[Answered] “Inspite of surplus food production, millions of Indian citizens die to due to hunger.” Comment.

Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual Introduction.
Body. Reasons for hunger in India and measures to tackle hunger issue in India.
Conclusion. Way forward.

India is a self-sufficient nation in food production for decades and having leaped forward economically over the past 20 years. It is painful to see that despite of having surplus food, hunger still persists. Starvation doesn’t fit neatly into the story of a new India. Data shows that the country barely has enough to feed its own people. India stands 97th in Oxfam’s Food Availability Index, and 103rd in the 2018 Global Hunger Index. The country is home to 270 million hungry people, the highest in the world.

The reasons behind India’s persistent problem of hunger are:

  1. Poverty: Poverty is the major reason behind the alarming levels of hunger. Poverty restricts the food choices and has been the causative factor of hunger related deaths.  If the persistent high prices of food items and the regional disparities in terms of development, especially the backwardness among the hilly and tribal areas also taken into account, the percentage of people who cannot afford balanced nutrition will be much higher in India.
  2. Multidimensional nature: Hunger and the related under nutrition is the result of various associated factors ranging from water, sanitation, access to food items. A person’s ‘nutritional quotient’ is also dependent demographic factors like gender, caste, age, etc. For instance, the nutritional needs of girl child’s and elderly are not adequately addressed in our society.
  3. Ineffective food  policies implementation: Another important reason behind the persistent hunger is the poor implementation of the schemes and policies. The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and the National Health Mission (NHM) have not achieved the adequate coverage.
  4. Climate change impact: Erratic rainfall and increasing frequency of extreme events have impacted agricultural activities everywhere creating unfavourable conditions for food production. Climate variability affecting rainfall patterns and agricultural seasons, and climate extremes such as droughts and floods, are among the key drivers behind the rise in hunger, together with conflict and economic slowdowns.
  5. Corruption: Corruption in PDS is widely recognised. PDS a food distribution schemes is mired with inefficiencies and corrupt practices denying food to many.
  6. Issues with agriculture: The change from multi to mono cropping systems limits the diversity of agricultural products. Inclination towards cash crops and changing food habits result in malnutrition, undernutrition and even micro-nutrient deficiencies.
  7. Food wastage: Food wastage is also an emerging challenge that undermines the efforts to end hunger and malnutrition. According to the FAO, the global volume of food wastage is estimated at 1.6 billion tonnes of primary product equivalents.
  8. Unstable markets: Rising food prices make it difficult for the poorest people to get nutritious food consistently which is exactly what they need to do.
  9. Natural disasters: Natural disasters such as floods, tropical storms and long periods of drought are on the increase with calamitous consequences for the hungry poor in developing countries.
  10. Gender inequality: In many parts women’s nutritional requirements are often unmet as they consume whatever is left after everyone else has eaten.

What should be done?

  1. Achieving zero hunger requires agriculture and food systems to become more efficient, sustainable, climate-smart and nutrition-sensitive.
  2. Need for synchronisation among malnutrition, dietary diversity and production diversity.
  3. It is important to look at the future of food production to achieve the zero hunger goal.
  4. Technologies like mobile phones can be used for knowledge transfer to rural farmers on the food production cycle and market linkages.
  5. Formulate policies that support better agricultural investments.
  6. Providing agriculture subsidies and incentives and prioritising nutrition programmes.
  7. Boosting the production and consumption of climate resilient native nutritional crops.
  8. Agro-ecological practices such as zero budget natural farming, organic farming and permaculture play an important role in their impact on food and nutrition security.
  9. Policies must pay special attention to groups who are the most vulnerable to the harmful consequences of poor food access: infants, children aged under five, school-aged children, adolescent girls, and women.
  10. A sustainable shift must be made towards nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food systems that can provide safe and high-quality food for all.

The National Food Security Act became envisaged to provide for food and nutritional security to the nation. This was the first step by the government to make nutrition a legal right. Despite its noble objectives, the effectiveness of the Act has been limited as it only ensures affordable access to eligible households and doesn’t have the universal appeal. It is high time, the policy makers should consider providing for the right to be free from hunger as a fundamental right.