Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi
“There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of food.” – Mahatma Gandhi
India ranked 94th amongst 107 countries in Global Hunger Index Report of 2020. The GHI report calls India’s condition as ‘serious’ with a score of 27.2. The report focuses on four major indicators to calculate hunger levels and these are: undernourishment, child wasting, child mortality and child stunting. The records should be alarming for every policy maker. An abysmal record in hunger index opens up a slew of questions over the status of India’s demography and protection of each person’s dignity of life.
The data used to measure the hunger levels of a country are generally from past few years and not indicative of the current year in particular. It clearly means that India, home to about 1.39 billion people, has been grappling with nutritional deficits for the past few years despite several policy updates, changes and progress made.
India also ranked 62nd out of 107 countries in the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2020. The index ranks 107 developing countries according to 10 parameters that are child mortality, nutrition, years of schooling, school attendance, cooking fuel, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, housing and household assets.
India’s ranks in two important indices on hunger and poverty reflects the challenges that loom over country’s growth and prosperity. The figures show that there still is a long way for India before the country could ensure right to life and right to adequate livelihood for all. National Human Rights Commission advocates right to food as a fundamental right for all the Indians and counts it as an important feature for one’s adequate standard of living. High levels of poverty and hunger in a society is akin to denial of a dignified life to its people. Poverty is hence an ethical issue as well, that attacks one’s dignity and identity as a basic human being with right to live. The commission’s take on poverty can be supported by Article 25(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 that clearly states that- “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being for himself and his family, including food.”
With the above realities staring at India, one cannot assure hunger-free country without well-outlined and dedicated efforts by the government as well as non-governmental stakeholders. A country shackled within the confines of poverty and hunger must look at the larger threat that looms over its food security. Hopefully, the answer to the problem can, to a great exetent, be found in applying corrective measures to the food security itself.
One of the sectors to specifically focus upon is agriculture. Currently the investments in agriculture value chains are not adequate to consider the sector as apt for eradicating poverty as noted by ASSOCHAM’s report on ’Food Value Chain’. One of the major obstacles in making agriculture a promising sector is the chasm between traditional farmers and the latest technology used in farming activities. Many thinkers profess that agriculture can help in reducing poverty to a large extent. Thus, there is a need to study the current policies and reframe them to help India come out of food distress. There is a need for diverse farming, use of organic products for healthier soil, better market connectivity and empowerment of small farmers. It is believed that implementing corrective measures in the agricultural sector brings down the poverty levels to a greater degree than the non-farming sectors. India must support its farmers and simultaneously create better marketing opportunities for its farm produce.
It is observed that portions of Indian subcontinent depend upon carbohydrate and fats, leaving less space for proteins and vitamins. The lack of a balanced diet harms a person’s growth and development. Since the Global Hunger Index focuses on the health status of children it also throws light on the alarming condition of India’s future population. Lack of nutrition for children reflects in their academic performance and consequently decides their future. This points at the need to create more awareness at the grassroot level and better environment for holistic growth. One can secure a country’s future only by securing the health of its children, both mental and physical.
There is a need for greater awareness to understand that India has few years to address the concern of unhealthy diet in order to prevent the slippage of the much-celebrated demographic dividend from our hands. It is less due to shortage of food and more because of the lack of adequate attention to the nutrition intake that has resulted in India’s questionable performance in GHI 2020.
Even though the Targeted Public Distribution Systems have been used for many years there is still a need for better checks and balances at place. Policies do not make great success on paper but only when they reach their desired ends. Inadequate grain storage capacity, homogenous crop cultivation, rotting of excess food etc. add to the already existing woes. While policies such as ‘One Nation One Ration’ will help the laborers and workers on move, ensuring adequate supply of grains for them, one needs a robust understanding of health status of children and women in particular. Lack of a balanced diet and trauma of poverty results in a person being trapped in the vicious cycle, leading to debilitating mental and physical health.
There is a need to revamp the mid-day meal system and to make it transparent and more accessible. Deep rooted negligence towards implementation of the scheme has led to stunting, wasting and undernourishment of children. Corruption, negligence, lack of awareness, etc. have been devouring the vitals of the health care system and mid-day meal scheme in particular.
National Food Security Act, 2013 declared Right to Food as a justiciable right. The time is ripe to work towards nutritional food for all. It is only by the committed efforts of all the stakeholders that we can reach to our end goal, that is, a dignified life for every citizen.
Hippocrates said – “Healing is a matter of time but sometimes it is a matter of opportunity”, for our country the opportunity lies in the technological advancement and a committed workforce of policy implementors that seek to see India prosper at the global level. A few changes in the existing policies, understanding the needs of a child’s health and a transparent mechanism to assert healthier lifestyle for all can go a long way to heal the wounds.
References:Christainensen, Luc. (2018). Five New Insights on How Agriculture can Help Reduce Poverty. (Online) Available at: https://www.ifpri.org/blog/five-new-insights-how-agriculture-can-help-reduce
National Nutrition Policy, Department of Women and Child Development, Government of India. (Online) Available at: https://wcd.nic.in/sites/default/files/nnp_0.pdf