion.
(3) Reorienting Strategy for Food Production:
At present about two- thirds of the overall food grains production come from the kharif crops and the balance from Rabi. It is now proposed to get more from the Rabi crop, about a half of the total.
Such a step is considered to be in the larger national interest on at least three counts. First, it will be an insurance against natural calamities like droughts and floods. Secondly, the winter crop requires less water, which can be provided even by limited irrigation. Thirdly, the loss from pests is relatively small.
(4) Changing Food Habits:
Another long-term measure that can be adopted is the changing of food habits of the people. Cereals predominate in the food of our people of all classes. It will be helpful towards a permanent solution of the food problem if the richer classes consume less of cereals and more of protective foods like eggs, fish, meat, fruit, vegetables, etc. and the poor classes are persuaded to take less of wheat and rice and more of coarse grains, papaya, tapoca, sweet potatoes etc.
How far has the Government succeeded in solving the food problem and in checking food grains prices? Many of the short-term measures to solve the food problem had succeeded to avert severe food shortages, provide minimum amount of food in areas suffering from famine condition and checking rise in the prices of food grains.
The use of new agricultural strategy appeared to be successful for some time. But then, in the last two or three years, prices of food grains have been rising steadily and inflationary conditions are looming large. This is mainly because of heavy deficit financing and large increase in money supply in the country. Unless the Government gives attention to this point, the problem of food and food grains prices will assume the proportions of a crisis.