The World Food Day will be celebrated on October 16. Logistics management of food movements is one of the biggest challenges faced by the world in its quest for food security. The importance of the National Logistics Policy unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month should be understood in this context.
The overarching goal of the National Logistics Policy (NLP) is to promote seamless movement of goods across the country and to increase the competitiveness of Indian goods in the domestic and global markets. It looks to reduce losses during the shipment of perishable goods by increasing the effectiveness of warehouses and cold chain facilities. The policy will increase efficiency in production and distribution, and will encourage value addition. It needs to be seen if it will enhance the income of farmers and boost food security in India.
Why a National Logistics Policy
The food logistics sector in India covers a combination of formal and informal players. The integration of these players through the implementation of NLP is expected to create new employment opportunities and reduce the operational costs of multiple stakeholders. As part of an all-encompassing strategy to ensure food security, attention should be placed on improving food storage and transportation.
Each of the components of the comprehensive approach should be emphasized for better availability of food items at reasonable prices. Thus, developing a comprehensive understanding of food logistics is essential for identifying the challenges and assessing their impact on food security. Subsequently, a platform can be established to offer ideas, identify what works and what doesn’t, and to suggest improvements.
In the last few years, the government and other stakeholders have made significant progress towards building a holistic logistic infrastructure that links producers with consumers. With regard to food, the government’s policies and assistance initiatives have helped the country’s transition from a food-deficient, import-dependent nation to one that is self-sufficient in production and a source of grain exports. It is now supported by digital infrastructure for seamless delivery of food items.
Towards a holistic policy intervention
The recent strengthening of agri-produce transportation infrastructure is an example of successful policy intervention. The Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture, Pradhan Mantri Kisan Sampada Yojna, Mega Food Park Scheme, Agriculture Infrastructure Fund, One District One Product, and Krishi Udan are some other initiatives worth mentioning.
The implementation of the Kisan Rail project and the establishment of seamless cold supply chains for perishables in public-private partnership are expected to improve India’s food logistics significantly. The aim of these initiatives is to reduce the loss of agricultural output during production stage which is estimated to be 16% of the total farm output.
The transportation of agricultural products has improved India’s food logistics in recent years. It provided solution to the lack of access to food. While agricultural products can be carried by various means, the solution to the problem of access lies in creating a trustworthy, affordable, functional, and secure last-mile delivery.
Therefore, the NLP is to be implemented in tandem with other initiatives such as the Prime Minister’s Gati Shakti National Master Plan. The NLP’s provision for establishing cold chain units and warehousing facilities along identified routes is meant to solve the last-mile connectivity challenges.
It is clear that improved food logistics contributes to enhanced food security. The holistic development of food value chains is an essential requirement for foolproof food security. People in underdeveloped regions can improve their standard of living just by gaining better access to food and key services. Therefore, for improving local-level food security, the food value chain should consider food access, food safety, and nutrition in addition to food production and food processing to reduce food waste.
That is possible by the presence of multi-modal transportation mix along identified routes which are to be optimally utilised by farmers/ traders to increase the selling opportunities of their produce. A balance between overcrowded urban metro areas and semi-urban regional centres could be achieved through effective market linkages which are, in turn, dependent on the effectiveness of logistics.
While the PM Gati Shakti National Master Plan will address the imperative of integrated infrastructure and network planning, the National Logistics Policy will complement it by ensuring efficiency in our domestic and external value chains. Through the implementation of this Plan and Policy, the government should have specific attention towards ensuring seamless food delivery to the masses at reasonable prices. That will be a true test of practicing the essence of the Antyodaya philosophy.
(Bipul Chatterjee is Executive Director and Suvayan Neogi Assistant Policy Analyst at CUTS International, a global public policy think tank on trade, regulation and governance.)