Developing strategies to end hunger

India Debates Nutrition and Food Security

India, a country more often associated with economic growth than malnutrition, is debating a National Food Security Bill that will ensure that 63.5 percent of its population will have access to low-cost rice and wheat. On one side of the discussion are those who feel the new legislation will be too costly. On the other side are those who feel it will do little to lower the country’s child malnutrition rate, currently the highest in the world.

According to an Indian government survey last month, 42 percent of children under age five are underweight, a rate almost double that of sub-Saharan Africa.  Little improvement has been noted in the last five years -- even though this was a period in which the national economy grew 8-9 percent annually.  Just yesterday, Save the Children released a report that highlighted food insecurity in India, Bangladesh, Peru, Pakistan, and Nigeria, the five countries where half of the world’s malnourished children live.

Indian Mom Child
Photo Credit:  Celia Escudero Espadas

The report said India’s progress on reducing malnutrition has been limited over the past 20 years.  It says further, "Despite rhetorical commitment to tackling under nutrition, strong commitment and political will is lacking. As a result, food and nutrition has become a hotly debated issue. The proposed National Food Security Bill has been severely criticized by the Right to Food campaign for being half-hearted."

Opposition to the bill comes from those who feel the law will only be a short-term solution to a systemic problem:  they say India needs to produce more food.  A group of 15 Indian governors has proposed that major reforms in the agriculture sector coincide with the enactment of the Food Security Bill. They say that depending on food imports to feed a growing population is not a sustainable path.  Instead, what needs to be emphasized is a market-led agricultural strategy focused on reforming markets and boosting private investment in food production.

According to Save the Children's report, “Hunger and malnutrition are political problems and therefore need political solutions.” The report also says that the responsibility for action lies with three interconnected groups of world leaders.  The first  group are the leaders in countries with high levels of malnutrition.  Brazil, Ghana, and Bangladesh can serve as examples of political commitment to reducing malnutrition that have made a difference.

Secondly, leaders of global institutions with programs to fight hunger and malnutrition need to have coherent strategies.  Finally, leaders in wealthy countries need to give nutrition the support it deserves, as many have already done in the Scaling Up Nutrition movement.

As mentioned in our previous blog post, leaders from the world’s economic powers will gather at the G-8 meeting in Chicago on May 18-20.  The timing is perfect for them to reduce global hunger and poverty by addressing one of its root causes -  undernutrition in women and children.

Scott Blog Pic  Scott Bleggi is senior international policy analyst with Bread for the World Institute.


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