Across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has been the cause of food insecurity. The World Bank estimates that 71 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty as a result of the pandemic, and an additional 130 million will be experiencing food insecurity. This is most pertinent in India, where the population has suffered some of the most severe waves of infection. Like in many countries, lockdowns and quarantine requirements have had an adverse impact on the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable people. However, India has experienced higher levels of impact due to the large size of its informal economy, meaning that many people lack employment which provides social support in times of crisis. Furthermore, migration patterns have impacted the agricultural industry in drastic ways.
The initial lockdowns in 2020 saw large numbers of Indians returning to their home villages from urban areas to avoid lockdowns and search for employment. This migration out of urban areas has had two adverse impacts. Firstly, in many villages the large influx of people and the corresponding increase in demand for work caused wages to depress. As a result, the income earned from working in the agricultural sector in these regions has affected the viability of employment. This change in viability has contributed to inefficiency within food production and transport. On the other hand, various villages experienced the opposite problem. With large numbers of people stuck in lockdown in urban areas, significant proportions of the migrant worker population who usually travel to farming regions for work during the harvest season were unable to. This left many farms stranded without workers to produce or transport goods. These areas which suffered low levels of staff are also relied upon for producing a large proportion of the nation’s food. Such significant interruptions led to an increase of food insecurity across India.
The impacts of these events are severe for both the short and long term. According to the CEO of Save the Children in India, the pandemic has already reversed much of the progress made to reduce poverty in India. Evidence of this includes increasing rates of children being forced to drop out of school and enter the workforce to help their family make ends meet. In the long term, this leads to a decrease in education levels and a rise in the issues associated with lower education – including child exploitation. Lack of ability to transport food, caused by interstate border closures and a shortage of workers, has meant that farmers are not only unable to transport their produce, but they are also unable to access fertilizer or seeds. Without the resources to continue farming, it is likely that current food insecurity levels will extend into the coming seasons.
The Government has provided some forms of economic support, including subsidizing the prices of rice and wheat distribution. However, the impacts of the pandemic will have serious consequences for a number of government commitments. Not only will the current food insecurity and reduction in economic activity prevent India from ending hunger by 2030, it will also challenge the Government’s commitment to doubling farmers wages by 2022. The current circumstances have reversed India’s trends towards economic progress, and will likely continue to do so without intervention from domestic and international bodies.