India’s journey from chronic food shortage to surplus producer has lessons for the developing world

Contact Counsellor

India’s journey from chronic food shortage to surplus producer has lessons for the developing world

  • Global hunger is on the rise, driven by the climate crisis, COVID-19 pandemic shocks, conflicts, poverty, and inequality.
  • More people are living in hunger than in 2015 when UN members agreed to SDGs that provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.
  • Since the onset of the pandemic, the number of people on the brink of starvation has doubled from 135 million people, pre-COVID, a year ago to 270 million.

India’s outreach

  • India’s traditional outlook sees the world as one family and that is linked to its Vedic tradition of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.
  • This shows its relevance not just for global peace, cooperation, environment protection but also for humanitarian response including rising global hunger and leaving no one behind.
  • At the core of the concept is ‘ Vasudha’, which means the planet earth, and describes how different nations form one collective and cannot escape the common connection of concern and humanity.
  • The number of people in need of urgent food assistance will grow significantly with the crisis in Afghanistan and the ongoing war in Ukraine.
  • The fallout of the war is driving food and fuel prices that will add to the burden on the millions (especially the poor and marginalised) who are struggling.

Helping Afghanistan

  • India’s recent and ongoing humanitarian food assistance to the people of Afghanistan, through the United Nations Food Programme is an example of its commitment and commendable steps toward humanitarian crises.
  • The 50,000 Metric Tonnes (MT) of food assistance in the form of wheat committed by India is being sent in instalments to Jalalabad, Afghanistan, through Pakistan.
  • The first consignment, part of India’s in-kind contribution to the WFP, was flagged-off in February at Amritsar’s Attari border crossing
  • Afghanistan: Over half of the population is projected to be acutely food insecure in 2022; this includes 8.7 million at risk of famine-like conditions.
  • Nearly 4.7 million children, pregnant and lactating women are at risk of acute malnutrition in 2022.
  • India has been a strong ally of the Afghan people, traditionally, and has extended over a million metric tonnes in the past.
  • In the past two years, India has provided aid to several countries in Africa and the Middle East/West Asia to overcome natural calamities and the COVID-19 pandemic.

From sufficiency to assistance

  • India has made enormous progress in food production over the years, with an inspiring journey towards self-sufficiency in food production, marked by the Green Revolution.
  • The country has registered record harvests over the last few years, with several enabling policies and incentives for farmers.
  • In 2021, India exported a record 20 million tonnes of rice and wheat.
  • The long journey from chronic food shortage to surplus food producer offers several valuable lessons for other developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America in land reforms, public investments, institutional infrastructure, new regulatory systems, public support, and intervention in Agri markets and prices and agri research.

Safety nets

  • One of India’s greatest contributions to equity in food is its National Food Security Act (NFSA) 2013 which anchors the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), Mid-Day meals (MDM), and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).
  • Today, India’s food safety nets collectively reach over a billion people.
  • Food safety nets and inclusion are linked with public procurement and buffer stock policy.
  • This was visible during the global food crises of 2008-2012, and more recently during the COVID-19 pandemic fallout, whereby vulnerable and marginalised families in India continued to be buffered by TPDS which became a lifeline with a robust stock of food grains
  • The Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) introduced to provide relief to 800 million beneficiaries covered under the NFSA from COVID-19 induced economic hardships has been extended by another six months up to September 2022.
  • India’s support to its neighbours and other countries that struggle with food emergencies and food insecurity must continue its growth trajectory.
  • Humanitarian food assistance and partnerships by way of food safety nets and resilient livelihoods will contribute toward global peace.

A peace catalyst

  • Research undertaken by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) points to WFP programmes contributing to creating conditions for peace in four areas including ‘bolstering social cohesion, strengthening the link between citizen and state, and resolving grievances within and between communities.
  • The Nobel Peace Prize to the WFP in 2020 cited the WFP’s role and the importance of access to food in maintaining peace.


  • India has made major progress in addressing hunger and malnutrition, but a lot needs to be done and we must continue this path as the trailblazer in access and inclusion through public policies and systems.
  • As the world’s largest humanitarian agency, the WFP, and India, as the largest democracy, can leverage this partnership to contribute to addressing food emergencies and strengthening humanitarian response, embodying the spirit of ‘leave no one behind’ and Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.

Prelims take away

  • National Food Security Act
  • World Food Program
  • Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).
  • Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana
  • Nobel Prize
  • Concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam and related Upanishad

Mains track

  • Despite being self-sufficient in food production, India faces problems of hunger and food insecurity due to widespread economic distress, high unemployment and high levels of inequality. Comment