The number of undernourished people in India has declined in the last 15 years to 224.3 million in 2019-2021, according to a UN report, which also said that there are more obese adults and anaemic women in the world’s second-most populous country.
The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022 report, issued on Wednesday by UN agencies Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), UNICEF, World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), said that the number of people affected by hunger globally rose to as many as 828 million in 2021, an increase of about 46 million since 2020 and 150 million since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report said that in India, the number of undernourished people declined to 224.3 million in 2019-21 from 247.8 million in 2004-06.
It said that the number of children under 5 years of age who are stunted declined to 36.1 million in 2020 from 52.3 million in 2012, and the number of children under five years of age who are overweight declined to 2.2 million in 2020 from three million in 2012.
However, the number of obese adults in India, which has a population of over 1.38 billion, grew to 34.3 million in 2016 from 25.2 million in 2012 and the number of women aged 15 to 49 years affected by anaemia also grew to 187.3 million in 2019 from 171.5 million in 2012.
The report added that the number of children up to 5 months of age exclusively breastfed touched 14 million in 2020 from 11.2 million in 2012.
In percentage terms, the prevalence of undernourishment in the total population in India stood at 21.6 per cent in 2004-06 and declined to 16.3 per cent in 2019-21, and the prevalence of stunting in children under 5 years of age declined to 30.9 per cent in 2020 from 41.7 per cent in 2012 and the prevalence of overweight children under five years of age was 1.9 per cent in 2020 from 2.4 per cent in 2012.
The prevalence of obesity in India’s adult population increased to 3.9 per cent in 2016 from 3.1 per cent in 2012 and anaemic women aged 15 to 49 years declined marginally from 53.2 per cent in 2012 to 53 per cent in 2019.
The report also noted that in India, people who were unable to afford a healthy diet touched 973.3 million in 2020 or nearly 70.5 per cent, up from 948.6 million in 2019 (69.4 per cent).
In 2017, about a billion people were unable to afford a healthy diet in India and this number has declined to 966.6 million in 2018. The report noted that subsidies to consumers provided in Lower-Income Countries and Middle-Income Countries most often take the form of in-kind or cash transfers under the social protection programmes.
India and Indonesia, for example, provide substantial subsidies to final consumers under the Targeted Public Distribution System for grains in India, and the food assistance programme (BPNT) based on electronic vouchers for rice, in Indonesia, it said.
“The most prominent example of a (Lower-middle-income countries) LMIC is India, where the food and agricultural policy has historically focused on protecting consumers by ensuring affordable food prices, through export restrictions (on wheat, non-basmati rice, and milk, among others) and through marketing regulations around pricing and public procurement, public food stockholding and distribution of a vast range of agricultural commodities,” it said.
“As such, farmers have constantly faced price disincentives in aggregate terms (negative NRPs). Input subsidies and expenditure on general services such as in R&D and infrastructure have been widely used as a means of compensating them for the price disincentives generated by trade and market measures, and for boosting production and self-sufficiency in the country,” it added.
The report noted that after remaining relatively unchanged since 2015, the proportion of people affected by hunger jumped in 2020 and continued to rise in 2021, to 9.8 per cent of the world population.
This compares with 8 per cent in 2019 and 9.3 per cent in 2020.
World hunger rose in 2021, with around 2.3 billion people facing moderate or severe difficulty obtaining enough to eat — and that was before the Ukraine war, which has sparked increases in the cost of grain, fertiliser and energy, according to the report.
“The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World” paints a grim picture, based on 2021 data, saying the statistics “should dispel any lingering doubts that the world is moving backwards in its efforts to end hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms”, it explained.
It warned that the ongoing war in Ukraine, “is disrupting supply chains and further affecting prices of grain, fertiliser and energy” resulting in more price increases in the first half of 2022. At the same time, they said, more frequent and extreme climate events are also disrupting supply chains, especially in low-income countries.
Ukraine and Russia together produced almost a third of the world’s wheat and barley and half of its sunflower oil, while Russia and its ally Belarus are the world’s No. 2 and 3 producers of potash, a key ingredient of fertiliser.
Nearly 924 million people (11.7 per cent of the global population) faced food insecurity at severe levels, an increase of 207 million in two years. The gender gap in food insecurity continued to rise in 2021 — 31.9 per cent of women in the world were moderately or severely food insecure, compared to 27.6 per cent of men — a gap of more than 4 percentage points, compared with 3 percentage points in 2020.
Almost 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020, up 112 million from 2019, reflecting the effects of inflation in consumer food prices stemming from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures put in place to contain it.
An estimated 45 million children under the age of five were suffering from wasting, the deadliest form of malnutrition, which increases children’s risk of death by up to 12 times. Furthermore, 149 million children under the age of five had stunted growth and development due to a chronic lack of essential nutrients in their diets, while 39 million were overweight.
“This report repeatedly highlights the intensification of these major drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition: conflict, climate extremes and economic shocks, combined with growing inequalities,” the heads of the five UN agencies wrote in this year’s Foreword.
“The issue at stake is not whether adversities will continue to occur or not, but how we must take bolder action to build resilience against future shocks,” it added.