[Answered] In the light of recent “Food and Nutrition Security Analysis, 2019” report, critically discuss the problem of malnutrition in India. What should be done to address this problem?

Demand of the question
Introduction. Give a contextual Introduction.
Body. Analyse status of malnutrition in India.
Conclusion. Way forward.

Malnutrition especially that affecting young children is one of the principle public health problems in the developing world like India. A new report, ‘Food and Nutrition Security Analysis, India, 2019’, published by the Government of India and the United Nations World Food Programme, states that even after 70 years of independence, still hundreds of millions of India’s poorest and vulnerable citizens are living in hunger. Despite rapid economic growth, declining levels of poverty, enough food to export, and a multiplicity of government programmes, malnutrition amongst the poorest remains high.

Malnutrition a vicious problem:

The report shows the poorest sections of society are caught in a trap of poverty and malnutrition, which is being passed on from generation to generation.

  • Mothers who are hungry and malnourished produce children who are stunted, underweight and unlikely to develop to achieve their full human potential.
  • These disadvantaged children are likely to do poorly in school and subsequently have low incomes, high fertility, and provide poor care for their children, thus contributing to the intergenerational transmission of poverty. In other words, today’s poor hungry children are likely to be tomorrow’s hungry, unemployed and undereducated adults.
  • Also, the effects of malnourishment in a small child are not merely physical. A developing brain that is deprived of nutrients does not reach its full mental potential. Undernutrition can affect cognitive development by causing direct structural damage to the brain and by impairing infant motor development. This in turn affects the child’s ability to learn at school, leading to a lifetime of poverty and lack of opportunity.

Some facts and figures about the issue of malnutrition in India:

India, with a population of over 1.3 billion, has seen tremendous growth in the past two decades.

  • Gross Domestic Product has increased 4.5 times and per capita consumption has increased 3 times. Similarly, food grain production has increased almost 2 times. However, despite phenomenal industrial and economic growth and while India produces sufficient food to feed its population, it is unable to provide access to food to a large number of people, especially women and children.
  • According to FAO estimates in ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2018” report-
    • 195.9 million people are undernourished in India. By this measure 14.8% of the population is undernourished in India.
    • Also, 51.4% of women in reproductive age between 15 to 49 years are anaemic.
    • Further according to the report 38.4% of the children aged under five in India are stunted (too short for their age), while 21% suffer from wasting, meaning their weight is too low for their height. Malnourished children have a higher risk of death from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria.
  • The Global Hunger Index 2018 ranks India at 103 out of 119 countries on the basis of three leading indicators – prevalence of wasting and stunting in children under 5 years, under 5 child mortality rate, and the proportion of undernourished in the population.
  • Although some progress has been made in reducing the extent of malnutrition. The proportion of children with chronic malnutrition decreased from 48% percent in 2005-06 to 38.4% in 2015-16. The percentage of underweight children decreased from 42.5% to 35.7% over the same period. Anaemia in young children decreased from 69.5% to 58.5% during this period. But this progress is small.
  • India’s efforts at improving access to food and good nutrition are led by the National Food Security Act. In spite of such interventions, 14.5% of the population suffers from undernourishment, going by the UN’s assessment for 2014-16. At the national level, 53% of women are anaemic, Health Ministry data show.
  • The government’s National Nutrition Mission (renamed as Poshan Abhiyaan) aims to reduce stunting (a measure of malnutrition that is defined as height that is significantly below the norm for age) by 2% a year, bringing down the proportion of stunted children in the population to 25% by 2022. But even this modest target will require doubling the current annual rate of reduction in stunting. A year after it was launched, State and Union Territory governments have only used 16% of the funds allocated to them.
  • Anganwadis are key to the distribution of services to mothers and children. But many States, including Bihar and Odisha, which have large vulnerable populations, are struggling to set up functioning anganwadis, and recruit staff.

What should be done?

  1. Population Policies: The main cause of poverty and hunger is the fast growth of population. The control of population growth, therefore, should get the top priority, particularly in the developing countries. Population control measures like awareness campaigns, sterilisation etc. must be adopted. The population control will require rapid economic growth, research and the implementation of strict population policies.
  2. Greater Agricultural Productivity: Green Revolution has failed to eradicate hunger from the developing world. The HYV need heavy doses of chemical fertilisers and adequate supply of water through controlled irrigation. These costly inputs are beyond the reach of marginal and small farmers of the Third World countries. There is a need to develop drought resistant crops which may be diffused in the areas of deficient rainfall. New areas and cultivable wastelands should be brought under cultivation to increase agricultural production. This will ensure increased productivity at lower costs and increase accessibility to food.
  3. Expansion of Agriculture in New Areas: At present, only 10 per cent of the total area of the land surface is under cultivation. Some experts opine that the present cultivated area could be tripled. The possibility should be explored to increase more food production.
  4. Land Reforms: It has been found that wherever land reform measures have been taken, production of crops has gone up substantially. In order to maintain the fertility of the soil the farmers have to invest in farm management. A tenant farmer cannot take a decision about the development of fields. The need for land reform is nearly worldwide. Unfortunately, progress in this area is too much slow.
  5. Search for Alternative Food: It is urgently needed at the global level to protect the ocean resources while they are used. Until quite recently, only a few species of marine fauna were endangered by overfishing as whales. E.g Aquaculture i.e. the raising of fish in enclosure provide a great alternative source of food.
  6. Change in food habits: The problem of hunger and malnutrition may also be minimised if the people change their food habits. Mass education, especially the female education, will also go a long way in overcoming the deficiencies of food and may eradicate hunger to a substantial extent. None of these efforts will bring the desired results unless a comprehensive programme is developed to check the growth of population, to reduce the food consumption in rich societies, and to develop alternative sources of food and proteins.
  7. Role of states- The key to ending the tragedy of child nutrition lies with State governments especially states with the highest levels of stunted and underweight children like Jharkand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra. Malnutrition is a reflection of age-old patterns of social and economic exclusion. Over 40% of children from Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes are stunted. Close to 40% of children from the Other Backward Classes are stunted. The lack of nutrition in their childhood years can reduce their mental as well as physical development and condemn them to a life in the margins of society.
  8. Food distribution System: The food distribution system needs to be strengthened. Food storage facilities must be restored and steps should be taken to protect stored grains from rodents. Although there are many leakages issue in public distribution system, still it provides food for many. Efforts must be made to stop leakages.
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