Food security from free collection of foods evidence from India

Despite recognition of the role of free collection of foods in forwarding nutritional security, there is only limited systematic research on its importance and role. This paper provides the first estimates for India, of the extent to which households depend on free collection of foods and examines its association with dietary adequacy and quality. In 2011-12 around 5.8% of all Indian households collected foods free, with some households collecting more than ten distinct food types in a month. For these households, free collection comprised, on average, 4.5% of the total value of food consumption, going upto 15% for a tenth of them. Using a pooled cross-section from 2009-10 and 2011-12 of nationally representative household level consumption data that identifies the source of food, this paper uses an instrumental variable approach to estimate the association between free collection of foods and dietary adequacy and quality. The paper finds that the probabiity of having more than two meals increases when households access free foods and there is robust evidence of higher dietary diversity (77% to four-fold), driven by specific food groups such as vegetables, meats, fish and green leafy vegetables. The findings of this paper point to a need to mainstream discussions of sources of food other than farm, market and state, recognizing explicitly the role of free collection in improving dietary adequacy and quality.

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