Editorial: Food for thought

From 21.7 per cent of the population in 2004-06 to 14 per cent in 2017-19, the number of undernourished people in India has declined by 60 million, according to a UN report.

The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report said that there were less stunted children but more obese adults in India.

Considered the most authoritative global study tracking progress towards ending hunger and malnutrition, the report said that the number of undernourished people in India declined from 249.4 million in 2004 06 to 189.2 million in 2017-19.

In percentage terms, the prevalence of undernourishment in the total population in India declined from 21.7 per cent in 2004-06 to 14 per cent in 2017-19. The two subregions showing reductions in undernourishment — eastern and southern Asia — are dominated by the two largest economies of the continent — China and India.

According to the report, despite very different conditions, histories and rates of progress, the reduction in hunger in both the countries stems from long-term economic growth, reduced inequality, and improved access to basic goods and services.

The report is prepared jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

It further said that the prevalence of stunting in children under 5 years of age in India declined from 47.8 per cent in 2012 to 34.7 per cent in 2019 or from 62 million in 2012 to 40.3 million in 2019.More Indian adults became obese between 2012-16, it said.

The number of adults (18 years and older) who are obese grew from 25.2 million in 2012 to 34.3 million in 2016, from 3.1 per cent to 3.9 per cent. The number of women of reproductive age (15 49) affected by anaemia grew from 165.6 million in 2012 to 175.6 million in 2016. The number of infants 0 5 months of age exclusively breastfed grew from 11.2 million in 2012 to 13.9 million in 2019.

It said that almost 690 million people globally were undernourished (or hungry) in 2019, up by 10 million from 2018. The hungry are most numerous in Asia, but expanding fastest in Africa. Across the planet, the report forecasts, that the Covid-19 pandemic could push over 130 million more people into chronic hunger by the end of 2020.

In percentage terms, Africa is the hardest hit region and becoming more so, with 19.1 per cent of its people undernourished. At the current trends, by 2030, Africa will be home to more than half of the world’s chronically hungry. The Covid-19 is intensifying the vulnerabilities and inadequacies of global food systems – understood as all the activities and processes affecting the production, distribution and consumption of food.

While it is too soon to assess the full impact of the lockdowns and other containment measures, the report estimates that at a minimum, another 83 million people, and possibly as many as 132 million, may go hungry in 2020 as a result of the economic recession triggered by Covid-19, it said, adding that the setback throws into further doubt the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal two, whose target is achieving zero hunger.

The latest estimates are that a staggering three billion people or more cannot afford a healthy diet. The study calls on the governments to mainstream nutrition in their approaches to agriculture; work to cut cost-escalating factors in the production, storage, transport, distribution and marketing of food – including by reducing inefficiencies and food loss and waste.


NT Bureau