COVID-19 is possessing an extraordinary challenge for India — both for infectious disease control and for maintaining food security and livelihoods. Implementing a lockdown in a country of India’s scale is socially, economically, institutionally, and politically very demanding and disproportionately affects the poor, daily wage earners, and other marginalized groups. As part of its response, India is adopting the world’s largest portfolio of food distribution and safety net programs to provide food to its poorest citizens.
Packaging has been defined as a socio-scientific discipline that operates in society to ensure the safe delivery of goods to the consumer of those products in the best possible condition in relation to their use. One of its types — food packaging is the enclosing of food to protect it from damage, contamination, spoilage, pest attacks, and tampering, during transport, storage, and retail sale. It is often labeled with information such as the amount of the contents, ingredients, nutritional content, cooking instructions (if relevant), and shelf life. It also needs to be designed and selected in such a manner that there are no adverse interactions between it and the food.
The budget for food subsidy is seen at ₹1.15 trillion in 2020–21. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the relief package Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package (PMGKP) which rightly builds on food rations, as well as cash transfers to overcome the issues faced because of the pandemic. It includes the doubling of foodgrain rations for an initial period of three months and the addition of pulses to the public distribution system (PDS).
While the voluntary organizations/individual volunteers or other support agencies are trying to reach out to such people with food and other essential commodities, but the quantity of food offered is sometimes not sufficient to sustain along with irregularity in distribution due to restricted movement, a rule which should be adhered, to prevent the spread of the infection. The challenges holding back the proper implementation could be:
- Given the stresses of the emergency, there is a high likelihood the program has both exclusion and inclusion errors.
- With commodities prices expected to rise, and the small amounts assigned to pulses in the relief package, ensuring access to adequate diets is problematic.
- India’s supply chain is facing problems gearing up to deal with the transportation, storage, and distribution of large volumes of food in short time frames during the lockdown to avoid spoilage and contamination. This is also impacting the quality of food.
- The extra grains being pumped into the system are affecting small farmers and businesses which may not help in the long run.
- Governments of all states should announce and ensure that people without ration cards could also get rations, etc.
As the present schemes don’t seem to be working effectively, in the coming days they should be used as a medium to communicate key messages about the pandemic including social distancing and other public health and safety measures. Knowing COVID-19 may be with us for a year or more the government needs a contingency plan focusing on how much, and for what length of time, the food system can continue to supply the social safety net in its current configuration. The lives and livelihoods of millions depend on it.
At Mitti Ke Rang, we started with a COVID-19 community support fundraising, as an emergency response to provide a safety net to families. This will help them survive in the lockdown period. We aim to directly support these families by providing a minimum wage, through transferring the same into their accounts or partner with local NGO, Organisation, Fellow, or a Volunteer and support them with groceries.
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