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The National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013 seeks to make the right to food a legal entitlement by providing subsidized food grains to nearly two-thirds of the population. Despite this the problem of hunger and malnutrition remains acute in some states of India. What change in approach shall be adopted to tackle this issue?

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  • With some facts highlight prevalence of hunger and malnutrition in India.
  • Discuss the success and failures of National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013
  • Highlight some factors that cause malnutrition and hunger in India.
  • Mention about the need for change in approach to tackle this issue and suggest a way forward.
The prevalence of hunger and malnutrition is an important indicator of a country’s poor health. Despite excellent economic growth in the last two decades India continues to suffer from ‘alarming’ hunger, and acute malnutrition. The Global Hunger Index 2017 ranks India at 100 out of 119 countries. According to FAO report ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2018’ about 15% of the population is undernourished in India. About 50% of women in reproductive age are anemic. Depth of the problem varies with the agro-climatic region in which the state falls along with individual preference for food determines household food diversity which in turn affects the nutritional status of children.

The National Food Security Bill 2013 which seeks to make the right to food a legal entitlement by providing subsidized food grains to nearly two-thirds of the population tries to address some of these concerns.

National Food Security Act, 2013 focuses is on food-based interventions and has placed little emphasis on schemes addressing the other determinants of malnutrition such as health and sanitation related interventions.

Several non-legal factors, such as whether we are able to increase food production in backward regions, regulate exports and thus increase availability, and identify the real poor correctly with some help from the biometrics-based unique identity (UID) programme decides the success of NFS 2013 in any region and so the problem of malnutrition.

But the commonly-held belief that food insecurity is the primary or even sole cause of malnutrition is misplaced. There are other factors too that cause malnutrition and hunger, especially among children, such as:
  • Low status of women in Indian society, their early marriage, low weight at pregnancy and illiteracy leading to low weight of new born babies.
  • Poor childcare practices, such as not immediate starting of breastfeeding after birth, no exclusive breastfeeding for the first five months, irregular and insufficient complementary feeding afterwards, and lack of quick disposal of child’s excreta.
  • Poor supply of government services such as immunization, access to medical care, and lack of priority to primary health care in government programmes.
  • Phenomenon of nutrition transition (shifts in dietary patterns due to economic development, modernization and urbanization), increases lifestyle disorders, including obesity, on the one hand and malnutrition on the other.
  • Changes in approach from food based to a holistic strategy and concerted effort is required to tackle the menace of malnutrition.
  • Scientists working in the fields of health, agriculture and nutrition must work together and exchange knowledge.
  • India needs to focus both on food security as well as nutritional security.
  • Prioritize the elimination of the triple burden of malnutrition- under-nutrition, over-nutrition and micronutrients deficiencies
  • Promoting a healthy and active lifestyle is as crucial as a balanced and nutritious diet.
  • Create awareness among the people (women empowerment, sanitation, reduce the extensive use of pesticides in agriculture, etc)
Prof. M S Swaminathan has been emphasizing the need for India to shift its focus from food security to nutritional security. Pointing out that attention should not be paid only to calories but also proteins and micronutrients, he called for eradication of three kinds of hunger — protein hunger, calorie hunger, and hidden hunger (deficiency of micronutrients such as iodine and iron). As suggested by him, agriculture, health and nutrition should be brought together in a triangular relationship to fight hunger and malnutrition in India.

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