Covid-19 Pandemic and Food Security in India

by Preetha Joseph

Food security plays an important role in household well-being. In a new study, Aashi Gupta (Delhi School of Economics), Nidhi Kaicker (BR Ambedkar University), and Raghav Gaiha (University of Pennsylvania) investigate trends in food expenditure across various socio-economic household characteristics during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The researchers base their work on Engel’s law, which states that poorer households have a higher share of food expenditure and vice versa. Households with a large food expenditure share are often considered to be more vulnerable and likely to shift to cheaper, lower quality food substitutes. Thus, share of food expenditure serves as a proxy for food security. The authors of this study identify a rise in the share of food expenditure of households during the two major lockdown months of April 2020 and May 2021. They find this to be true for households across all income groups. Building on this, the study analyses co-variates of food expenditure and dietary diversity of households across 8 Waves of CPHS.

The authors employed two stage least squares regression to investigate the role of income, food prices, pandemic intensity, and various household characteristics, in driving expenditure across different food categories. They use CPHS household groupings on education and age, as well as data on caste, religion and head of households, to study food expenditure across rural and urban India. The study finds that food expenditure is more elastic in rural households. Households with elderly or female household head and children-dominated households also reported greater food expenditure during the pandemic lockdowns. They also find greater elasticity in food expenditure in households belonging to religious minorities and lower caste groups. Dietary diversity also seemed to have decreased during the pandemic, especially in rural households.

Food insecurity can have adverse effects on public health and highlights key policy concerns regarding food supply chains as well. This study uncovers the impact of a large economic shock on food security in India and points to the need for greater preparedness for such shocks.

The authors will be presenting their work on December 15th 2022 at the 25th CPHS Research Seminar.

Their work will be discussed by Chandana Maitra (The University of Sydney)

The webinar is open to the public. Please register for the event here