Can agricultural growth explain the reversal of a declining trend in per capita calorie consumption in India?

Conventional wisdom suggests that hunger and malnutrition should be eliminated by economic growth. There is enough evidence on the positive relationship between income growth poverty reduction and consumption expenditure. However, India has been presenting a paradoxical trend since 1970s; a decline in per capita calorie consumption even when economy was growing and per capita real incomes were increasing. For instance, although with fluctuations, India’s annual GDP growth increased from 5.5% in 1990 to 10.3% in 2010 and poverty declined from 45.3% in 1993 to 29.8% in 2009, suggesting a period of robust economy growth and poverty reduction. Paradoxically, per capita calorie consumption declined 5.2 % percent from 2146 in 1993 to 2034 in 2004-5 and a further decline of 1.17% to 2010 in 2009-10. This unexpected decline of per capita calorie consumption is often referred to as “calorie consumption puzzle” in India. However, examination of data from the household consumer expenditure surveys (HCES) conducted by the National Statistical Survey Office (NSSO) in 2011-12, shows a four percent increase in per capita calorie consumption to 2088 in 2011-12. This is the first time since 1970s per capita calorie consumption intake increases in India. This first time reversal raises questions such as, what are the drivers of this increase in per capita calorie consumption intake? and whether this increase in trend will endure in the future? In the available literature focusing on the calorie consumption puzzle in India, considerable attention has been given to explain the consumption puzzle and identify the factors responsible for the puzzle. Most of the available body of research on consumption puzzle in India can be categorized into two broad strands: coercive factors and non-coercive factors. Supporters of theory of coercive factors argue that general rural impoverishment is the cause of the puzzle while supporters of theory of non-coercive factors attribute it to factors such as food budget squeeze, declining subsistence consumption, and diversification of diets, urbanization, changes in occupational structures, declining energy requirements, and improvements in epidemiological environment. There is another strand of explanation which argues that calorie intake in India is not low or declining as reported in the literature, but it is the result of poor data collection and reporting. In contrast, much less is known about the role of agriculture, which provides livelihood for about 55% of India’s total work force, in causing the puzzle or in the reversal of the puzzle. Since 2004-05, India has witnessed unprecedental growth in agriculture, including livestock. To our knowledge, no previous studies has looked at the micro-and macro level effects of this improved agricultural growth on food security and nutrition. In this study, our objectives are three fold. First, identify the factors responsible for the calorie consumption puzzle in India. Second, examine the role of agriculture, if any, in solving the calorie consumption puzzle in rural areas. Third, examine whether the reported increase in calorie intake is due to the improvements in data collection implemented for the 2011-12 HCES survey. We find supporting evidence for our hypotheses.

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 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-04-26

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