An Eye on Nutritional Security in India
22 Jan 2022
Poverty and hunger elimination has been the focus of development partners and governments for a long time, and for good reason. After all, according to the World Health Organization, 10% of the world's population lives on less than $1.90 per day, making food security difficult to attain in such a dire situation.
Nutrition is increasingly being recognised as a critical part of the development landscape. This is due to the fact that undernutrition has health implications that are passed down through generations and erodes socio economic justice, adding to the burden on developing and impoverished countries. Hunger and malnutrition among children is one of the most widespread health issues in the world, contributing to mortality at a younger age.
This happens despite the evident scientific and technological development worldwide. Agricultural advancement makes sure that our country is independent in terms of food production. Despite historically high levels of food production in India, undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies persist. It is estimated that around 821 million people in the world face chronic food starvation. And out of this, India alone housed an approximate 194.4 million people in the time period 2016-18.
For children five years or younger, 19.8% are waste and 42.4% are underweight according to NFHS-4, though both showed a decline from NFHS-3 figures. Still, the numbers are staggering with 46.4 million children under five being stunted, 25.5 million wasted and 97 million children being underweight. Child malnutrition rates in India continue to be highest among the world, with one in three children being either stunted or underweight. Along with undernutrition, India now also faces the increasing prevalence of overnutrition reflected in overweight, obesity and associated non-communicable diseases.
Given this grave situation of malnutrition in India, it becomes imperative to understand and analyse the nutritional situation of the country. Poor people, particularly small children, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, are the main sufferers of malnutrition. Because a woman's nutritional condition has a direct impact on a child's nutritional and health status, food and nutritional innovations aimed at improving the diets of women, particularly those of reproductive age, are critical for breaking the cycle of hunger and malnutrition.
Nutritional security can be achieved by integrating nutritional sensitive programmes with food security, agriculture, poverty reduction, and education to address the prevalence of under nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, particularly among disadvantaged women and children.
The three pillars of food and nutrition security are availability, accessibility, and absorption (nutritional outcomes):
The availability of food per capita is one of the issues raised in the current debate on food security. Though fluctuating, the overall trend in per capita availability of food grains has been modestly unfavourable (with per capita availability gradually coming down). While availability is a concern, shifting demand patterns, particularly diversification toward high-value commodities, must also be considered. Food security isn't so much on the availability of food grains as it is about the mix of the whole food basket, as seen by shifting consumption habits. As economic growth picks up, it is common to observe a change in dietary patterns wherein people substitute cereals with high-value food.
Food security for the poor and vulnerable may not be guaranteed by growth alone. Food access for the poor and vulnerable will be greatly improved by social safety net initiatives and employment-generating activities. The Public Distribution System (PDS) is the world's largest government-run network for distributing basic goods like as rice, wheat, sugar, and kerosene. Both the federal and state governments share responsibility for the PDS's operation. The PDS places a significant financial strain on the public purse, as evidenced by the rising food subsidy expenditure (Rs555.8 billion in 2010-2011).
The efficacy of the system in terms of targeting and coverage varies from state to state and is often questioned. One of the most critical questions is targeting and identifying the poor. The government has large food security and anti-poverty programmes but there are critical gaps in terms of inclusion and exclusion errors. Women and girls are particularly disadvantaged.
To address the issues of malnutrition, a strategy that combines short and long-term activities and increases the links between preventative and curable components, as well as developmental and humanitarian initiatives, is required. Among the major programmes being implemented by the government at the national level is the provision of food grains (wheat and rice) to around 813 million individuals (67 percent of the population) residing in India under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) (the largest food based programme in the world). The scheme is being implemented in all 36 states/UTs.
There is a wealth of information available on the various approaches to addressing the issue of nutritional security. The ways to addressing the problem of malnutrition have been broadly categorised as follows: Nutrition-specific interventions and a multi-sectoral approach (Bezanson and Isenam, 2010). Direct nutrition-specific interventions are based on the link between food insecurity and malnutrition; hunger and various forms of malnutrition are closely linked. These include pro-nutrition policies and programmes that have a direct impact on people's nutritional results.
Three pathways are used to alleviate nutritional insecurity in the multi-sectoral approach. For instance, it can address fundamental factors of malnutrition, such as income and agricultural production, both of which have a direct impact on food security. Women's education is another crucial variable, as it is a significant element in lowering malnutrition.
The major ongoing central government programme, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, aims to push the safe drinking water, universal sanitation coverage and hygiene (WASH) agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals. The remarkable achievement of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is expected to contribute to a reduction in child mortality and malnutrition rates.
Food and nutritional security is a multifaceted process that requires assistance from various sectors of the country. Each sector is the key to becoming a secure nation in terms of nutrition and health. This also means taking lessons from the emerging economies such as China, Brazil and South Africa (BRISCA). The biggest lesson being, increasing the per capita expenditure on healthcare. The current trends report around 1% of the GDP on health care which is the lowest for a large growing economy like ours. The present pandemic situation accounts for a major setback that would need a great deal of hard work to cover up.
-By Gargi Khandwe
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