Millets in Public Distribution System in India could address hidden hunger

Undernutrition and hidden hunger are major public health challenges in India. According to NFHS 3 (2005-06), about 40 percent of children under 3 years of age are underweight; 45 percent are stunted and 23 percent are wasted. About 70 percent of children under 5 years and 55 percent of (15 to 49 years) adolescent girls and women are anemic. India does have several social protection measures in operation like the ICDS, MDM and PDS to address food and nutrition insecurity, but the problem exists.

PDS, the largest food distribution system of its type in the world was started to address food security of the poor. In recent years, some states in the country have started using the PDS network to address malnutrition (Chhatisgarh and Tamil Nadu supply pulses under the PDS). The National Food Security Act, 2013 has provided for inclusion of millets under the PDS - thus if these measures are implemented effectively, they have potential to alleviate the problem of undernutrition at the household level. 

Millets are nutri-cereals rich in micronutrients (iron, phosphorus, B vitamins, calcium potassium, magnesium, and zinc), contain high amount of dietary fibre and are low in carbohydrates. They are reportedly 3-5 times nutritionally superior to rice and wheat, which are currently supplied under the PDS.

In late 2013, the Government of Karnataka state announced supplying of millets through the PDS. About 85 percent of the population in the state consume millets, as per NSSO 68th round Household Consumer Expenditure Survey (2011-12).  Finger millet or ragi is consumed in south Karnataka districts while sorghum or jowar is consumed in north Karnataka districts.  The Karnataka Government started procurement of millets and supply through PDS, and this is being piloted in a few districts since last year. The lessons from the initiative are bound to have policy implication across India. 

An important strand of LANSA research is “How do policies and strategies influence the poverty and nutrition impact of agri-food value chains?”.  As part of this, MSSRF has embarked on a study about the introduction of millets in the PDS.  The study aims to understand the issues involved in production, procurement, storage, transportation, pricing and distribution of millets under the PDS. The findings are expected to highlight the issues that have to be taken into account and addressed by policymakers in effectively making millets accessible through the PDS.          

Raju S and Bhavani R V
Friday, October 16, 2015

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South Asia Focus

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This research has been funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development; however the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the UK Government’s official policies

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