Monday, August 19, 2013


How can a country gloat over the fact that half of its population of children are malnourished or one in three malnourished children in the world "live" in this country? Similarly how can an Indian relish the fact that more than 16% of the child population in the country is wasted with no hope of redemption? Who is responsible for this sorry state of affairs? Of course the successive governments that held power at Delhi during the last 6 decades. The citizens of this country are badly let down by their politicians because national wealth has been wasted for unproductive, slogan based, unrealistic, non-asset creating programs with zero impact. Latest gimmick, splurging the national wealth in the name of food security, is both shocking and appalling for every honest Indian though there is little sensitivity among the ruling class which has been gorging public money under different financial scams. Recent lamentations by world agencies like UNICEF, WHO and others about the wrong direction in which the Indian agriculture is moving with least sensitivity to the nutritional needs of the population is galling. Here is a take on this important issue. 

"These estimates have come at a time when India is planning to put in place an expensive food security law aimed chiefly at banishing hunger by doling out highly subsidised cereals, largely rice and wheat - and not so much at removing malnutrition, more likely caused by diets deficient in proteins, vitamins and other vital nutrients. The menace of hunger, which used to cause starvation deaths, has in fact been surmounted to a large extent. But the country's track record in combating undernourishment seems unsatisfactory. An earlier report by another UN agency, United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), had said that malnutrition appeared more common in India than in sub-Saharan Africa. Sadly, according to Unicef, one in every three malnourished children in the world lives in India. Though questions have been raised about these figures, the statistics are worthy of attention: around 46 per cent of all children below the age of three in India are too small for their age, 47 per cent are underweight, and at least 16 per cent are wasted. Worse still, the report attributes 50 per cent of all child deaths in the country to insufficient nourishment. However, it is very important to note these are still open questions. It has been argued that some perceived stunting is due to genetic factors. Other symptoms of malnourishment could be caused by poor sanitation instead, a point that Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh made recently. So the direct causal link between improving the availability of food and ending malnutrition is not straightforward. Even without that wrinkle, the strategy for combating malnutrition outlined by the UN agency takes the opposite tack to the government's food security approach. The FAO urges the reorientation of agricultural research and development priorities to make them more nutrition-sensitive - with a stronger focus on nutrient-dense foods, such as fruit, vegetables, legumes and livestock products. It also envisages interventions in the food production system with greater emphasis on micronutrient-doped fertilisers, bio-fortified crops and a judicious blend of crops and livestock farming. It also suggests that consumer subsidies should be targeted at high-risk groups, such as the elderly and children. It stresses the reduction of losses and wastage - which currently amount to one-third of food output - to make more food available for human consumption and reduce pressure on land and other natural resources. Few of these central recommendations factor in the government's food security approach. Nor is sanitation given the focus it deserves. The government needs to revisit its food security proposals and rework them".

Government of India does not seem to be too much concerned about its misplaced food security perceptions based on which the Ordinance on food security was gazetted recently. In all likelihood this Ordinance will be passed by the politicians of all hues and colors supposed to be debating about its relevance or adequacy without realizing its consequences because they all consider it as a populist scheme with high vote garnering potential! The corner stone of the food security scheme is that poor should not die because of hunger! By providing about 800 kC of energy through the cereals which are offered at Rs 1-3 per kg out of the daily need of 2000 kc, poor can be kept at low starvation levels without allowing them to die! Important nutrients like proteins, essential fats, vitamins and minerals are totally ignored and with their prices ruling very high in the market, poor can never hope to access them to supplement the grains offered at throw away prices. High priority given to crops like Sugarcane, Cotton and Cereals ignoring nutrient loaded Pulses, Oil seeds and Fruits and Vegetables in the national agricultural policy favors commercial interests more than that of the citizen and must be corrected immediately. If the present situation continues this country is going to be weighed down by a population, with a substantial segment, characterized by low productivity and stunted growth!


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