[Answered]“There is need to move away from the present ‘staple grain fundamentalism,’ of Public Distribution System (PDS), to a more diversified food basket, with an emphasis on coarse grains.” Comment.

Demand of the question

Introduction. Contextual Introduction.

Body. Discuss the issue of malnutrition and under-nutrition. Mention need of solutions to hunger issue and to include a more diversified food basket.

Conclusion. Way forward.

The Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (CNNS) report, by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, is important due to rising concerns for malnutrition. The report reveals that India has made progress in reducing the number of stunted and underweight children in the last decade. Despite sustained decline, the present stunting levelis very high. Hence, there is need to move away from the present focus from staple grain fundamentalism i.e. present focus on rice and wheatof Public Distribution System (PDS), to a more diversified food basket, that would help in removing nutritional hunger issues.

Issue of malnutrition and under-nutrition:

  1. 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.
  2. Despite rapid economic growth, declining levels of poverty, enough food to export, and a multiplicity of government programmes, malnutrition amongst the poorest remains high. 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.
  3. According to FAO estimates in ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2018” report-
  • 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 diarrhoea, pneumonia, and malaria.
  1. The Global Hunger Index 2019 ranks India at 102 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.

Why coarse grains are a viable nutritional alternative over the staple food grains?

  1. It is important to move away from the present focus on rice and wheat, to a more diversified food basket, with an emphasis on coarse grains that are more nutritious with more proteins.
  2. A diet that moves away from white, polished rice to include coarse grains could help Indians tackle micronutrient deficiencies affordably.
  3. 90% of the staple diets are iron deficient, nearly 85% are Vitamin A deficient and more than 50% are protein-deficient. The eating of coarse cereals and pulses instead of rice, and including dark leafy vegetables and coconut would alleviate deficiencies cost effectively.
  4. These diet changes would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, predominantly due to rice production’s high methane emissions.
  5. It would be worth including millets in the PDS on a pilot basis, in States where stunting levels are high. Evidence suggests that dietary diversity is indeed good for reducing iron deficiency anaemia, levels of which also remain high in India.
  6. 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.

Some other measures:

  1. Mothers who are hungry and malnourished produce children who are stunted, underweight and unlikely to develop to achieve their full human potential.Increasing the educational attainment of women significantly is certainly feasible. Women’s education, is of instrumental significance in reducing hunger and nutrition issue of the family.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Malnutrition is a big issue in India. Green Revolution has failed to eradicate hunger from the developing world. There is a need to inculcate highly nutritious coarse grains in PDS which would help to uplift nutritional status of many poor. 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.

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