Impact of food and agriculture policies on dietary patterns and malnutrition in India

Authors: Ashwini Chhatre*, Indian School of Business, Piyush Mehta, Indian School of Business, Ruth DeFries, Columbia University, Kyle Davis, Columbia University, Narsimha Rao, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis
Topics: Sustainability Science, Cultural and Political Ecology, Development
Keywords: India, malnutrition, food, subsidies
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 2:35 PM / 4:15 PM
Room: Taylor, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Green revolution and food subsidy programs in India contributed to large increases in the production of rice and wheat over the last five decades, with concomitant reduction in the proportion of coarse cereals in the food supply. At the same time as total calorie production increased several folds, India has among the highest incidence of malnutrition. To overcome these nutrient deficiencies, households need to diversify their diets away from calorie-sense foods such as polished rice, towards coarse cereals, pulses, and leafy vegetables. Building on prior scholarship, we argue that current agricultural and food policies discourage these dietary shifts, particularly among the poor. We investigate the relationship between consumption patterns among Indian households, disaggregating it between home-production, market-bought, and accessed as subsidized food. We combine data on 89 food items from large-scale national surveys between 1999 and 2012 covering more than 300,000 households, with district-level data on crop production, infrastructure investments, indicators of social and economic development, and climate variables, we examine spatial and temporal patterns in production in terms of its relationship to changes in dietary intake of different nutrients (calories, protein, fat, iron, and zinc). Our research attempts to inform recent policy debates about introduction of coarse cereals in the current public food distribution system to affordably address malnutrition by improving dietary patterns.

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