NEW DELHI: India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world with an estimated growth of more than 7.5 per cent of GDP. Still the country has a population with a significant percentage of people living without having a square meal per day, says the Global Hunger Index (GHI) released on 11 October 2016.

According to the report released by US-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), India stands 97 in the list of 118 countries, showing the worst performance among neighbouring countries where it ranked 130 out of 188 countries in 2015.

While per capita income in India has more than tripled in the last two decades, the minimum dietary intake fell during the same period.

Levels of inequality and social exclusion are very high. In Asia, India stands better than only Afghanistan, Timor-Leste, Pakistan, and North Korea and has a worse than developing country average score of 21.3.

India scored 28.5 on a scale of 0 to 100 showing a marginal improvement over the previous period. While all other neighbouring countries showed better performance with China ranked 29 followed by Nepal (72), Myanmar (75), Sri Lanka (84) and Bangladesh (90), India’s arch rival Pakistan did a worse performance with a rank of 107.

Though the country has made rigorous improvement since 2000, India still remains a country having serious hunger condition. Overall, the Central African Republic, Chad, and Zambia fared the worst while Argentina fared the best (1) among the countries included in the study.

The report further states that if the hunger declines at the same rate as the report finds since 1992, the world will not achieve the target to end hunger by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (UNSDG) deadline of 2030 and India will be one of the nations remaining on the list which will be a sad state for the country that is emerging as a the best growing economy among the other world economies.

“More than 45 countries – including India, Pakistan, Haiti, Yemen, and Afghanistan – will still have “moderate” to “alarming” hunger scores in the year 2030, far short of the UNSDG to end hunger by that year,” said the report.

“India is slated to become the world’s most populous nation in the next six years, and it’s crucial that it meets this milestone with a record of ensuring that the expected 1.4 billion Indians have enough nutritious food to lead healthy and successful lives,” said PK Joshi, IFPRI Director for South Asia. “India is making tremendous progress—but it has significant challenges ahead,” he added.

The Global Hunger Index is a multidimensional statistical tool used to describe the state of countries’ hunger situation. It takes into consideration indicators like undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting, and child mortality.

India is home to 194.6 million undernourished people, the highest in the world, according to the annual report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. This translates into over 15 per cent of India’s population, exceeding China in both absolute numbers and proportion of malnourished people in the country's population.

“Higher economic growth has not been fully translated into higher food consumption, let alone better diets overall, suggesting that the poor and hungry may have failed to benefit much from overall growth,” says the report The State of Food Insecurity in the World.

The report suggests that this is a result of growth not being inclusive. “Rural people make up a high percentage of the hungry and malnourished in developing countries, and efforts to promote growth in agriculture and the rural sector can be an important component of a strategy for promoting inclusive growth.”

There has however been a significant reduction in the proportion of undernourished people in India — by 36 per cent — from 1990-92. In India, the extended food distribution programme has contributed to a positive outcome, the FAO says.

Around the world, 795 million people — or around one in nine — are undernourished. Asia and the Pacific account for almost 62 per cent of this section. Yet, the trends are positive, with a decrease in the prevalence of people with undernourishment — from 18.6 pc in 1990-92 to 10.9 percent in 2014-16 worldwide.

Southern Asia, which has historically had the highest number of underweight children below five years of age, also happens to be a region that has made big strides in reducing malnutrition among children.

According to the statistics, the prevalence of underweight children declined from 49.2 percent in 1990 to 30 percent in 2013. A host of factors can contribute to children being underweight, not just deficiency in calories or protein. Poor hygiene, disease or limited access to clean water can also contribute to the body’s inability to absorb nutrients from food, manifested finally in nutrient deficits such as stunting and wasting.

World Food Programme (WFP), present in India since 1963, has seen its work evolve with the country’s economic growth and changing needs. Self-sufficiency in cereal production and Government safety nets to provide food security has allowed WFP to transition from food distribution to providing technical assistance.

Food delivery was phased out in 2012 and under a new Country Strategic Plan 2015-18; WFP is supporting the Government in strengthening the efficiency and effectiveness of its food-based safety nets under the National Food Security Act (NFSA).

This includes the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS); the Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) targeting mothers and young children; and the Mid-Day-Meal (MDM) school feeding programme. WFP is also committed to enhancing the capacity of Government on food security analysis and benchmarking of NFSA schemes for effective results.

The Modi government has to seriously think of controlling its bursting population and improve methods of food production to get better yield for its food crops by providing better irrigation and electricity facilities to the farmers to deracinate hunger from the country.

Sustainable crop production is a way forward for growing or raising food in an ecologically and ethically responsible manner. This includes adhering to agricultural and food production practices that do not harm the environment, that provide fair treatment to workers, and that support and sustain local communities. Sustainable crop production is in contrast to industrial crop production, which generally relies upon monocropping (growing only one crop in a large area of land), intensive application of commercial fertilizers, heavy use of pesticides, and other inputs that are damaging to the environment, to communities, and to farm workers. In addition, sustainable crop production practices can lead to higher yields over time, with less need for expensive and environmentally damaging inputs.

(The writer is retired professor International Trade).