IFPRI Hosts Policy Seminar on “Social Protection, Food Security and Nutrition” in New Delhi

Written by Suman Chakrabarti, Poverty, Health and Nutrition Division, International Food Policy Research Institute, New Delhi

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), organized a policy seminar on “Social Protection & Safety Net

Source: Pallavi Rajkhowa/IFPRI
Source: Pallavi Rajkhowa/IFPRI

Interventions” in the month of February in New Delhi. The seminar touched on the role of food and cash transfers in improving poverty, food security and nutrition, in global and regional contexts. All speakers were well received by the audience and the seminar was lively with an array of wide ranging questions and discussions.

The first speaker, John Hoddinott, Deputy Director at the Poverty, Health and Nutrition Division – IFPRI , Washington,  DC, pooled insights from recent studies in Ecuador, Niger, Uganda and Yemen, on social protection programs and their nutrition outcomes. He highlighted the relative advantages and drawbacks of cash, voucher and food transfers in terms of cost effectiveness, achievement of caloric intake increase and impact sufficiency to reduce chronic under-nutrition in young children. In addition, he shared very recent findings on the impact of combining behavioural change interventions with cash transfers in Bangladesh.

The second speaker, Avinash Kishore, Associate Research Fellow, IFPRI, New Delhi, shared insights from a working paper that investigates the impact of reforms in the Public Distribution System (PDS) of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Chhattisgarh, on the offtake of rice from fair price shops as well as on the reallocation of savings towards other food groups.  These findings are central in the context of India’s National Food Security Act (NFSA) which was enacted in 2013.  The NFSA lays out very similar PDS reforms in terms of price reductions for key cereals and increase in the population covered, accompanied with supply side corrections, as were enforced in the aforementioned states.

The third and final speaker, Reetika Khera, Assistant Professor, Economics, Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, discussed her research on shifts in India’s PDS. She discussed various facets of interest within the PDS including coverage, leakage, implicit subsidies, exclusion errors, and nutritional impacts, among others.  The findings indicate an overall revival of the PDS in India albeit with high interstate variations. She concluded that there was a long way to go for improvements in the PDS, and emphasized that key reforms should focus on an expansion in the implicit subsidy given to households, incentives, computerization, and decentralization.

Issues and questions raised in the discussion period included:
- What is better in India’s context, cash or food? A balanced approach would be a contextualized response, where cash could be better for some regions and food for others.
- What might be the possible measures to control leakages in the PDS? Mechanisms to check leakages might be easier to enforce under a cash transfer paradigm with the use of IT.
-Targeting versus universalization of the PDS: Given the large targeting errors for AAYs, BPLs, and APLs, would a universalized PDS prove to be more effective?
- What is the role of the private sector in grain management? Can the private sector distribute grains more efficiently and cost effectively?
- What are the effects of transfers on households? How do they re-allocate savings from subsidies? What are the effects on women’s empowerment?

Presentation 1-Social safety nets, food security and nutrition

Presenation 2-Revival of the PDS Evidence and Explanations

Past, Present and the Future of Agriculture in India

Farmer offloading the produce at wholesale market in Lucknow.  Source:(flickr) Pallavi Rajkhowa/IFPRI
Farmer offloading the produce at wholesale market in Lucknow.
Source:(flickr) Pallavi Rajkhowa/IFPRI

With rising concern to meet the growing demand for diversified food of the increasing population, food security has been the top priority on the policy agenda. Over the years, despite the decline in its share in the gross domestic product, agriculture continues to be important in the Indian economy for food security, employment generation and poverty reduction.

In a recent IFPRI discussion paper on Changing Sources of Growth in Indian Agriculture, the authors have shown how the policy shift over the past three decades (1980/1981 to 2009/2010) have stimulated patterns and sources of agricultural growth in India and evaluated their implications for regional priorities for sustainable and inclusive growth.

Since 1995/96 policymakers have been targeting to achieve 4 percent growth for the agricultural sector, but it has been fluctuating over/under 3 percent since the last two decades. P S Birthal, principal scientist at the National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research (NCAP), highlights that in the 1980s technology was the main source of growth which was followed by crop diversification in the 1990s. The price effect that emerged as strong factor in the 1990s also faded in the following decade, with technology reemerging as an engine of growth in the 2000s.

Over the time it was observed that agricultural policies in India been cereal-centric especially towards wheat and rice. But with change in consumption pattern, income growth and improved infrastructure, the shift towards high value crops played an important role in cushioning agricultural growth. Examining spatial decompositions of growth - the northern region followed a technology-led growth path, while the western and southern regions relied more on diversification in their growth strategy.

Learning from the past, evaluating the present for the future food security of the country, the authors lists its analysis in the study under four dimensions-

  • With limited land available for cultivation, sustainable intensification and diversification of agriculture are the options to accelerate agricultural growth.
  •  Investment in agricultural research and strengthening of service delivery systems are crucial for future improvements in yields of  grains and horticultural crops.
  • With limited scope for sustaining price-led growth in long run, investments in markets, infrastructure such as roads are necessary to reduce marketing and transaction cost, thus directly benefiting the small farmers.
  • Opportunities for small-holder farmers to increase income and escape poverty lie in diversification towards high value crops.

IFPRI’s, P K Joshi, stresses that, “the sustainable agriculture growth must come from technological change and diversification towards high value crops. Dr. Joshi, emphasized that both central and state governments need to take corrective measures to increase investment in agriculture research, and create favorable business environment through enabling policies towards high value agriculture.”

To take or not to take, risks in technology adoption

Womnen farmer in rice field in Nalanda, Bihar, India. Source: (flickr) Divya Pandey/IFPRI
Women farmer in rice field in Nalanda, Bihar, India. Source: (flickr) Divya Pandey/IFPRI

It is widely believed that increased usage of new technologies directly affects the advances in agricultural development. The uptake and use of new technologies is highly dependent on several context-specific factors. Among other important factors, farmers’ perceptions of risks associated with the new technology as well as their ability or willingness to take risks greatly influences their adoption decisions. Farmers in developing countries face a wide range of uncertainty, not the least of which arises from climate variability, including droughts, which represent one of the most pressing constraints to rice production in unfavorable environments.

Despite the heralded benefits of new agricultural technologies such as drought tolerant cultivars (DT), widespread adoption of new technologies is often a slow process. Some factors that influence adoption decisions may not be directly visible, such as farmer preferences regarding uncertainty. When it comes to new technologies, uncertainty arises due to both risk as well as ambiguity. Risk arises because, while almost all new agricultural technologies tout increases in mean productivity, many perform optimally only under certain conditions. Deviations from these conditions may result in not only reduced yield benefits vis-´a-vis the traditional technology but also increased variance. Ambiguity, on the other hand, arises because new technologies are unknown and unproven in the minds of prospective adopters, who generally do not know the yield distribution of the new technology. Combined, aversion to both risk and ambiguity may lead to production decisions that are incongruent with deterministic profit maximization.

In a recent IFPRI Discussion Paper, Risk and Ambiguity Preferences and the Adoption of New Agricultural Technologies authors Patrick Ward and Vartika Singh analyze various behavioral parameters related to risk and ambiguity aversion collected through field experiments in rural India. The experimental design allows for the identification of several different parameters, accomplished over a series of five experiments, each comprising a set of choices between two options with different real payouts. Specifically, the authors find that risk aversion alone does not sufficiently describe individuals’ behavior, but rather they also find that individuals have a tendency to weigh outcomes differently and demonstrate aversion to potential losses. Using gender-disaggregated experimental data, the authors demonstrate that women are both significantly more risk averse and loss averse than men. Contrary to some previous findings in different contexts, Ward and Singh find no significant evidence of ambiguity aversion.

Coupling these behavioral parameters with a discrete choice experiment designed to study preferences for (DT) rice, they observe that farmers’ risk and loss aversion interact with their perceptions about the potential risks and losses associated with the new seeds. They observe that both risk aversion and loss aversion significantly increase the probability that farmers will choose the newer seeds: Farmers were more likely to experiment with new seeds that provided some form of yield benefit, whether it was a reduction in variability or protection against low-probability, high-impact extreme droughts. The role of risk and ambiguity preferences seems straightforward when it comes to a technology like DT rice, since the technology yields benefits specifically targeted to farmers with value functions, sensitive risks and potential losses. Considerable scope remains to explore the role of risk and ambiguity preferences on other agricultural technologies, especially ones in which the technology is less embodied in the physical product.

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WHAT’s in a Name?

Women's focus group on Odisha, India
Women's focus group in Odisha, India

Land titling, gender, and food security in West Bengal, India

(Cross-posted from the IFPRI website written by Rebecca Sullivan)

In West Bengal, nearly 40 percent of children under the age of five are underweight, despite the country’s strong economic gains in recent years. This paradox indicates that food insecurity continues to pose major challenges for India’s state and national governments.

One key to solving the food security puzzle lies in land ownership and titling. Land ownership provides incentives to farmers to invest in agricultural practices and technologies that can increase productivity over the long term. What’s more, land titling among women has been shown to promote greater decisionmaking power among these women within their respective households. In their recent discussion paper, Can Government-Allocated Land Contribute to Food Security? Intrahousehold Analysis of West Bengal’s Microplot Allocation Program, former IFPRI research fellow Amber Peterman and colleagues examined a land allocation and registration program in West Bengal and explored the impacts of the program on food security throughout the state.

As a means of taking on the existing food security challenge, state governments have invested in programs such as Nijo Griha, Nijo Bhumi (NGNB), which parcels out small tracts of homestead land, purchased and titled by the government, to landless families. A hallmark of this program is that land titles (pattas) are to be issued in the woman’s name or jointly for both the man or woman heads of household.

IFPRI teamed up with Landesa, a nongovernmental organization that works on land issues that affect the poor, to evaluate the NGNB program and the effect it has had on food security among its participants. According to the authors, “Strengthening women’s rights to land can improve their ability to exercise control over those plots, can enhance women’s tenure security, and can strengthen their position within their households, give them the power to influence how resources are allocated, what is produced, and who consumes what.”

Collecting both qualitative and quantitative data through a series of household interviews and surveys between 2010 and 2012, the researchers zeroed in on four intermediate food security outcomes: perceptions of tenure security, use of credit for agricultural production, investments in agricultural production, and women’s participation in decisionmaking.

While the researchers did not uncover any substantial impacts of the program on current food security indicators, NGNB did indeed have a measurable impact on food security in the intermediate term. They also noted that, as the size of the plot of land grew, so did the following observed/perceived benefits. When NGNB-participating households were compared to non-participating households:

  • Participants felt more secure in their land tenure, encouraging productive investments in agriculture, such as the purchase of fertilizers, pesticides, seeds, and rental of machines and tools;
  • Because they felt more secure in their land ownership, these households were more willing to take out loans and access credit as a means of covering the cost of these investments;
  • Women on NGNB plots felt they had more control over the land and felt less likely to lose their land;
  • Women were more likely to have a voice in household decisions regarding food and agriculture; and
  • Women’s names on the land titles correlated with perceptions of improved tenure security and decisionmaking power within the household.

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Are farmers in India willing to pay for drought tolerant rice?

Bhojpur District, Bihar, India. Source: Vartika Singh/IFPRI (Flickr)
Bhojpur District, Bihar, India. Source: Vartika Singh/IFPRI (Flickr)

IFPRI researchers Patrick Ward and David Spielman presented their recent study at USAID webinar on February 26, 2014. The authors scans farmers’ willingness to pay for drought tolerant rice in three drought-prone districts in rural Bihar, India. Their findings shed light on how the gains from such technologies might be distributed among farmers, and have implications for future public and private sector R&D investments in drought tolerant technologies.


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