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Tags: , , , , , , | Category: Agriculture, Community development, Farmers, Nutrition, Social Problem

Cause of declining nutritional quality in India: is it biased Green Revolution?


Malnutrition affecting one in five Indians

A child from Pojh, Bihar ( Prabhat field of operation)

45 percent of all children under age three in India are underweight – a higher average prevalence than in sub-Saharan Africa (UNISEF)

Despite vast improvements in the country’s economy, under-nutrition remains a challenge in India. While real incomes and real wages have increased, there has been an offsetting reduction in calorie requirements. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) survey of 2006 found that 45 percent of all children under age three were underweight – a higher average prevalence than in sub-Saharan Africa ( Remember that green revolution has not touched sub-Saharan Africa while India is one of the big success story of green revolution. In several Indian states such as Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, under-nutrition levels have increased since the previous survey of 1999. Average per capita calorie intake is declining, as is the intake of many other nutrients; indeed fats are the only major nutrient group whose per capita consumption is unambiguously increasing. Today, more than three quarters of the population live in households whose per capita calorie consumption is less than 2,100 in urban areas and 2,400 in rural areas – numbers that are often cited as “minimum requirements” in India (UN recommends 2350 calories per day). A related concern is that anthropometric indicators of nutrition in India, for both adults and children, are among the worst in the world. Furthermore, the improvement of these measures of nutrition appears to be slow relative to what might be expected in the light of international experience and of India’s recent high rates of economic growth. Indeed, according to the National Family Health Survey, the proportion of underweight children remained virtually unchanged between 1998-99 and 2005-06 (from 47 to 46 percent for the age group of 0-3 years).

Various arguments have been given for declining nutrition level in India. One of the leading hypothesis is high price rise of some of the critical food elements. For example price of pulses (main source of protein in Indian diet) has increased much more than average price increase of food commodities. This is due to lower rate of production growth. The aggregate annual growth rate of pulses has increased by 1.4% over the last two decades and the population rose by 1.8%. This in turn has resulted in the decline of the per capita availability of pulses from 16 kg a year to only 12.7 kg. This Other arguments like declining levels of physical activity and possibly also to various improvements in the health environment (Deaton and Dreze, 2008) have not been validated. Other reason can be exclusion of pulses in food rationing. Historically Indian has always neglected pulses as a part of food rationing. However in past pulses were produced sufficiently to fulfil the dietary need of population.

Biased green revolution?

Yellow peas add my Ministry of Consumer Affair. Yellow Peas are mostly imported from Canada

Yellow peas add my Ministry of Consumer Affair. Government is looking for cheap substitute. Yellow Peas are mostly imported from Canada

The Green Revolution is term used for new developments in the field of agriculture during previous decades contain the makings of a new revolution (read more about Green revolution in my blog “Green revolution and sustainable agriculture”).  The story of wheat was main success story of Green revolution but later it was replicated for rice in Asia. International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) established in Philippines with the help of Ford and Rockefeller Foundations played major role in high yielding rice varietal research. World Cereal production more than doubled between the years 1961 – 1985 mainly due to increase in production in developing nations which was mainly contributed by higher yield of of rice, maize, and wheat during that period.  In India, during 1950-51 the total land under wheat cultivation was 9.75 million hectares, production 6.46 million tonnes and productivity 663 kg per hectare, however these figures improved over the years due to adoption of high yielding varieties. Productivity climbed to 851 kg per ha in 1960-61 reaching 2281 kg per ha in 1990-91 and by 2007-08 soared to 2785 kg per ha with a production of 78.40 million tonnes and total land under wheat cultivation at 28.15 million ha. Wheat production showed an 843 percent increase between 1950 and 1992. Most of this greater production was the result of an increase in yields that increased almost 3.5 times.

Similarly in case of rice whose total land under cultivation was 30.81 million ha in 1950-51 with production at 20.58 million tonnes and yield at 668 kg per ha. With the use of HYV seeds, productivity rose to 1013 by 1960, 1336 in 1980’s and 1740’s in 1990’s and 2203 by 2007-08 with total area under cultivation rising to 43.77 million ha and total production at 96.43 million tonnes.  Since 1950 the increase in rice production has been more than 350 percent. Most of this increase was the result of an increase in yields; the number of hectares increased only 40 percent during this period. Yields increased from 1,336 kilograms per hectare in FY 1980 to 1,751 kilograms per hectare in FY 1990. The per-hectare yield increased more than 262 percent between 1950 and 1992.

Lentil Mill in Barbigha - a small nondescriptive town of Bihar. Potential area of pulse production but largely negelected

Lentil Mill in Barbigha - a small nondescript town of Bihar. Potential area of pulse production are largely neglected

The green revolution bypassed the pulses. Pulses sector on the other hand has lagged behind on all counts. The acreage of pulses was 19.09 million ha in 1950-51 with production at 8.51 million and yield at 441 kg per ha. In 1966-67, total area under pulse cultivation marginally rose to 22.12 but productivity fell to 377 kg/ha. By 1979-80, yield was 385 kg/ha although total area under pulse cultivation rose to 22.26 million ha and production marginally rose to 8.57 million tonnes. By mid-90’s, the productivity climbed up to 610 kg but total area under pulse cultivation remained more or less same at 23.03 and latest available figures for 2007-08 shows total area under pulse cultivation at 23.86 million ha, production at 15.12 million ha and productivity at 638. The aggregate annual growth rate of pulses has increased by 1.4% over the last two decades and the population rose by 1.8%. This in turn has resulted in the decline of the per capita availability of pulses from 16 kg a year to only 12.7 kg.

Public Distribution System without pulses

Food rationing system, the public distribution system (PDS) has played some vital role in attaining higher levels of the household food security. However it has played little role in improving the nutrition level in general. All through the ups and downs of Indian agriculture, PDS was continued as a deliberate social policy of the government with the objectives of providing essential food item (mainly cereals) and other essential items to vulnerable sections of the society at subsidised prices. It also played role of moderating open market prices of cereals, the distribution of which constitutes a fairly big share of the total marketable surplus; and to attempt socialisation in the matter of distribution of essential commodities. The PDS seeks to provide to the beneficiaries two cereals, rice and wheat and four essential commodities (sugar, vegetable oil, and kerosene oil for cooking and light). Pulses one of the main protein source are not part of PDS.

Market Factor

Analysis of market data of wholesale price of pulses show that pulses price in the Indian markets enjoy annual price gains over the study period with the average annual gain being 16.3%. The largest annual price increases are Koppal Cowpea, Jhunjhunu Cowpea, Hazaribagh Bengalgram dal, and Chaibasa Greengram dal at 48.8%, 45.5%, 43% and 40.1% respectively. The most volatile pulse is Gadag Cowpea at 191% followed by Koppal Cowpea at 114.9%, Hazaribagh Bengalgram at 75.4%, Chaibasa Greengram dal at 62.5% and Hazaribagh Bengalgram dal at 58.2%. Volatility of 14% for Bhagalpur Arhar is the least volatile while Bhagalpur Masurdal has the second lowest volatility of 17.8%. On an average the annual volatility of all the combination is 46%. (price data was downloaded from the Agricultural Marketing Information System Network (AGMARKNET) ). Price volatility of pulses adversely affect its annual balance intake by poor people.

The shortage in the total production of the pulses is only 0.1 million tonne in 2007 and 2009. In 2007 the production was 14.76 million tonne. This year, the pulse production in India has gone down to 14.66 million tonne. But this little fluctuation in the rate of the production has been able to set the pulse prices high by minimum of 18% for chana in only about three months. Arhar, which is consumed in larger amounts in both rural and urban India, has seen an increase of 53% in its price during the same period in the markets of Delhi.

The reason behind this problem is that the consumption of the lentil is very high in India and does not leave scope for its buffering for the year when production goes down, even marginally. The farmers also cannot do much about the price as futures trading in pulses in India is not allowed. Further average economic growth of 6% in the past 10 years alone leading to change in food habits of middle class Indians. Now, instead of rice and wheat, the middle class population is mostly consuming pulses for a more balanced diet. This has also worsen the situation for poor.

Recently, M S Swaminathan, architecture of green revolution in India and currently Member of Parliament in a speech in Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Indian Parliament) pointed out that “There are new technologies which can help enhance the yield of pulses and oilseeds by 200 to 300 percent. The country’s imports of pulses are increasing , while there is a great scope to produce in the rain fed areas the pulses and oilseeds we need.” However till now we have failed to bring green revolution in pulse production.

Green revolution achieved in filling the hungry stomach but it failed to improve nutrition quality which severely affected quality of life and health expenditure in developing and underdeveloped countries.


Deaton, Angus and Drèze, Jean; (2008) Nutrition In India: Facts And Interpretations, Working papers 170, Centre for Development Economics, Delhi School of Economics


Indian experience on household food and nutrition security (

Nutrition data (

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1 comment to Cause of declining nutritional quality in India: is it biased Green Revolution?

  • pottu

    In last nine months food price have risen by 40 to 80% and maximum flactuation have been in pluses… A good analysis of malnutrition in India.