Title: Covid-19 Pandemic and Food Security in India: can authorities alleviate the disproportionate burden on the disadvantaged?
Discussant: Chandana Maitra

We conducted the 25th Consumer Pyramids Research Seminar on December 15th 2022 at 6:30 PM IST.

Event Summary:

Nidhi Kaicker (Dr BR Ambedkar University) and Aashi Gupta (Delhi School of Economics) presented their research on the COVID-19 pandemic and food security in India. Their work is co-authored by Raghav Gaiha (University of Pennsylvania). The researchers presented their published work on food expenditure share during the pandemic, along with extended study on dietary diversity.

The research presented was motivated by two stylized facts drawn from CPHS data. The first is that share of food expenditure out of total household expenditure increased during the first and second COVID-19 waves in India (April 2020 and May 2021). Secondly, household dietary diversity decreased during these time periods. The study aimed to investigate the role of income, prices, and various socio-economic household characteristics, in driving these trends. The researchers also introduce a novel measure of dietary diversity. They propose a method that captures the relative importance of items in the food consumption basket, rather than merely the number of different items.

Food expenditure share prior to and during the pandemic were studied by constructing food expenditure Engel curves. The researchers also employed Two Stage Least Squares regression on 8 Waves of CPHS consumption expenditure data. Food expenditure share and dietary diversity were regressed on income, household characteristics, food prices, and pandemic intensity.

The researchers found that food expenditure shares were higher in rural areas than in urban areas. Households with an elderly or female head, children-dominated households, and households with lower education levels were also found to have higher food expenditure shares. Additionally, lower caste and religious minority households were also found to be more food insecure during the pandemic. Dietary diversity was found to be lower in rural households than urban households. This gap was more pronounced during the pandemic. Interestingly, dietary diversity was found to be low among the poor and the very rich as well. The authors conclude that disadvantaged households seemed to face higher food insecurity as a consequence of pandemic-induced economic stressors, highlighting the need for targeted policy intervention.

Chandana Maitra (University of Sydney) served as discussant for the paper. Given the important health and economic implications of the study, she cautions against the use of food expenditure share as the sole proxy to food security. She encouraged the authors to explore and conduct robustness checks for other channels that could drive food expenditure and dietary diversity such as nutrition, health, occupation, and changes in household preferences. Maitra explored the scope in exploiting the panel nature of CPHS data and using more Waves of data for analysis. She also provided technical suggestions such as the use of a Fixed Effects strategy to account for time-invariant unobserved factors.

The session ended with a discussion between the authors, discussant, and Mahesh Vyas, on extending this research using CPHS health data, as well as sourcing granular food price data.

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