How Do Droughts Impact Household Food Consumption and Nutritional Intake? A Study of Rural India
This paper investigates the impacts of droughts on food expenditure and macronutrient consumption among rural Indian households. To isolate causal effects, I exploit random year-to-year variation in a dry shock, defined as the absolute deviation of rainfall below its long-run mean. I find that the dry shock has a statistically significant and negative effect on household nutrition. For a median dry shock, I estimate that households spend 1 percent less per capita per month on food and consume up to 1.4 percent fewer calories, protein, and fat. Disaggregating the effects by food group, I demonstrate that household diets become less balanced as a result of droughts: the dry shock leads households to rely primarily on cereals and to purchase less vegetables, fruits, pulses, and animal-sourced foods. Hence, droughts negatively impact not only the quantity but also the quality of rural household diets. Finally, I explore the potential channels for these effects. I argue that rather than higher food prices, a decline in household market and non-market income is the primary reason for lower household food consumption and nutrition during droughts. Taken together, these findings suggest that attaining food security amid extreme weather conditions requires an integrated approach that focuses on food not only for survival but also for leading a healthy and active life.