Household- vs. national-scale food storage: Perspectives on food security from archaeology and contemporary India

Katherine A. Spielmann, Rimjhim Aggarwal

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

7 Scopus citations


In this chapter we explore the challenges to maintaining food security at the household level in developing countries in the contemporary world, with India as our case study. Following the World Food Summit of 1996, we define food security as existing when all people have access to sufficient quantities of nutritious and culturally appropriate food on a consistent basis. In seeking a new perspective, we emphasize the importance of framing food security as a complex decision problem, which involves tradeoffs at multiple levels across different scales (spatial, temporal, and jurisdictional). Our central argument is that addressing these multiple tradeoffs requires a portfolio of strategies, rather than a single grand strategy. In investigating what this portfolio of strategies should look like, we draw on insights from archaeology to put forth a long durée perspective on a robust set of strategies that have been used to maintain food security by diverse prehistoric societies. We use the term “long durée” to distinguish the multi-century to millennial scale of archaeological information from the “long term” in policy studies, which tends to refer to a few decades. We draw on the case of India for several reasons. First, being a large country with several agroecological regions and diverse cultures, India exemplifies the complexity of food security challenges at multiple levels (local, state/regional, and national). Second, with its long history of alternative regimes (pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial), each of which enacted different food security policies, the case of India presents a vast repository of experiences and lessons to learn from in thinking about future policy. Third, despite India's impressive economic performance in the past two decades, the country continues to struggle with the basic problem of feeding her people. A recent assessment report found India to be one of the fifty-seven countries that has failed to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goal target of halving the proportion of undernourished people by 2015 (FAO, IFAD, and WFP 2014). The report found that the number of undernourished people in India increased by five million in the past five years, with around 15 percent of the population currently classified as undernourished. In the face of this dismal situation, recent press reports about rotting of food held in central government food storage facilities led to a huge public outcry and calls for a fundamental rethinking of the current food policy in India (FAO et al. 2014).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Give and Take of Sustainability
Subtitle of host publicationArchaeological and Anthropological Perspectives on Tradeoffs
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages28
ISBN (Electronic)9781139939720
ISBN (Print)9781107078338
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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