Stepping out of the shadow of India’s malnutrition
Mains: G.S. II and III Polity & Governance, Social Justice and Economy related issues Context
- India has been ranked 94 on the 2020 Global Hunger Index (GHI), lower than neighbours like Bangladesh and Pakistan.
- Two recent reports — the annual report on “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020” by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations and the 2020 Hunger report, “Better Nutrition, Better Tomorrow” by the Bread for the World Institute – document staggering facts about Indian food insecurity and malnutrition.
- Using two globally recognised indicators, namely, the Prevalence of Undernourishment (PoU) and the Prevalence of Moderate or Severe Food Insecurity (PMSFI), these two reports indicate India to be one of the most food-insecure countries, with the highest rates of stunting and wasting among other South Asian countries.
- The PoU measures the percentage of people who are consuming insufficient calories than their required minimum dietary energy requirement.
- While the PMSFI identifies the percentage of people who live in households that are severely or moderately food insecure.
- If going by the official estimates available till 2011-12, the poverty has been reduced substantially. However, malnutrition has not declined as much as the decline has occurred in terms of poverty.
- The reduction is found to be much lower than in neighbouring China, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.
- Except China, these are countries which had somewhat similar levels of PoU in and around the year 2000.
- In terms of percentages, the PoU has declined 24.7% between 2001 and 2018 for India; other data are China (76.4%), Nepal (74%), Pakistan (42%), Afghanistan (37.4%) and Bangladesh (18.9%). It must be noted that the decline in China is way higher than that of India, even though it had started with lower levels of PoU in 2000.
- Afghanistan (47.8%) that started with a higher base than India (18.6%) had experienced higher rates of decline. Of note is the fact that, economically, while Afghanistan is relatively much poorer and has gone through several prolonged conflicts in last two decades, it has been more successful in reducing malnutrition than India.
- Therefore, irrespective of the base level of PoU, most of these countries have done better than India on this dimension.
- These findings also get substantiated through Food Insecurity Experience Scale survey, which covers almost 90% of the world’s population. It is not allowed to be conducted in India, direct estimates are not available.
- Instead, three-year moving average figures are given separately for the whole of South Asia and South Asia, excluding India.
- Our estimates indicate that between 2014-16, about 29.1% of the total population was food insecure, which rose up to 32.9% in 2017-19. In terms of absolute number, about 375 million of the total population was moderately or severely food insecure in 2014, which went to about 450 million in 2019.
- Despite the National Food Security Act – 2013 ensuring every citizen “access to adequate quantity of quality food at affordable prices”, two crucial elements that still got left out are the non-inclusion of nutritious food items such as pulses and exclusion of potential beneficiaries.
- Though States have temporarily expanded their coverage in the wake of the crisis, the problem of malnutrition is likely to deepen in the coming years with rising unemployment and the deep economic slump.
- Hence, a major shift in policy has to encompass the immediate universalisation of the Public Distribution System which should definitely not be temporary in nature, along with the distribution of quality food items and innovative interventions such as the setting up of community kitchens among other things.
- This year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the United Nations World Food Programme, which bring some of the focus back on these pressing issues of undernourishment and hunger in India.
Pathways to achieve the malnutrition free India by 2030
- Ending all forms of malnutrition by 2030 is also the target of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG-2) of Zero Hunger.
- Mothers’ education, particularly higher education, has the strongest inverse association with under-nutrition. Therefore, programmes that promote women’s higher education such as liberal scholarships for women need to be accorded a much higher priority.
- We should leverage agricultural policies and programmes to be more “nutrition-sensitive” and reinforcing diet diversification towards a nutrient-rich diet. Food-based safety nets in India are biased in favour of staples: rice and wheat. They need to provide a more diversified food basket, including coarse grains, millets, pulses and bio-fortified staples.
Address the severity of the problem of malnutrition in India and suggest the measures to achieve the malnutrition free India by 2030.