Saturday, October 10, 2015

Nutrition policy- Lack of it pushing India deep into health insecurity?

For quiet some time nutritional pundits have been warning the political class in India that too much obsession with supplying cereals to the poverty ridden population in the country cannot save them from debilitating health disorders due to inadequate consumption of protective foods like proteins, micro nutrients and fruits and vegetables. It is true that these critical nutrient sources are far too expensive compared to calorie supplying foods like rice. Even favoring rice over wheat or coarse cereals which are much more healthy, is a foolhardy policy from both health and agricultural perspectives. Paddy cultivation is a water intensive process and returns in terms of nutrition are not commensurate with the inputs. The so called Food Security Act about which the successive governments are tom-toming can only bring about a sustenance regime capable of preventing deaths due to gross hunger. There are some bright spots in this abysmal scenario in some states where egg, milk, pulses etc are offered at affordable cost. But these are far and few incapable of making any national impact. Here is another warning coming from a renowned nutrition expert about this fallacy being perpetuated by the government in Delhi. 

"The current nutritional status in India is the result of policy deficit in several critical nutrition-related issues and lack of implementation even where policies exist,  Veena S Rao, adviser to Karnataka Comprehensive Nutrition Mission (KCNM), has said. Speaking at the 47th national conference of Nutrition Society of India (NSI) here on Friday, Veena said, "Food and agriculture are logistically related to nutrition. India does not have a national food policy per se but it does have a policy and mission for public distribution and making food grains accessible and affordable to the poor. Recently, the Food Security Act (FSA) has been superimposed upon the public distribution system (PDS). But both PDS and FSA primarily address subsistence and not nutritional security." She observed, "The present food policy emphasises on distribution of cheap rice under PDS as against the more nutritive wheat, coarse grains etc. It is increasing under-nutrition and micro-nutrient deficiency and also led to a shift in agricultural patterns."

It is a mad situation where citizens have to pay a price of more than Rs 150 per kg of any pulse which normally contains about 23% protein. There was a time when pulse was the most affordable protein source to low income and vegetarian population and if there is price distortion happening now, where can these people go for their protein needs? Per unit of protein, milk protein costs a prohibitive Rs 600 per kg, egg protein costs about Rs 600 per kg and meat protein may cost any where from Rs 1200-Rs 2400! Pulses provide proteins at a cost of Rs 400 per kg not much cheaper than milk or egg proteins in to day's market situation! Is it not a distortion which will have serious implications on the health of a significant percentage of population who cannot afford the protein foods because of economic considerations? Why is that India during the last 25 years, in spite of a series of pulse and oil seed missions, devouring crores of public exchequer money, not able to alleviate the shortages of these commodities, necessitating imports worth billions of dollars year after year? The situation is getting bad to worse with no far sighted vision evident among the present day policy makers. Why is that we continue to subsidize crops like sugar cane, tobacco, coffee, arecanut etc while not doing enough for pulses and oil seeds? A million dollar question that does not seem to bother any body in this country! 


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