World Food Day challenges “Shining” India

By Irudaya Jothi SJ

Kolkata, October 16, 2018: Every year, October 16 is celebrated all over the world as “World Food Day.” ‘Our actions are our future’ is the theme for this year’s ‘The World Food Day’.

The day commemorates the foundation of Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in 1945.

More than 130 countries are celebrating the efforts to achieve zero hunger.

Discussions are going on about climate change conflicts, migration, poverty and how to overcome these challenges creatively so that we achieve zero hunger!

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, making sure all people – especially children and the more vulnerable – have access to sufficient and nutritious food all year round

Is it possible for India to achieve zero hunger by 2030?

India, with her 1.34 billion population, has gone down in the rank of Global Hunger Index, this needs serious reflections and immediate action.

According to the Press Information Bureau, the federal Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare has proudly released a data on Feb 27.

The press release claims the country witnesses record food grains production in 2017-2018

Total food grain production estimate hits record high of 277.49 million tons, pulses production estimated at record 23.95 million tons, oilseeds production estimate reaches 29.88 million tons and sugarcane production estimate rises considerably to 353.23 million tons.

It states, ‘As a result of near normal rainfall during monsoon 2017 and various policy initiatives taken by the Government, country has witnessed record Food grains production in the current year which is higher by 2.37 million tons than the previous record production of food grains of 275.11 million tons achieved during is estimated at record 111.01 million tons’.

According to the World Economic Forum, India needs 225-230 million tons of food per year to feed its population.

Looking at the above data one is disturbed to why our great nation is placed at 103 out of 119 hungry counties in the world.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said India should grow at 7.3% in 2018-2019, up from 6.7% last year but lower than its earlier projection earlier this year.

According to the 2013 Global Hunger Index (GHI), India ranked 63rd, out of the 78 hungriest countries, significantly worse than neighboring Sri Lanka (43rd), Nepal (49th), Pakistan (57th), and Bangladesh (58th). Then Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Sigh called it a ‘National Shame’.

The 2018 Global Hunger Index ranks India 103rd among 119 qualifying countries. With a score of 31.1, India suffers from a level of hunger that is serious.

It is needless to mention that most of our neighboring countries fared much better than India! And how do we call ourselves today?

What accounts for India’s chronic food insecurity?

Even accounting for recent population growth, food production is clearly not the main issue.

India may be the world’s largest milk producer and the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables (after China), But it is also the world’s biggest waster of food. As a result, fruit and vegetable prices are twice what they would be otherwise, and milk costs 50 percent more than it should.

It is not only perishable food that is squandered. An estimated 21 million tons of wheat – equivalent to Australia’s entire annual crop – rots or is eaten by insects, owing to inadequate storage and poor management at the government-run Food Corporation of India (FCI).

There are several reasons why so much perishable food is lost. They are the absence of modern food distribution chains, too few cold-storage centers and refrigerated trucks, poor transportation facilities, erratic electricity supply, and the lack of incentives to invest in the sector.

India is a country of stark contrasts. In total, 22 percent of its population lives below the poverty line (Government of India 2013). At the same time, it is home to 131 of the world’s billionaires in 2017.

India’s top 1 percent own more than 50 percent of the country’s wealth. It is the world’s second largest food producer and yet is also home to the second-highest population of undernourished people in the world (FAO 2015).

On the one hand, billions of people go hungry and malnourished, on the other, tons of food is wasted every day. Even as 194 million sleeps on empty stomach every day in our country, India wastes about 888 billion rupees worth of food per year; it amounts to 2.44 billion rupee worth of food a day.

According to a report by the Indian Institute of Public Administration, in India every year 23 million tons of pulses, 12 million tons of fruits and 21 million tons of vegetables get spoiled due to flaws in the distribution system.

The tangible outcomes will be to eradicate instances of stunting among children and guarantee every citizen with access to adequate food throughout the year through sustainable food systems, the doubling of smallholder productivity and income, and zero food loss or waste.

Unfortunately, deaths from hunger take place in the country where many schemes of food and nutrition security are regularly run on a grant of billions of rupees.

A major hindrance in fighting starvation in India is the lack of proper implementation of government schemes which are directed towards providing food for one and all. Either there is corruption on the local levels or there is a disinterest among the government officials to ensure that the schemes are properly being carried out.

Under the mid-day meal schemes, about 12 million children are claimed to be fed meals every day. Crores of government funds are spent in the name of providing food and employment to every person.

Still, as per the United Nations data, about 1 million children die before reaching the age of five due to hunger or malnutrition every year in the country. As many as 408,000 families eke out their living by rag-picking and 668,000 families survive on begging. The average monthly income of 39.39 percent of the household living in the village is less than 10,000 rupees, and around 51.14 percent of households survive on temporary wages as they have no regular source of income, opines Anuradha Talwar, Food Right Activist in West Bengal.

So far, the government’s main way of dealing with food insecurity has been through the National Food Security Act (NFSA). While the Act was passed on August 26, 2013, it was only in November 2015 that all States and Union Territories were actually implementing it.

In fact, we are still awaiting in many states, the implementation of one part of the NFSA, which involves payment of Rs.6000 to mothers as maternity benefit to ensure nutrition during pregnancy

As Right To Food activists, we demand universalize Public Distribution Service, prevent Aadhaar exclusions, provide community kitchens, improve school and Anganwadi meals, provide special nutrition and pensions, pay compensatory allowance, amendment of the NFSA,, implement and Operationalize Grievance Redressals and accountability provisions in the National Food Security Act.

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