Food Insecurity in India

Despite high rates of malnutrition pointing toward widespread food insecurity, the link betw

BySanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Updated 8 Oct 2023, 2:12 am

Representational Image (PHOTO: IFP)
Representational Image (PHOTO: IFP)

India is home to an estimated 200 million malnourished people, suggesting widespread food insecurity. Poverty, a lack of clean drinking water, and poor sanitation have been identified as common factors contributing to malnutrition in India. Yet to date, despite high rates of malnutrition pointing toward widespread food insecurity, the link between food insecurity and malnutrition in India has seldom been explored.

Of the limited data available, associations have been found between household food insecurity and child stunting, wasting, and being underweight, highlighting the urgency of food insecurity as a public health priority. Food insecurity has been identified as a “pressing public health concern” in India. Food security is the availability of food in a country (or geography) and the ability of individuals within that country (geography) to access, afford, and source adequate foodstuffs.

According to the United Nations Committee on World Food Security, food security is defined as meaning that all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life. Similarly, household food security is considered to exist when all members, at all times, have access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Individuals who are food secure do not live in hunger or fear of starvation. 

Food insecurity, on the other hand, is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a situation of "limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways". Food security incorporates a measure of resilience to future disruption or unavailability of critical food supply due to various risk factors including droughts, shipping disruptions, fuel shortages, economic instability, and wars. Across urban settings, the prevalence of food insecurity has been found to range from 51 to 77 per cent, yet over 70 per cent of India’s population resides rurally, where data concerning food insecurity is limited

The concept of food security consists of six main dimensions: availability, access, utilisation, stability, agency, and sustainability. The first three dimensions are interlinked and hierarchical. Food availability is concerned with ensuring that sufficient quantities of food of appropriate quality are supplied through domestic production or imports (including food aid). Access to food is necessary but not sufficient for access. Access is concerned with ensuring adequate resources, or entitlements, are available for the acquisition of appropriate foods for a nutritious diet. Access is necessary but not sufficient for utilisation. Utilisation is concerned with the ability of an individual to access an adequate diet, clean water, sanitation, and health care to reach a state of nutritional well-being.

The three other concepts have become increasingly accepted as important, as risks such as climatic fluctuations, conflict, job loss, and epidemic disease can disrupt any one of the first three factors. Stability refers to the constancy of the first three dimensions.

Agency is recognised as the capacity of individuals or groups to make their own food decisions, including about what they eat, what and how they produce food, and how that food is distributed within food systems and governance. Finally, sustainability refers to the long-term ability of food systems to provide food security and nutrition in a way that does not compromise the economic, social, and environmental bases that generate food security and nutrition for future generations.


Considering the high rates of child stunting, wasting, and overall malnutrition in India, exploring past and emerging research which has both assessed and addressed food insecurity is a crucial step in better understanding nutrition-related health at the population level. Currently, to the best of our knowledge, there is no published systematic review which has explored household food insecurity in India.

To understand the factors that contribute to food insecurity at the household level, the related health and nutrition outcomes, and to conceptualise potential strategies which target food insecurity in India, a systematic review of published research undertaken to date which has focused on food insecurity in India is urgently needed.

This review seeks to (1) systematically investigate the peer-reviewed literature that purports to investigate food insecurity in India, (2) identify the breadth of research being conducted in India, including the instruments used and the populations under study, and (3) provide an overview of the severity of food insecurity in India as presented by these studies.

India has seen massive growth and economic change over the past two decades; however, this increase in financial wealth has had little impact on food insecurity and population nutrition. While India has increased production and, overall, the availability of food has increased, these increases have not yet translated into gains for the general population.

Overall, India is seeing increasing income inequality which is having a negative impact on health. As a result of the disconnect between economic growth and positive health outcomes, there has been an increased interest in food insecurity and nutrition in India over the past two decades, resulting in research that seeks to measure food insecurity.

A lack of access to affordable and healthy foods is widespread throughout India. With over 60 per cent of India's population depending on agriculture for their livelihoods, the agricultural sector is critical for both India's economy and food security levels across the country. However, India's agricultural sector faces a growing number of challenges, including lower agricultural productivity due to climate volatility and reduced available farmland partially due to India's rapidly increasing population outpacing economic growth that strains India’s natural resources and land availability. 

In Manipur too, due to present unrest, thousands of acres of paddy fields in the peripheral areas of Manipur, have been abandoned and huge quantities of horticultural products from the hills of Manipur have been damaged and unsold, which causes a great economic loss of the marginal farmers.


At the same time many paddy fields have been converted into Brick Field, Oil Pump, construction of School Buildings and many industries though Conservation of paddy land Act was passed by Manipur Assembly. This is the indicator of causing a famine in Manipur in the coming years, meaning insecurity in food.

India produces around 100 million tonnes of rice every year. While there might be enough food for the whole population of India, many families and especially children in India don't have access to food because of financial problems. Thus, this is the cause of millions of malnourished children around India. The cultural knowledge in India allows them to have a very nutritional and balanced diet.

Nearly the whole of the Indian population has rice at least once a day which allows them to have carbohydrates in their system. Since India is most commonly known for producing and exporting rice to other countries, their lifestyle will be mainly dominated by rice. India needs to concentrate on methods to improve the availability and affordability of protein rich food products using the latest environmental friendly technology without the need of additional land and water. 

Biogas or natural gas or methane produced from farm/agro/crop/domestic waste can also be used in addition to mined natural gas for producing protein rich cattle/fish/poultry/pet animal feed economically by cultivating Methylococcus capsulatus bacteria culture in a decentralised manner near to the rural/consumption areas with tiny land and water footprint.

(The views expressed are personal)



First published:


food securitypovertyjob lossmalnutritionmanipur conflict

Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Assistant Professor, JCRE Global College, Babupara, Imphal. The writer can be reached at sjugeshwor7@gmail.com


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