Towards zero hunger

Synopsis: Food programmes must focus on nutrition

Introduction

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2021 places India at a lowly 101st position among 116 countries, below many of its smaller neighbors like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

The Global Food Security Index (FSI) 2021 puts it in a marginally better position. It ranks India 71st among 113 countries with an overall score higher than that of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh.

However, the common inference from the two reports is that far more needs to be done to move towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger by 2030.

How affordability of food is guaranteed in India?

India has put in place a unique Right to Food Act under which highly subsidized food grains are being supplied to nearly two-thirds of the population.

This programme, moreover, is supported by several other free food distribution schemes, many of which have been scaled up due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

These programmes  are also being supplemented by the distribution of raw and cooked food by innumerable social, religious and philanthropist organisations.

How India is faring w.r.t nutritional security?

While India has managed to surmount hunger, as normally manifested in starvation deaths, it has failed to do so in the case of malnutrition, which is still rampant.

Deficiency of protein and various key vitamins and minerals, which retards physical growth of children and causes ill-health among adults, is fairly common.

This is borne out by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4 (2015-16) and revalidated by the NFHS-5 (2019-20).

The NFHS-4 had found that 38.4% kids below five had low height for their age (technically called “stunted”) and about 21 per cent had low weight for their height (dubbed as “wasted”).

The NFHS-5, while more or less endorsing these findings, goes a step further to conclude that the nutritional status of kids below five has actually tended to worsen in some states.

What are the reasons for poor nutritional security?

The genesis of poor nutrition can be traced in the flawed basic approach of most food-aid programmes. They aim primarily at filling the bellies rather than providing nutritionally balanced and healthy diets.

What needs to be done?

The need, therefore, is to diversify the meals supplied through welfare programmes by including non-cereals and nutrient-enriched fortified foods to make the meals nutritionally balanced and wholesome.

Even small, but well-advised, changes in the menus of these programmes can make a noticeable difference in the nutritional profile of the beneficiaries.

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