“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Agriculture continues to be a major pillar of the India economy and over the last decade or so India registered a record-breaking food-grain production. It would, therefore, seem logical that India is self-sufficient in feeding many mouths in the nation. However, the numbers on the ground tell a different story. India is home to 194.4 million who are undernourished. 37.9% of the children below 5 are stunted and 51.4% of women between the ages 15-49 are anaemic. Is that why India’s ranking in the Global Hunger Index, 2019 was 102 among 107 countries?
India is a signatory to the declaration on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development comprising of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as agreed at the Sustainable Development Summit of the United Nations in September 2015. The second goal of the declaration is Zero Hunger and comprehensively deals with issues of food production, distribution and access as well as nutrition of people of all age groups, gender and social categories, supported by sustainable agriculture and is intrinsically linked to other SDGs.
What are the leading contributing reasons for hunger and malnutrition in India? One might point a finger at the abject state poverty, which restricts, in most cases, even basic access to food and in other cases the quality of food and therefore the nourishment it might provide. So how does one reconcile with this dichotomy of record-breaking grain production and millions that have no or limited access to food? It is high time that we relook at the design and on-ground execution of our public distribution system for food. The announcements made the government in this direction of providing safety net with essential grains and pulses to both, urban and rural poor, is a very welcome move.
It is quite an irony that on one hand, India needs to solve for people who have no or limited access to food, and on the other hand deal with the double whammy obesity & lifestyle-related diseases and malnutrition. Malnutrition, hidden hunger or lack of proper nutrients as part of the every-day diet is also a challenge that needs our attention. Malnutrition has been a silent emergency for long in India, leading to the grim numbers on hidden hunger and some related non-communicable diseases. Having said that, we have progressed in this direction on several fronts. Government’s schemes like Poshan Abhiyaan, National Health Mission are welcome initiatives.
Food Fortification, which is a process by which micro-nutrients such as vitamins and minerals are added to commonly consumed foods, offers a good opportunity to improve the nutrient value of the food we consume. Let us not forget that salt fortified with iodine was a mini food revolution by itself. The Food Standard and Safety Authority of India (FSSAI) has taken very welcome first steps in this direction. Private players that have the competencies, insights, as well as the resources to invest in potential solutions, are also contributing towards the cause. The industry is collectively working towards addressing undernutrition through micronutrient fortification of products. These pioneering initiatives will bolster the nutritional value and hence a step closer to a healthier future.
The aim of eliminating hunger in India is a daunting challenge. The challenges we are facing today, although unprecedented, are temporary, the goal is to reinvigorate the fight against hunger but also to uproot it permanently and ensure a sustainable future for all.
Dinesh Charak is Director Legal, Kellogg South Asia. Mr Charak has completed his Bachelor’s in Law from National Law School of India University. He is married and has a daughter.
Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.