Using PDS to Increase Nutrition Security

The Department of Food and Public Distribution (DoF&PD), particularly the Food Corporation of India (FCI), must have breathed a sigh of relief as wheat procurement has surpassed 20 million tonnes (MT), a significant increase over last year. Three states have given more than 98 percent to the central pool: Punjab, Haryana, and Madhya Pradesh.

Estimates of wheat output

  • The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare (MoA&FW) had previously estimated this year’s wheat production at 112 MT. The impact of unseasonal rainfall on wheat production, on the other hand, has made the updated projection questionable.
  • Punjab: Punjab, one of the main contributors to wheat procurement, is also expecting losses owing to bad weather right before harvest. Despite the unseasonal rains, interactions with Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), market functionaries, and farmers indicate that wheat production this year will be higher than last.
  • Uttar Pradesh produces about twice as much wheat (approximately 35 MT) as Punjab (approximately 18 MT). UP is expected to get 3.5 MT of wheat, but has only procured 0.12 MT thus yet. Unless there is a surprise in May and June, global wheat procurement may fall far short of 30 MT.

Difficulties in delivering healthful food through PDS

  • Infrastructure and supply chain management: There is a lack of enough infrastructure and a supply chain to transport and store nutritious foods like millets, pulses, and oilseeds. This causes deterioration and waste, lowering the quality of food delivered through PDS.
  • Cost: Providing healthful food items through PDS may raise the program’s cost, making it difficult for the government to continue in the long run.
  • Awareness and demand: The general public is unaware of the benefits of healthy foods and the importance of including them in their diet. Furthermore, there may not be enough demand for these items, resulting in low offtake and waste.
  • Operational problems: There are various operational challenges that must be solved for an effective PDS programme, such as the procurement, storage, and delivery of healthy food items.
  • Political interference: Political intervention may occur in the selection of food items to be included in the PDS, resulting in a concentration on populist measures rather than nutritional food items. This has the potential to impair the program’s effectiveness.

Nutrition security through PDS and a help to climate resilient agriculture

  • Including more nutritious foods in PDS: Including more nutritious foods in PDS, such as millets, pulses, and oilseeds, can help fulfil the twin goals of nutrition and climate resilience.
  • Encouraging the cultivation of climate-resilient food crops such as millets, pulses, oilseeds, and so on can help ensure a consistent supply of healthy food.
  • Fair price stores can be updated and designated as Nutritious Food Hubs (NFHs) if at least 10% of them are improved. These NFHs can be bio-fortified, including rice and wheat, millets, pulses, oilseeds (particularly soyabean products with 40% protein), fortified milk and edible oils, eggs, and so on.
  • Targeted beneficiaries may be given electronic vouchers (similar to an e-meal coupon in a food court) that can be charged by the government three or four times a year.
  • Government aid for improving NFHs: With government assistance, NFHs can be upgraded, creating a demand from the masses for more diverse and healthy food.
  • Rice procurement must be limited: Rice procurement must be limited, beginning with districts where the water table is rapidly diminishing.
  • For example, the groundwater level in Sangrur, Punjab, fell by more than 25 metres between 2000 and 2019. Farmers in such districts should be motivated to cultivate climate-smart millets, pulses, oilseeds, and other crops that require considerably less water and fertiliser, saving power and fertiliser subsidies.
  • Giving a special package for carbon credits: The Centre and the states must work together to provide a special package for carbon credits for the cultivation of such crops. Farmers can be compensated up to Rs 10,000 per acre (to be divided equally by the Centre and the state), as these crops would save the Centre’s fertiliser subsidy and the state’s power subsidy.

@the end

Chintan Shivir of the Department of Food and Public Distribution has a fantastic vision for leveraging PDS to supply more nutritious food, but there are significant operational hurdles to ensure a consistent flow of these goods. Upgrading at least 10% of the fair price stores to healthy Food Hubs could create a demand from the general public for more diverse and healthy food. However, limiting rice procurement and incentivizing farmers to grow climate-smart millets, pulses, and oilseeds that use less water and fertiliser are necessary.

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