On the occasion of World Food day, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), in association with Germany’s Welthungerhilfe and Ireland-based Concern Worldwide released a global hunger index this week. The figures show that at least 33 countries around the world face alarming levels of hunger -- including India where an estimated 200 million people suffer from hunger and malnutrition.
Indian activist Dr. Vandana Shiva says agricultural policies have to be changed
India’s economy has grown steadily in recent years but its record on hunger has deteriorated tremendously. The International Food Policy Research Institute’s annual Global Hunger Index ranks the country 66th among 88 countries.
Iris Schoeninger is the coordinator of development policy at the Bonn-based Welthungerhilfe aid agency, one of the organisations involved with compiling the index.
“The ranking was made for 17 states, where more than 95 percent of the Indian population live and in 11 of the states, the situation was very alarming, particularly in Madhya Pradesh. Punjab, Kerala and Haryana are also very serious. We have no states where hunger is low or moderate.”
Trade liberalisation to blame
Vandana Shiva, a renowned activist from New Delhi, blames the Indian government’s policy of trade liberalisation, which was introduced in 1990s, for the worsening situation. She says the policy focuses more on the export of luxury crops to rich countries than on food for Indians.
She also finds fault with India’s agricultural policy: “The agricultural model that was introduced in the name of the ‘Green Revolution’ was actually a hunger-creating model. It was proposed as a hunger solution but when you destroy food sources in pulses, in vegetables, in greens and create a monoculture of rice and wheat, you have less food per acre and less nutrition access per capita.”
The hunger index also found that almost 50 percent of children are underweight in India. The worst performing state is Madhya Pradesh, where around 60 percent of children are malnourished. This is a worse result than in Ethiopia, which has experienced several famines.
Rural Indians missing out on boom
Despite the fact that India has one of the world's fastest-growing economies, rural Indians are clearly missing out on the benefits of the boom, says Shiva: “You will not have a trickle down because the growth is in the hands of the new billionaires, who have become rich by grabbing the real resources of ordinary people.”
Experts also say that the programmes the Indian government has introduced to combat malnutrition and poverty are not far-reaching enough. "There is a need to strengthen social protection programmes and those in place have to be improved to reach vulnerable families,” says Schoeninger. “At the same time health programmes have to target especially women and children.”
For her part, Shiva stresses the need to develop better farming systems: “Every assumption of industrial agriculture is wrong. We have evolved in this country -- through our organic movements -- models of farming that can increase food production five-fold or ten-fold depending on climatic conditions and that’s the model that can actually solve the problem of hunger.”
She insists it’s time that for the country to put a “food first” policy into place and that farmers be ensured an adequate price for what they grow. She adds that the poor must be able to buy food at affordable prices.