Resources Research

Making local sense of food, urban growth, population and energy

What rural India does and doesn’t eat

with 3 comments

How much cereals (rice, wheat, millet, sorghum) and pulses do rural Indians consume in a month? In general, not anywhere near how much they should.

How much cereals (rice, wheat, millet, sorghum) and pulses do rural Indians consume in a month? In general, not anywhere near how much they should.

The circles in this chart represent the rural population of 20 of India’s largest states by population. The National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) divides the rural (and also the urban) population of each state into tenths (they call them ‘deciles’), and the NSS surveys on consumption expenditure tell us how much each decile in each state spends, for example between Rs 800 and Rs 950 a month.

I made this chart using data from the NSS report, ‘Level and Pattern of Consumer Expenditure’ (the 66th Round, which surveyed the population between 2009 July and 2010 June). With 20 states and ten categories each, I had 200 readings to plot, examining the consumption in quantities for cereals and pulses.

Depending on the population of the state, some of those circles represent 3-5 million people! Now here is the grim finding. Of these, 72 do not meet even 75% of the minimum cereals requirement (about 10.4 kg) a month, and 106 do not meet even 50% of the minimum pulses requirement (about 0.6 kg) a month – these are the National Institute of Nutrition recommended dietary allowances. And 43 of these deciles are severely deficient in both.

How can the state explain the existence of these huge deficits in basic nutrition (see the coloured area of the chart, which includes tens of millions) while simultaneously chasing 'growth' as the means to remove those deficits?

How can the state explain the existence of these huge deficits in basic nutrition (see the coloured area of the chart, which includes tens of millions) while simultaneously chasing ‘growth’ as the means to remove those deficits?

For the last week, there has been a great deal of comment and discussion about how the increase in expenditure – especially in rural India – is ‘evidence’ of increasing incomes, of widening prosperity and a general ‘lifting out of poverty’. It is misleading because neither the central government nor its supporters (there are many supporting views to be found in the media) has pointed out that an increase in expenditure will of course take place given the rise in the price of food and fuel.

Comparing what the NSS has surveyed in 2009-10 with its 2004-05 survey, in some areas of expenditure the rupee rise is 300%-400% (such as for the eggs fish and meat, fresh fruit and beverages categories) and it will be useful to extract the quantities behind these increases in expenditure (I will get around to doing this as soon as possible).

In any case, the quantities consumed for cereals and pulses have actually declined for rural and urban citizens. While the proportion of expense, out of total food expense (all-India figures for rural populations), on pulses and on milk (and milk products) has remained roughly the same – 5.6% to 5.2% and 15.3% to 15.2% – the proportion spent on cereals has dropped from 32.7% to 20.2%.

I think this an extremely significant change that can be read together with the two big increases in proportion of spending – on egg fish and meat from 6% to 9% and on beverages from 8.2% to 15%. In the NSS definition, beverages also includes purchased meals and processed food, and it is this conversion of primary cereals (including coarse cereals) and pulses to processed foods that I see as an important factor behind the biggest change in the proportions spent on food in recent years.

3 Responses

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  1. I’m sure this makes very little difference, but does the NSS take account of people who eat the crops they grow, without spending on food?

    Jeremy Cherfas

    July 30, 2013 at 23:12

    • Dear Jeremy, thanks for the question which is most pertinent. Let’s see what the NSS tells us about its methods: “for articles of food and fuel, household consumption is measured by the quantity of the article actually used by the household during the reference period, irrespective of the expenditure incurred on it”. The NSSO also says: “The consumption may be out of (a) purchases made in cash or credit during the reference period or earlier; (b) home-grown stock; (c) receipts in exchange of goods and services; (d) any other receipt like gift, charity, borrowing and (e) free collection. Home produce is evaluated at the ex-farm or ex-factory rate.”
      From an earlier NSS report (mid-2000s) we get some idea of how much home consumption is from the household’s own sources if it is a farming household. About 62% of the milk consumed in rural India (but remember this is an all-India average and there are large regional differences which, in urban areas, are tending to me more and more homogenous), about 40% for wheat, 30% for rice, and between 11% and 18% for common pulse varieties. Although this sounds like some comfort, it is scarcely so, and that is because the very worrying quantities measured by NSS include this ‘home consumption’. So we can only guess at the sort of difficult decisions made by households about how much of their produce to take to market, how much to keep.
      What I am more curious about from reading NSS carefully is: how to estimate the quantities and values of bought meals. NSS says that “to avoid double counting, cooked meals received as perquisites from employer household or as gift or charity are not recorded in the recipient household”. This may not be, as the econometricians like to say, statistically significant (though it is vital for the lowest deciles both rural and urban). NSS does record what it calls “cooked meals purchased from the market for consumption” but I think the NSS, as admirably competent as it already is, will have to work out how to record this reliably, especially as with growing urban populations a much larger proportion of cooked meals are bought (near the workplace, en route and so on). Often these are informal arrangements that satisfy the demands of cost, ethnic taste and quality (a group of housewives for example, their clients gathered only through community networking). Regards, Rahul

      makanaka

      August 1, 2013 at 09:19

  2. […] how much of pulses and cereals each tenth of the population eats each month. I urge you to go and read the full post for the […]

    What’s eating India?

    July 30, 2013 at 23:20


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