Status of Hunger in India
“About 900 million men, women and children around the world are malnourished. Nearly two billion suffer from iron deficiency and anemia particularly women, pregnant women.” – M S Swaminathan, a Parliament member and agriculturist, known as the father of India’s “Green Revolution” for introducing high-yielding crop varieties to farmers
“Estimates of general undernourishment – what is sometimes called protein-energy malnutrition – are nearly twice as high in India as in Sub-Saharan Africa.” – Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize Winner
Despite the recent high economic growth and its aspirations for superpower status, India alone accounts for 54% of all malnutrition-related child deaths. The sheer scale and scope of India’s malnutrition problem positions the subcontinent as ground zero in the fight to end child deaths from acute malnutrition.
According to the United Nations, malnutrition is more common in India than in sub-Saharan Africa. UNICEF estimates that in India, one in every three children is malnourished, and nearly half of all childhood deaths are attributed to malnutrition. UNICEF studies reveal maximum under-nutrition in the five Indian states: Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Orissa.
The problem centers not necessarily on how much people eat, but on what they eat. Millions in India rely on rice and wheat to fill their stomachs, but those staple foods lack crucial vitamins and minerals. Overcoming this micronutrient deficiency, called “hidden hunger”, should be given high priority because enough calories alone won’t help.
To ensure that no starvation death takes place and people are saved from malnutrition as far as possible, the Supreme Court on May 14, 2011 directed the Centre to release five million tons of food grains immediately for distribution in 150 most poverty-stricken districts or other poorer segments in the country.
The Global Food Security Index 2012
The Global Food Security Index considers the key issues of affordability, availability, and quality across a set of 105 countries. The index is constructed from 25 unique indicators, that measures these drivers of food security across both developing and developed countries. Parameters defining these three key factors are:
● Food consumption as a share of household expenditure
● Proportion of population under global poverty line
● Gross domestic product per capita
● Agricultural import tariffs
● Presence of food safety net programs
● Access to farmer financing
● Sufficiency of supply
● Public expenditure on agricultural R&D
● Agricultural infrastructure
● Volatility of agricultural production
● Political instability
Quality and safety
● Diet diversification
● Nutritional standards
● Micronutrient availability
● Protein quality
● Food safety
India has been ranked 66 in the list of 105 countries – much lower than neighboring China (ranked 39) and somewhat lower than Sri Lanka (62) – in the 2012 Global Food Security Index released by the American chemical company DuPont. The Index has been developed by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and is sponsored by DuPont. Founded in 1946 as an in-house research unit for The Economist newspaper, the Economist Intelligence Unit is part of the Economist Group, which is the leading source of analysis on international business and world affairs.
With India expected to become the most populous country in the world by 2025, feeding the population is likely to be one of the serious challenges that the country will face in the coming decades. India scores somewhat higher in the category of ‘availability’ than in the other two ‘affordability’ and ‘quality and safety’ categories.
In comparison, India is better off than Pakistan (75) and Bangladesh (81), according to the index calculations. High level of poverty, lower income, less public spending on farm research, poor infrastructure, sluggish supply of quality protein are some of the key challenges that India needs to address, it noted. On the positive side, however, the presence of food safety net programs and access to farm credit has helped the country achieve some level of food security.
According to EIU regional Director Pratiba Thaker, “Apart from the challenges of availability and accessibility as reflected in chronic household food insecurity, India also faces a nutrition challenge.
Hunger and Climate Change
Climate change is a multiplier of existing factors causing food insecurity, hunger and under-nutrition, and affects the poorest of the poor most directly. It is estimated that more than 84 percent of natural disasters is climate related, and Asia is the global ground zero for natural catastrophes.
Current projections indicate that unless a concerted effort is made to build resilience among vulnerable communities, 20 percent more people will be at risk of hunger by 2050 due to the changing climate.
You may also like to read a detailed National Food Security Bill 2013 Report