The Food Debates

by Tushar Vashisht

While India is a starving country (250 million malnourished people according to official records), it is also the world’s second-largest grower of rice and wheat. Today, more than 50 million tonnes of foodgrains lie in government warehouses. Only 27 % of government’s food subsidies reaches the poor, with only 42% of food grains issued from the central pool reaching the end customer [1]. Many solutions have been debated to fix the broken Public Distribution System (PDS). I was lucky to get exposure to many of these proposed solutions and experiments/pilots while working within the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI)  on UID applications. Because much of the focus of our experiment was around food and nutrition, Matt and I also spent a considerable time around fair price shops in Kerala. “The food debates” series is a description of a few of the key ongoing debates and my recommendations for solutions.

While coming up with the recommendations, I have tried to look outside the traditional infrastructure PDS is reliant on to search for new solutions. And, because most new things these days are tech heavy, it invariably meant looking at the emerging technology trends. Three stand out as universal trends:

  1. Mobile (and therefore internet) connectivity is becoming close to being all-pervasive
  2. Every family already has or will have a mobile phone pretty soon
  3. Everyone will also likely have a UID number pretty soon

What does this mean? We are entering a world of new building blocks. Building blocks, that didn’t exist as late as two years ago, but whose relevance cannot be denied in the coming years. I will continuously refer back to these building blocks as we look at the various debates. This is not to discount value on non technology interventions which have their own importance, however, I have tried to focus on the technology aspects only.

It must be noted that these are my personal views only.

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