Title: COVID-19 and women's nutrition security: panel data evidence from rural India
Discussant: Mahendra Dev

We conducted the 13th Consumer Pyramids Research Seminar on 18 August 2021 at 06.30PM IST.

Event Summary

Prof. Soumya Gupta presented the results of a study by Tata Cornell Institute (TCI) researchers on the impact of the pandemic on women’s nutritional security. The presentation lasted nearly an hour and was attended by an audience of over 170 individuals. Among the outcomes of interest were women’s empowerment in agriculture, diet diversity, and specific micronutrient deficiencies in women. The researchers were able to establish a significant, negative relation between women’s empowerment and their iron deficiency status.

The researchers found market integration to be more important for diet diversity than production diversity. They discussed markets’ central role as a source of diverse, nutritious foods for rural communities, which were adversely affected with the COVID-19 lockdowns. The government’s response of a cereal-centric expansion through PDS shifted consumption to low-quality diets, leading to a decline in women’s diet diversity.

The second study by TCI on the affordability of healthy food indicated that the cost of the EAT-Lancet diet exceeded India’s poverty line. The actual cost incurred on diets by households in the study was under one dollar, implying that individuals were unable to meet the recommended intake, particularly for non-staple food groups.

Prof. Soumya Gupta closed the presentation with a discussion on policy implications of the study, emphasizing the need for greater focus on nutrition, and adopting a gender-responsive lens for improving intra-household nutritional disadvantages.

Prof. Mahendra Dev, serving as the discussant, cautioned the researchers on the use of two different recall periods for expenditure data, and recommended looking at total expenditure, besides food expenditure. He suggested that researchers should broaden their policy recommendations to include fiscal, monetary, trade, and exchange rates policies, and concluded with a discussion on the status of Indian agriculture.

Prof. Gupta responded to the suggestions, and the session ended with a discussion between Prof. Dev, Prof. Pingali and Mahesh Vyas, CEO of CMIE, on CPHS survey data, and the need for better government data systems.

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