If India has to contain high levels of hunger and poverty in the country, it should shift its focus from food security to nutrition security, as done by Thailand and Bangladesh, said Shenggen Fan, Director General of the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
“India has two good examples to follow from its neighbourhood: Thailand and Bangladesh. Both these countries have done exceedingly well in reducing malnutrition and poverty in their countries,” said Fan.
“Thailand, for instance, has been focussing on nutrition-based poverty reduction for decades unlike many countries. While most countries turned their attention to income generation to reduce poverty, Thailand, through community participation, put its focus on nutrition, sanitation and health to bring down poverty levels,” said Fan, who was here last week to participate in IFPRI’s annual board meeting.
“Even though Thailand went through a lot of political changes in the last two decades, the Thai society used knowledge produced by research institutions and universities, to push the government to design good policies,” the IFPRI chief told BusinessLine .
Cases of stunting
Today, stunting — the cumulative growth deficit due to undernourishment — in Thailand is just 7-8 per cent whereas in India, it is nearly 38 per cent.
“China’s per capita income is far better than Thailand’s, but Thailand is doing better than China on the nutrition front,” said Fan, who is originally from China.
Similiarly, Bangladesh has done a pretty good job in managing hunger and malnutrition. “It achieved this by focussing on girls’ education, sanitation and moving its diet away from rice to fish, fruits and vegetables,” he said, adding that while countries like India continue to produce rice and wheat, focus should be given to produce more fruits, vegetable and animal products.
India’s double burden
Fan said that, ironically, India is suffering from the double burden of malnutrition, as well as over nutrition.
On one hand, there is hunger and malnutrition and, on the other, an increase in the number of obese people.
“This double burden needs a double-duty solution, which is focussing on a quality diet. While the undernourished should get a diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, pulses, and animal products, obese people should cut down their sugar and fat consumption,” he said.
Unfortunately, the prices of these nutritious foods are increasing, said Fan.
As for the sudden upturn in the number of hungry people in the world, he said that increasing conflicts in African and Asian countries, along with climate change have raised the incidence of hunger.
“Since 2015, the number of hungry people in the world has increased, and today there are about 821 million people suffering from hunger,” said Fan, and added that the number of hungry people on the planet has slumped to 795 million in 2014.
“After years of tremendous global progress in reducing hunger and malnutrition, it is painfully clear that our current pace is not sufficient to end hunger by 2030,” he said.
India has achieved tremendous progress in reducing hunger, but it still has the largest number of empty stomachs in the world, he said.