What rural India does and doesn’t eat
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.
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.