Food for thought

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Why food-rich India can’t tame hunger

India’s showing on this year’s Global Hunger Index is both ironic and tragic. The country is one of the largest producer of cereals, vegetables and fruits and it produces enough food other than pulses to provide adequate nutrition to all. Yet, India ranks a lowly 97 among 118 countries on 2016 GHI.

That is not to say India has not made progress in reducing proportion of people who are under-nourished or prevalence of wasting and stunting among children. India has improved its score on the GHI 2016 to 28.5, up 39 per cent since 1992 when the index read 46.4. However, even now over 184 million people or about 15.2 per cent of the population are undernourished according to the estimates of the GHI 2016 — and that means India has the largest number of hungry people.

Improved, but..

The proportion of under-nourished people has declined seven percentage points from 22.2 per cent in 1992 when India’s population was about 846 million, but the number of people who count as undernourished may not have declined at all due to the rise in total population. The GHI also notes that wasting and stunting among Indian children below the age of 5 has declined sharply — prevalence of wasting has declined from about 20 per cent in the early 1990s to about 15.1 per cent now and stunting has declined from 62 per cent to about 38.7 per cent during the same period.

India’s progress however pales when compared with the improvements made by several other poorer nations in Asia and Africa in their GHI score. For instance, Myanmar improved its GHI score by 61 per cent between 1992 and 2016 — the country had a poorer score than India in 1991. Myanmar’s GHI score was 55.8 in 1992 and it has improved to 22 in 2016. Ghana and Vietnam too count among countries that have done better than India on the GHI — both have recorded 65 per cent or more improvement during the same period.

Each of these countries improved their score by bringing down the proportion of undernourished population, prevalence of wasting and stunting among children under five years as well as by reducing under-five mortality rate. Myanmar, for instance, reduced proportion of under-nourished among its population from 62.7 per cent to 14.2 per cent from 1995 to 2016. Vietnam reduced it from 44.8 per cent to 11 per cent and Ghana from 36.9 per cent to an estimated 2.3 per cent.

Access problem

India too can lower the under-nourishment levels in the country by ensuring better access to nutritious food to the poor. It also need reducing post-harvest wastages of fruits and vegetables and making food security programmes more comprehensive. India’s post-harvest waste of vegetables and fruits is estimated at 25 per cent and exports at five per cent.

As result, although the gross per capita availability of fruits is estimated to be about 170 grams per day and vegetables at 385 grams per day, the net per capita availability is far lower — 120 grams of fruits and 270 grams of vegetables per day. Pulses intake, estimated at 47 grams per day currently, is lower than the intake prior to the Green Revolution.

Availability of milk, a rich source of nutrition, has risen over the years and India is currently the largest producer of milk in the world. Production of eggs, another rich source of proteins, has also climbed and India is now the world’s third largest producer.

Published on October 13, 2016
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