Global Food Policy Report 2017
Source: Flickr, Ben Bryant

IFPRI’s flagship Global Food Policy Report (GFPR) 2017, released March 23, assesses the major food and nutrition developments that have occurred around the globe over the past year, as well as providing key data on a range of food policy indicators and discussing the challenges and opportunities facing the global food and agriculture sectors in the coming year. The 2017 report focuses particularly on the food security challenges and opportunities created by rapid urbanization, a topic that is particularly relevant to India, considering the country’s rapid urbanization and high rate of malnutrition.

The report highlights that India’s agricultural growth rate reached almost 4 percent in 2016; this is relatively rapid and is significantly higher than previous years. The country’s agricultural productivity has also been growing in recent years, from an annual growth rate of 1.2 percent between 1991 and 2000 to an annual growth rate of 2.3 percent from 2008 to 2013. This trend has been partly driven by increased public investments in the agricultural sector - from 2.6 billion dollars in 1980 to 21 billion dollars in 2014 (at 2011 constant US dollars). Similarly, the report highlights that India’s investments in agricultural research are among the fastest growing in the world, reaching 3 billion dollars in 2014.

A number of important policy developments related to agriculture and nutrition were implemented in India over the past year. Overall, the government continued to prioritize agriculture in 2016, with a budget supportive of the agricultural sector and a pledge to double farmers’ incomes by 2022. Other developments included the launch of a new crop insurance scheme, a long-term irrigation fund with an initial endowment of 3 billion dollars, and a unified agricultural marketing e-platform to improve farmers’ access to markets. The Indian government also continued its recent expansion of various social protection programs, including the 2013 National Food Security Act (which aims to provide subsidized food grains to 800 million Indian citizens), as well as the Mid-Day Meal Scheme (which is a school meal program run by the Indian Government) and Anganwadi Centres (which provide basic health care services in Indian villages as part of the public health system). Other significant developments included the passing of the Goods and Services Tax, which, once fully implemented, is expected to contribute to both agricultural growth and overall economic growth. According to the report, while it is too soon to gauge the impact of the demonetization policy that was implemented at the end of 2016, this policy is likely to have an impact on agricultural production, as well as on rural incomes, consumption and credit in 2017.

In terms of urbanization, the report estimates that 90 percent of the world’s projected urban population increase will be concentrated in Africa and Asia, with China, India, and Nigeria alone expected to add 900 million urban residents by 2050. In India, which is still dominated by traditional food value chains, urbanization and the changing role of technology are both causing rapid shifts in the food system. For instance, the GFPR reports that India’s potato value chains have grown longer over recent years in order to reach growing urban populations; this expansion of the value chain has led to an increase in the use of cold storage operations by both traders and small- and large-scale farmers.

The report also discusses the significant variability that exists in urban diets, both within and between countries. In developing countries, India included, urban residents, especially poorer residents, do not have access to healthy and nutritious diets; malnutrition remains high in urban areas in these countries. A recent study in India showed that 66 percent of urban households regularly consume packaged snacks that are high in fat, with two-thirds of households consuming these products daily.

Additionally, although urban areas can offer a wide range of job opportunities, employment often remains concentrated in the informal sector. In India, the informal sector (excluding agriculture) employs 78 percent of the workforce; these jobs are mostly based in urban and semi-urban areas and offer irregular work and wages. Because almost all food consumed in urban areas is purchased rather than produced at home, such unreliable informal sector employment makes it difficult for urban residents to consistently afford and consume nutritious foods.

A significant number of urban residents live in crowded and unplanned environments with limited access to high-quality water sources, sanitation facilities, water drainage, and waste disposal services. This environment significantly impacts the health of urban residents. In India, the number of people living in slums is estimated at 65 million. The GFPR highlights studies that have shown that nearly half of Indian slum residents suffer from respiratory diseases and spend more than 10 percent of their household income on associated treatment. Additionally, studies have shown that urbanization in India is associated with high blood pressure in men and with cardiovascular disease and higher cholesterol in the overall population.

Overall, the GFPR highlights that India’s  agricultural and food systems are at a crossroads, as are the agricultural and food systems of South Asia as a whole. On the one hand, climate variability and extreme weather events (such as droughts, floods, and temperature changes) threaten food and nutrition security in the region, while unplanned urbanization is progressing rapidly and placing strain on already inadequate safe water supplies, drainage systems, housing, and hygiene facilities. On the other hand, numerous encouraging initiatives (such as the National Food Security Act and increased investment in the agricultural sector) give hope that India’s food and agricultural systems will be able to adapt to the country’s changing demographics.

The study highlights a number of areas in which increased investment and actions are needed, including improving agricultural efficiencies, reducing post-harvest losses, and developing the agro-processing sector. Policies and investments to end hunger and malnutrition also need take the needs of urban populations into account and develop stronger links between rural food producers and urban markets. Finally, these efforts need to be coupled with efforts that focus on improving urban living conditions, such as the Indian government’s ambitious goal of creating 100 smart cities (cities that are sustainable and improve urban living conditions) by 2022.

Access the full report and associated links.

Access an interactive map presenting the latest GFPR datasets.

By: Bas Paris

Photo credit:Flickr, Ben Bryant