The developmental paradigm in India has received a setback with the recent Global Hunger Index report. With an overall score of 30.3, India is ranked below neighbouring Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal in the recently published Global Hunger Index (GHI) report. The four indicators for the index are undernourishment, child stunting, child wasting (weight for age), and child mortality. India has been classified as a country with ‘serious’ levels of hunger according to this year’s GHI, slipping from its 95th rank in 2010 to the 102nd position in 2019.
India is a country with a population of 133.92 crore. It is generally argued that due to the large population of India, even a small proportion of undernourished people will appear as a significant percentage in any global aggregative finding. However, Tanmoyee Banerjee, Professor, Department of Economics, Jadavpur University, told BE, “The methodology applied for calculating the index is a standardised one. The problem lies in the fact that a huge proportion of people are not getting the benefits and proper food. The government knows that it has got many mouths to feed and there should be proper policy planning to meet the demands.”
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations report titled, “State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2018”, 19.6 crore people are undernourished in India (14.8% of the population) and 51.4% of Indian women in the reproductive age are anaemic. At least 20 crore Indians go to bed hungry daily. The recent GHI report stated that just 9.6% of all children between 6 and 23 months of age are fed a ‘minimum acceptable diet’. India’s child wasting rate is extremely high at 20.8%, the highest for any country in this report. According to the report, the share of wasting - that is under-nourishment among children in India - rose from 16.5% in the 2008-2012 period to 20.8% in 2014-2018 period.
Food wastage in India is alarming and can be linked to its hunger problem. According to a report in Clean India Journal, “Around 67 million tonnes of food is wasted in India every year which has been valued at Rs. 92,000 crores.” The report further states, “Annually, close to 21 million metric tonnes of wheat rots in India, a figure that is equal to Australia’s total production.”
Weddings, events, restaurants, hostels and houses are major sources for wastage of cooked food. According to certain reports, about 15-20% of food is wasted in marriages and various other social functions in India. In some cases, the waste extends up to 20-25%.
While analysing the reasons for India’s dismal performance in GHI, Banerjee is of the opinion that the problem stems from drawbacks in government policies. She added, “At present, the Indian economy is going through a period of recession. Purchasing power has been low for the people and as a result, the demands for consumer goods have also fallen.”
The agrarian crisis can also be cited as a reason for India’s poor rank in the GHI. VM Singh, the convenor of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee has recently said to the media that weak remunerative prices for agriculture, wheat not being bought by government and unemployment are the major areas for concern in the Indian agricultural sector. These issues have restricted the income among farmers. Banerjee opined, “The poor people and many agriculturalists are suffering from a lack of income and so they allocate a lower amount of their income for children nourishment. So, there should be some kind of cash comfort to these families so that they can feed their children.”
She added, “If we look at the budgetary allocations for child nourishment, this year 3.29% has been allocated compared to last year’s 3.24%. In the 2015-16 Budget, the health allocation for children was 3.93% but presently it has gone down to 3.01%. The government should take the responsibility and implement proper policies to undo this situation.”
The way out
The government is taking a number of initiatives to tackle the issue of malnourishment. NITI Aayog in consultation with stakeholders has formulated and released National Nutrition Strategy emphasising on the importance of interdepartmental convergence, setting up clear targets and real time monitoring. Following the announcement of the Prime Minister, maternity benefit to pregnant women and lactating mothers (Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandan Yojana (PMMVY) has been initiated to provide Rs. 5,000 cash transfers on fulfilment of necessary conditions related to health and nutrition. Also, fortification of food provided under government welfare programmes like Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), Mid-Day Meal scheme (MDM) and Public Distribution System (PDS) have been made mandatory.
According to Banerjee as the percentage of children suffering from wasting has gone up, there should be proper packages for child nourishment. She said, “If we consider the case for the children below five years, a lot more focus is required on the ICDS and Anganwadi programmes. These programmes will help to spread awareness among mothers for proper nourishment of their children.”