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Global Hunger index - India's pitiable position

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In observance of the World Food Day, on 16th October, Genetic Resource Ecology Energy & Nutrition Foundation (GREEN Foundation), with Bangalore Film Society, organised a group discussion on "The Crisis of Food Today", at Ashirvad, Bangalore.

The invite raised the following issues - Can we change our food systems?; Will humankind rise up to the occasion to protect the young generation from consuming unhealthy food? These and many more questions daunt us. There are no easy answers because we are entrenched deep into increasing our GDP at any cost. Time is short. Our life styles and food habits must change.

There is not a day when we don't read or hear about the different dimensions of the food crisis the world is witnessing today. October 16th Nominated as the world food day gives us all the opportunity to raise the vital concern with the citizens who are subjected to consuming chemical residues, additives and substandard and unsafe food. It is every citizens concern and the need of the hour. On the one hand there is hunger and poverty and on the other there is a clamor to dismantle small farms. Industrialisation of food production has taken a toll on the environment, and left millions hungry.

We consumers have been mute witness to the many distortions in food production. It is time to raise awareness amongst the public to resist the onslaught. Can we as consumers support farmers to produce food that is organic and safe, lobby with the government to ban unhealthy practices and distorted subsidies in food production and assure the common citizen healthy and safe food?

Panelist who led the discussions were -  K C Raghu, Food Technologist, Pristine Organics on "Why India Hunger Capital?"; Dr G K Veeresh, Former Vice Chancellor & renowned agricultural scientist on "Industrial agriculture and persistant hunger"; and Ms.Aruna Kalahasthi (Bhoomi Network) on "Food and Us".

Having read this article in the TOI (excerpts reproduced below in italics), just a few days back, I decided to attend the meeting to figure out if any solutions are emerging to address this shameful scenario:

India  may be the second fastest growing economy in the world, but it fares far worse than lesser economies when it comes to taking care of its malnourished children. India ranks 67 on the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2010, conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) among 88 nations.

Faring worse than lesser developed countries such as Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the neighbourhood and underdeveloped nations like Sudan, Lesotho, Uzbekistan and Rwanda elsewhere, India is home to 42% of the underweight children under the age of five in the world.

The policymakers in India, who are still fighting about the need to have an expansive National Food Security Act, should look at the following data more closely: in 2005-06, about 44% of Indian children -- below five years --were underweight, and nearly half -- 48% -- were stunted.

The food insecurity is so rampant across the country that India is clubbed with minor economies like Bangladesh, Timor-Leste and Yemen, recording the highest prevalence of underweight in children under five.

The discussions were mostly about building awareness rather than offering concrete solutions. Fair enough - that in itself can make an impact, and solutions can emerge thereof.

Mr Raghu brought out the meaninglessness of present day 'industrial' over-processing (making 100% 'pure') of raw items of food, and then adding all kinds of additives specifically targeted at heart, liver, etc, whereas, the raw food items themselves contain most of the ingredients in the right proportions which can very well be preserved if the processing is kept within limits.

Ms Aruna K talked about how "Maggi" noodles etc hide the presence of harmful ingredients like some 'gluconate' (supposedly banned in many European countries) in their product, declaring them only by their code numbers, which the general public is not aware of.

All the panelists had referred to the TOI article, and lamented the sorry state of affairs.

During the interaction session, I raised a question as to whether it can be said that 'industrial' approach to agriculture had provided the solution to the hunger problem in China. Dr Veeresh seemed to suggest that with the Chinese eating all kinds of things, including even cockroaches, they get their requirements of nutrition. As compared to that, particularly after the 'green revolution', Indians have largely been fed on 'sterilised' rice and wheat, with much diminished nutritional value.

Mr Babu of Institute for Cultural Research and Action (ICRA), from amongst the audience, sought to attribute the Chinese' success in overcoming the hunger problem to 'land reforms' there. But then, another person stated that there is no land ownership in China. My question as to how land reforms, which essentially meant fragmentation and subsistence farming, can help, was sought to be answered by Mr Raghu with the response that production was not the problem in India, but distribution, leaving me a little confused.

Mr Melvin K Jose, Eco Consultant, ZEEGREEN (from amongst the audience), talked about how the well-intentioned government subsidies were not reaching the targeted beneficiaries, causing all kinds of distortions, and about how he hoped that will be corrected to a large extent by 'Aadhar' (UID programme).

Like, at the vote of thanks, the convenor (a knowledgeable lady, whose name I forget) stated, the subject is a lot complex, and perhaps solutions will have to evolve out of more and more such discussions.

Whatever, the matter is most urgent, particularly considering the abysmal level at which the country's GHI presently is.

Muralidhar Rao



Naveen's picture

The worsening income divide

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I don't think India's condition is pitiable at all since we do not lack anything. It's disgraceful considering that we have a high GDP & huge resources, but cannot find solutions to uplift the poor faster. Liberalization has only worsened things. We ourselves are to blame.
Some noteworthy excerpts from the TOI article :
India is home to 42% of the underweight children under the age of five in the world.

India has belied expectations -- a sign of increasing income divides in the country, and the inability of the economy to provide for the poor.

At the beginning of the liberalisation era in the early 90s, 24% of the population was undernourished....The condition has remained dismal as the latest figure shows 43.5% between 2003-08.

Other emerging economies -- such as Brazil and China -- seem to have done much better in improving the condition of its undernourished children than India.
murali772's picture

it's government failure

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Liberalization has only worsened things.

Liberalisation can't be blamed for all of these. It's essentially government failure, as brought out clearly by Mr Swaminathan Aiyer here

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