Skip to main content

Cornell University

Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition

COVID-19 and Women’s Nutrition Security: Panel Data Evidence from Rural India


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, India implemented a stringent nationwide lockdown. Although food value chains and allied activities were exempted from the lockdown, there were widespread disruptions in food access and availability. Using two-panel datasets, we distinguish the pandemic’s impact on non-staples versus staples in relation to household food availability and women’s diet diversity at the national, state, and district levels in four economically backward districts of Uttar Pradesh (Maharajganj), Bihar (Munger), and Odisha (Kandhamal and Kalahandi). Both the primary and secondary data indicate a decline in household food expenditures and women’s dietary diversity in May 2020 compared to May 2019, particularly for non-staples like meats, eggs, vegetables and fruits. This occurred despite special PDS, direct benefit transfer, and ration from aanganwadis rations reaching 80%, 50%, and 30% of surveyed households, respectively. While national and state-level expenditures recovered to the pre-lockdown levels by June 2020, the district-level expenditures did not recover. Our findings contribute to the growing body of evidence of women’s disproportionate vulnerability to economic shocks, the impact of a staple grain focused safety net program, and restricted markets on the access and availability of diverse nutritious foods. This paper makes a case for policy reforms towards PDS diversification to include nutrition-rich foods and market reforms to remove supply-side bottlenecks and expansion of direct benefit transfers for healthy food access. We also highlight the importance of gender-responsive safety nets and their increased coverage for improving intrahousehold nutritional disadvantages.

Read the article