Feeding the 9 Billion: The tragedy of waste By 2075, the United Nations’ mid-range projection for global population growth predicts that human numbers will peak at about 9.5 billion people. This means that there could be an extra three billion mouths to feed by the end of the century, a period in which substantial changes are anticipated in the wealth, calorific intake and dietary preferences of people in developing countries across the world. Such a projection presents mankind with wide-ranging social, economic, environmental and political issues that need to be addressed today to ensure a sustainable future for all. One key issue is how to produce more food in a world of finite resources. Today, we produce about four billion metric tonnes of food per annum. Yet due to poor practices in harvesting, storage and transportation, as well as market and consumer wastage, it is estimated that 30–50% (or 1.2–2 billion tonnes) of all food produced never reaches a human stomach. Furthermore, this figure does not reflect the fact that large amounts of land, energy, fertilisers and water have also been lost in the production of foodstuffs which simply end up as waste. This level of wastage is a tragedy that cannot continue if we are to succeed in the challenge of sustainably meeting our future food demands. Read the Global Food report [PDF, 1MB] Related: Half of world’s meals go into the bin Deccan Herald | January 10, 2013 Experts have revealed that half of the food produced in the world is actually being thrown away every year. http://www.deccanherald.com/content/304365/half-worlds-meals-go-bin.html
Economic growth didn’t result in hunger reduction after 1996, says Global Hunger Index
Photograph by Nandita ChibberHigh economic growth has not helped India reduce its hunger level, says the new Global Hunger Index (GHI), released on October 11. What’s more, the level of hunger now is the same as it was in 1996. The index, prepared by the International Food Policy Research Institute, has rated 120 countries. India has been ranked 65th, below Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. This is the seventh such report that has been tracking hunger across the world using multiple parameters.
“India has lagged behind in improving its GHI score despite strong economic growth,” says the report. Going by such rankings earlier, India’s hunger level now is the same as it was in 1996. Between 1996 and 2001, there was a slight decrease in hunger level. But the latest score shows that in the past 10 years, the level has stagnated. “The stagnation in GHI score occurred during a period when India’s gross national per capita income almost doubled, rising from about $1,460 to $2,850 (per annum),” the report analyses. Two-thirds of India’s alarming GHI score is owing to the fact that 43.5 per cent of the country’s children are underweight. In this parameter, India scores less than Ethiopia.
In the case of India, the link between economic growth and the expected reduction in hunger got snapped after 1996. Between 1990 and 1996, says the report, India’s hunger level reduction was proportionate to its economic growth. But after this, there have been no impacts of high economic growth on the level of hunger. “The disparity between economic development and progress in the fight against hunger widened,” says the report.
Slow progress in global hunger reduction
At the global level, hunger has reduced marginally in the past two decades. “Progress in reducing the proportion of hungry people in the world has been tragically slow,” observes the report. In 2012 the GHI fell by 26 per cent from the 1990 level. But there are severe regional imbalances in distribution of hunger. South Asia and the Sub-Saharan Africa have the highest levels of hunger. The 22 countries with “alarming” or “extremely alarming” levels of hunger are in these two regions. South Asia reduced its GHI score significantly during 1990 to 1996 but couldn’t maintain the pace. Now, the sub-Saharan region’s hunger level is lower than that of the South Asian region.
“As a result of economic and population growth, wealthier population in the developed and increasingly developing world are juxtaposed with nearly 1 billion food-insecure people and 2 billion people suffering from micro nutrient deficiency,” says the report on growing inequality.
The report comes at a time when food prices are set to touch the 2008-level that triggered food riots across the globe. Food prices went up by 40 per cent in 2007. The food price rise in 2007-08 pushed 130-155 million people into extreme poverty. A recent UN report suggests that this year food prices may reach the 2008 level, triggering panic. The insecurity has led to an unprecedented rush to grab land for future food production.
The GHI report shows that world’s hunger hot spots are the preferred countries for securing lucrative land. “The majority of international land deals till date have occurred in those countries that experience higher levels of hunger and where the population and national incomes depend heavily on agriculture,” says the GHI report. Most of these land parcels were in use for sustenance farming by the world’s poorest farmers in the most food insecure areas. Governments justify these deals to improve their fortunes by allowing industrial farming.
By Andrew NorthBBC News, Madhya Pradesh
Deshraj reaches out for his mother’s breast as she balances him on her knees, sitting outside her low, mud-walled home.
The little boy cries, but with no strength.
Deshraj is two years old but barely larger than a newborn and crazed by hunger.
His hair is patchy, his eyes are sunken and his legs like twigs – he is so weak he can’t even walk.
But his mother turns him away; she has nothing left to give.
“We can’t get him to eat bread,” she says in an irritated tone, clearly annoyed at being asked questions, and walks away.
Deshraj is one of millions of Indian children suffering severe malnutrition, an enduring problem Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called a “national shame”.
Sometimes the mothers don’t know how best to look after their children”
Yet despite supposedly spending billions of rupees on poverty and food-relief programmes – and during a period of sustained economic growth – the government has made only a dent in the problem.
It is estimated that one in four of the world’s malnourished children is in India, more even than in sub-Saharan Africa.
Weakened by hunger, they are more vulnerable to disease, with tens of thousands dying every year. Millions more will be physically and mentally stunted for life because they don’t get enough to eat in their crucial early years.
India has fallen in child development rankings, putting it behind poorer countries such as neighbouring Bangladesh or the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a new study by the Save the Children charity.
So when UK Prime Minister David Cameron hosts a summit this weekend on child malnutrition worldwide, India is one of the countries of greatest concern.
Yet this is hardly a new problem. India has been arguing over what to do about hunger and the poverty that underpins it for years – while its farms produce ever more food.
On paper there is already a multi-billion dollar network in place to look after children like Deshraj.
But too often, corruption and mismanagement mean it doesn’t work.
Deep in the so-called “hunger belt” of central India, Deshraj’s village, Markheda, has a government-subsidised food shop funded by the Public Distribution System (PDS).
It entitles every family living below the official poverty line to 35kg of grain or rice a month.
His extreme case is known too: he has been identified as one of 19 “dangerously malnourished” children in the village, making him eligible for emergency help from the local “nutrition rehabilitation centre” in the nearby town of Shivpuri.
But here it gets even more complicated.
“His family won’t agree to send him,” complains one of the health workers who suddenly arrive in the village while the BBC is there.
It is true that Deshraj’s mother does not appear overly concerned about his condition. Like most people here, she’s illiterate and doesn’t seem to understand many of the questions she is asked before walking away.
“I can’t remember when we last saw someone from the government here”
“Sometimes the mothers don’t know how best to look after their children,” says the health worker.
There are other boys and girls in this settlement of about 600 families who appear in better, although far from perfect, health.
But it’s questionable too how committed the local authorities are to helping remote villages like this.
Markheda’s residents are all tribals, on the bottom rung of India’s complicated social ladder and largely out of sight. No one would find this place by accident, a half-hour drive through scrub and forest from the nearest road.
Villagers say the government PDS store is usually closed. It just happens to be open when the BBC visits, but inside it is empty apart from a few small sacks of emergency food left in one corner.
“I can’t remember when we last saw someone from the government here,” says one villager.
And Om Prakash, the government team leader, admits they came to the village because “we wanted to see what you were doing”.
In another hut, Dineshi and her husband Brijmohan are still mourning their four-year-old son, Kalua, who died a few weeks ago.
“He got sick and stopped eating,” says Brijmohan.
“We’d taken him to the doctor once before but we couldn’t afford to go again and he got weaker and weaker.”
There is no doctor nearby, and they have no transport. The family’s only income is from selling baskets Brijmohan makes from tree saplings.
Blades of light pierce the gloom through holes in the thatched roof, catching their three-month-old son Mukesh as his mother Dineshi rocks him in a small hammock to relieve the thick summer heat.
He is still being breast-fed: the problems for children usually begin after six months, once they should start on solids.
The family gets food from the government PDS store, but sometimes “there’s not enough, or it’s bad quality”.
“We’re often hungry,” Brijmohan says.
But there are plenty of people committed to tackling the problem.
At the nutrition rehabilitation centre in Shivpuri, Dr Raj Kumar is checking on a two-year-old girl called Anjini, brought in about a week earlier weighing just 3.8kg.
Many children are born heavier than that. Anjini has also picked up TB and pneumonia – common conditions among malnourished kids.
She is still in a dire state, barely able to lift her stick-thin limbs, but with constant feeding at the centre she has put on weight.
Dr Kumar says she will survive, but “she will be stunted for life”.
‘Left to rot’
Under pressure, India’s ruling coalition introduced a Food Security bill last year, supposed to enshrine the right to food for all. But no one is betting on when it will be passed amid the country’s current political deadlock.
And some critics say there is still not enough political will to tackle the hunger problem.
Other more free-market oriented voices argue that the whole approach of subsidising food and providing guarantees is wrong, simply creating a dependency culture.
What is really needed, suggests Arti Tivari from the nutrition centre, is for existing programmes to be “implemented properly and for people to do their jobs properly” – a polite way of saying that graft and corruption still infect the system.
It is a simple fact that no Indian child needs to go hungry.
A short drive from the nutrition centre is a massive grain warehouse, sacks of wheat piled nearly to the ceiling – part of a network of government food stores across the country.
For years now, India has been producing more food than it needs. Yet every year large quantities simply rot in these warehouses.
The situation is much better than a decade ago, insists government minister Sachin Pilot, whose portfolio is officially telecoms but who has become closely involved in food policy.
But he admits “it’s unacceptable having so many children with pot bellies and stick legs”.
India still has a very young population, and politicians often talk of this future “demographic dividend”.
But there will not be much of a dividend if so many Indian children continue to be held back and stunted in their first years of life.
At a time when the total food stocks are likely to swell to a record 75 million tonnes by June 1, out of which nearly 30 million tonnes of the stocks will be piled up in the open for lack of storage space, the demand for allowing exports is already growing. Ministry of Commerce has already started an exercise to know how much quantity of wheat can be allowed for exports.
THE DEVELOPMENT DEBATE
The word ‘hunger’ does not appear in the 12th Plan Approach Paper even once, whereas according to the latest Global Hunger Index Report, India continues to be in the category of those nations where hunger is ‘alarming’. What is worse, India is one of the three countries where the hunger index between 1996 and 2011 has gone up from 22.9 to 23.7, while 78 out of the 81 developing countries studied, including Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Kenya, Nigeria, Myanmar, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Malawi, have all succeeded in improving their scores.
According to the central government’s Economic Survey, foodgrain production in India has gone down from 208 kg per annum per capita in 1996-97 to 186 kg in 2009-10, a decline of 11%. From the reduced production, India has been exporting on average 7 million tonnes of cereals per annum, causing availability to decline further by 15% from 510 gm per day per capita in 1991 to 436 gm in 2008.
File photo of a poor family, Indranil Bhoumik Mint
Ironically, despite falling per capita foodgrain production in the period 1991-2010, procurement of cereals on government account has gone up, suggesting a decline in poor people’s consumption and their purchasing power. This may have happened because of structural imbalances (high minimum support price or MSP, rising capital intensity, lack of land reforms, failure of poverty alleviation programmes, no new technological breakthrough in agriculture, etc.) created in the economy, as well as due to production problems in less endowed regions (erratic rainfall, soil erosion and water run-off, lack of access to credit and markets, poor communications) which led to the dangerous situation of huge surpluses in Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns since 2008 coupled with widespread hunger. Another factor escalating hunger is spiralling food prices, despite (or perhaps because of) rotting food stocks in government godowns.
The policy approach to agriculture since the 1990s has been to secure increased production through subsidies on inputs such as power, water and fertilizer, and by increasing the MSP rather than through building new capital assets in irrigation, power and rural infrastructure in less endowed regions. This has shifted the production base from low-cost regions to high-cost ones, causing an increase in the cost of production, regional imbalance, and an increase in the burden of storage and transport of foodgrains.
The equity, efficiency, and sustainability of the current approach are questionable. Subsidies do not improve income distribution or the demand for labour. The boost in output from subsidy-stimulated use of fertilizer, pesticides and water has the potential to damage aquifers and soils – an environmentally unsustainable approach that may partly explain the rising costs and slowing growth and productivity in agriculture, notably in Punjab and Haryana. Instead of promoting low-cost options that have a higher capital-output ratio, present policies have resulted in excessive use of capital on the farms.
Major food related programmes, such as the Public Distribution System (PDS) and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) are plagued by corruption, leakages, errors in selection, procedural delays, poor allocations and little accountability. They also tend to discriminate against and exclude those who most need them, by social barriers of gender, age, caste, and disability; and state hostility to poor urban migrants, street and slum residents, dispersed hamlets, and unorganised workers such as hawkers. In Rangpur Pahadi, a slum area just a few kilometres away from Vasant Kunj in Delhi, people living since 1980 have not been given a voter ID card or a ration card. Thus their very existence is denied by the Delhi government!
The practice of bogus reporting is so widely prevalent in all the states, presumably with the connivance of senior officers, that the overall percentage of malnourished children under three years of age, according to central government data, is 8%, with only 1% children severely malnourished, as against 46% reported by National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3), with 17% being severely malnourished. Field officials are thus able to escape from any sense of accountability for reducing malnutrition and hunger.
A recent evaluation of ICDS in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) showed that 63% of food and funds are misappropriated. In place of cooked food as directed by the Supreme Court, manufactured ready-to-eat food with only 100 calories is given to children, as against the norm of 300 calories.
More than half of the poor either have no card or have been given above poverty line cards, and are thus excluded from the below poverty line (BPL) benefits. These must presumably be the most poor tribal groups, women-headed households and people living in remote hamlets where administration does not reach. Thus, the people most deserving of government help are deprived of such assistance. On the other hand, almost 60% of the BPL or Antyodaya cards have been given to households belonging to the non-poor category. It is doubtful that the current Socio-Economic Caste Census will be able to weed out these errors of exclusion and inclusion.
The food ministry should have a greater sense of ownership of PDS and improve its oversight mechanisms. For instance, it should start an annual impact study of the PDS, especially in the poorer states. It is willing to spend Rs. 60,000 crore on the programme but not willing to spend even Rs. 60 lakh on monitoring and evaluation of the programme. That means spending approximately one rupee out of every one lakh rupees on monitoring. But the ministry has not conducted a single multi-disciplinary third-party objective evaluation of PDS in the last eight years.
Further, the poorest 150 districts (which will cover most of the tribal majority areas in central India) should have universal PDS. In no case should export be permitted. If basmati is to be exported, equal amount of ordinary rice must be imported.
Large-scale substitution of PDS by direct cash transfers (DCT) is not feasible, as foodgrains purchased from the farmers through MSP mechanism need an outlet for distribution. Besides, DCT needs a good banking structure, a functional registration system and widespread use of debit cards. At best, it could be tried on a pilot basis in a few poor localities of metropolitan cities.
India requires a significant increase of targeted investments in nutrition programmes, clinics, disease control, irrigation, rural electrification, rural roads, and sanitation, accompanied by systemic reforms that will overhaul the present system of service delivery, including issues of control and oversight. This in turn requires improving the governance, productivity and accountability of government machinery.
N.C. Saxena is a member of the National Advisory Council. He has worked as Secretary, Planning Commission (1999-2002) and Secretary, Rural Development (1997-99).
India, host to the 2010 Commonwealth Games, has led the largest food and
nutrition security programmes, such as the Integrated Child Development
Services (which reaches over 50 million children), the Midday Meal Scheme
and the Public Distribution System, although it still remains home to the
highest number of malnourished children.
Globally, more than 3 million children die every year from undernutritionrelated causes.
An estimated one-third of children under five years old in the developing world
are stunted – that’s 195 million children – and 129 million are underweight.
The critical period, when malnutrition can have the most irrevocable impact, is
during the 33 months from conception to a child’s second birthday – the first
After two years of age, it is much harder to reverse the effects of chronic
malnutrition, particularly its impact on the development of the brain.
Thirty per cent of the world’s population lives in the 54 diverse countries
that make up the Commonwealth – and at least 64% of the world’s
Nearly half of all under-fives in India are undernourished, almost 7 million of
them with severe acute malnutrition.
Bangladesh and Pakistan have high rates of malnourished children – 41% and
Of the African Commonwealth countries, Sierra Leone (21%) and Nigeria (23%)
have the highest proportions of malnourished children, Nigeria having the highest
actual number, with more than 5.75 million.