A. Food Production Trends
The trends in food grains output in recent years have exhibited some significant qualitative changes. On the other hand, there was significant effect of drought on the food grains production during the year 1987–88 and 2002–2003.
Rice production fluctuated around 60 million tones for five years and then followed the rising trend from 1988–89. This was possible due to government’s efforts to increase the productivity of rice in the country in general and in the eastern parts of the country in particular. What production had been staggering around 45 million tones for five years before a quantum jump in 1988–89.
But there was a fall in wheat production during 1989–90, which was attributed to shift of wheat area to oilseeds for getting better prices of the produce. The production of pulses has also been stagnant around 12–13 million tones except for a fall in the drought year i.e., 1987–88. The trends of coarse grains and kharif food grains are in the same line as of rice while rabi food grains followed the trend of wheat. Since the contribution of rice in the total food grains production was the greatest, therefore, total food grains also followed the trend of rice production over the years.
Food Problem :
India’s food problem dates back prior to independence. In the beginning, India’s food problem was one of scarcity, shortage of rice after the separation of Myanmar (Burma) from India in 1937 and shortage of wheat, also after the partition of the country in 1947. Initially, the major concern of the Government was to increase the domestic supplies either through increased production or through imports or through both.
In the second half of the 1950s and during the 1960s the major concern of the Government shifted to control of food grains prices. The Government of India entered into an agreement in 1956 with the USA known as PL 480 agreement for the import of rice and wheat. The Government found the PL 480 food imports a good tool to stabilize food prices in the country. In fact, PL 480 imports were the basis of our agricultural and industrial development. The Government set up the Food grains Policy Committee in 1966 to review the food problem afresh.
The committee found India’s dependence on food imports was not likely to be easy in future. It took serious note of the fact that the food aid was used openly to influence the internal economic policies and foreign affairs policies of the Government. Between 1967–68 and 1989–90, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh had recorded annual growth rates of 5.4, 4.0 and 3.4 per cent, respectively in food grains production. These states are the backbone of our public distribution system. These states have insulated the country from a food grains crisis.
In the 1970s and particularly after 1974, there has been a growing surplus of stocks from the original target of 5.0 million tones; the Government had succeeded in accumulating over 30 million tones of buffer stock of food grains during the 1980s.
Actually, it was the huge reserves of food grains which helped the Government to tide over successfully the three years of poor food grains production, culminating in the widespread drought of 1987–88. The food problem is not any more one of shortage or of high prices but how to enable the lower income groups to purchase the available food grains and how to make use of the huge food stocks to help accelerate the process of economic growth.
The food for work programme has been designed since 1977–78 to provide work for the rural poor, the unemployed and the famine stricken people and at the same time create durable community assets. The Government is also implementing a scheme to provide food grains to the weaker sections, especially in the tribal areas at a price well below the already subsidized price in the public distribution system. There has been a general agreement that the food problem in India is mainly due to the increasing population (consequently increasing food demand), inadequate supply of food grains and some aspects of the Government’s policy on food.
Measures to Solve the Food Problem
India’s food problem is older than our independence but it is a pity that no permanent solution has been found all these years. The Government of India has taken various steps to solve the food problem, which are discussed ahead.