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Opinion

Fight Hunger, Not The Global Hunger Index

Chhatisgarh, July 07: A mother with her child lacking basic amenities lives below the poverty line, in Balrampur on Wednesday.

Recently, Welhungerhilfe and Concern worldwide, the two globally acknowledged organizations, released the Global Hunger Index (GHI)-2021. The report places India at 101st place amongst 116 countries – claiming that it has sufficient data to calculate the 2021 GHI scores. Undesirably, India has slipped from the world ranking of 94 in 2020 to 101 in the year 2021, and that it shares the status of ‘serious concern’ with countries including Angola, Ghana, Niger, Togo, Mali, Sudan, Ethiopia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan amongst others. The report informs that with a score of 27.5, India has a level of hunger that is serious. Notably, the score of ≤ 9.9 means low on the level of hunger, moderate at 20.0 to 19.9, serious from 20.0 to 34.9, alarming from 35.0 to 49.9, and extremely alarming for a score ≥ 50.0.

However, following the release of the GHI report, the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India has raised questions on the FAO methodology stating that it (methodology based on Gallup World Poll) is ‘unscientific.’ In a statement released by the ministry, it is said that the assessment of undernourishment (one of the 4 indicators GHI) is done through a survey by Gallup, whereas it should have been measured by calculating weight and height. 

Furthermore, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in its report “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021” mentions that (the) “Country-level results are presented only for those countries for which estimates are based on official national data or as provisional estimates, based on FAO data collected through the Gallup World Poll, for countries whose national relevant authorities expressed no objection to their publication.” 

It is important to understand that the GHI tool does not collect data on its own. Rather, its researchers use the set of data published by UN agencies, such as FAO, WHO, UNICEF, Inter-Agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation, The World Bank, and Demographic and Health Surveys.  

It is, therefore, evident that the findings on the subject of “Prevalence of Undernourishment in the total population” had due approval from the Indian authorities.

Since India has data from the National Family Health Survey-4 (the Year 2015-16) at the national level, if that is to be relied upon, 22.9% of Women and 20.2% Men had Body Mass Index less than 18.5 kg/m2. BMI is a measurement of the Status of Nutrition among adults by calculating height and weight. In this sense, the data of undernourishment can not be termed as a discrepancy.

The GHI uses four indicators across three dimensions. The three dimensions are Child Undernutrition, Inadequate Food Supply (Undernourishment), and Child Mortality. 

The four GHI indicators comprise: ‘Undernourishment’ [the share of the population that is undernourished (that is, whose caloric intake is insufficient)], ‘Child Mortality’ [the mortality rate of children under the age of five (in part, a reflection of the fatal mix of inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environments)], ‘Child Wasting’ [the share of children under the age of five who are wasted (that is, who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition)] and ‘Child Stunting’ [the share of children under the age of five who are stunted (that is, who have low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition)].

It is clearly visible that these four indicators reflect on the Outcome of Food Insecurity and not on the processes thereunder. In its statement on the GHI results, the Government of India has sought to argue that the GHI agencies should have taken cognizance of their efforts for providing Free Foodgrains to 194 Million families, interventions in Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, etc. However, the moot question is about the impact of these interventions. Therefore, one needs to conclude that the results betray the claims of the interventions undertaken.

It is also to be understood that the GHI-2021 doesn’t make claims of analysis on the “Impact of Covid-19 Pandemic or the Impact of Government’s Interventions during Covid-19 Pandemic.” These will definitely be unfolding in the coming years.

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Hunger in India or India in Hunger 

The FAO report says that the highest levels of food insecurity and malnutrition are seen in countries affected by multiple drivers and that India is one of those countries which is affected by all three major factors – economic downturns, conflict, and climate-related disasters.

India matters for every single part of the globe, as 30.5% of the global population is living in undernourishment, 24.2% of children are gripped in Stunting and 44.46% Wasted Children come from India. 

If the world has to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2, which pledges to end all forms of malnutrition by the year 2030, including achieving by 2025 the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under five years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women, and older persons, India has to work hardest among all the countries. 

Will it not be prudent for India to have a prospective plan to ensure that the SDG is achieved well before the year 2025? This achievement could be the most befitting tribute to the cherished celebrations.

What is to be done is the most commonly asked question.

The very first thing is that India has to actually adopt the policy for Integrated Management of Community-based Management of Malnutrition and apply principles of Nutrition Governance and Multisectoral Convergence. According to the Poshan Abhiyaan Portal, a total of 24.02 Crore activities have been organized by 18 ministries and of which 22.76 Crore are organized by the Ministry of Women and Child Development. Even after this huge number of activities, it is difficult to claim that Food Security has become a people’s campaign. 

According to the 2021 Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) Report, the global MPI measures acute multidimensional poverty across more than 100 developing countries. It does so by measuring each person’s deprivations across 10 indicators in three equally weighted dimensions: health, education, and standard of living. By identifying both who is poor and how they are poor, the global MPI complements the international $1.90 a day poverty rate.

As per the latest MPI report (2021), 1287.53 million persons are living in the net of Multidimensional Poverty in Arab states, East Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and Caribbean, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa regions, of which 29.61% (381.33 Million) live in India itself. In terms of Multidimensional Poverty, the situation of Scheduled Tribes (50.6%) and Scheduled Castes (33.3%) is rather worse.

At different levels, we may see that all the countries struggling with the challenge of Hunger, need to make stronger efforts for bringing Gender Equality as it is evident that Indian and Pakistani males receive 4.6 and 6 times higher benefits in Gross National Income. 

India has to make a lot more civilized policy planning in the spheres of maternity entitlements. The present maternity entitlement scheme – Pradhanmantri Matrutva Vandana Yojana has a conditionality that the benefit will be restricted to the first childbirth. In a nation, where women do not have reproductive rights, this conditionality is like corporal punishment for the mother.

Priorities are actually set under the process of allocation of financial resources. In the case of South Africa, expenditure of gross domestic product on Health and Education is 13 times higher than the expenditure on the military section. But in the case of Pakistan, expenditure on military interventions is almost three times higher than the Health and Education. India spends 2.4% of its GDP on the military, but 1.26% on health and 3.1% on education

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It is another thing that this interpretation may be dubbed by some as being ‘anti-national’. 

How may the expenditure impact indicators of the Global Hunger Index? 

The priority in financial resources makes South Africa a better place in terms of health systems. It has 23 beds for every 10, 000 population. Brazil also gives priority to Health and Education over military expenditures whereby it has 23.11 physicians and 21 beds for every 10, 000 population. However, in India, with a population of 10, 000, only five beds are available with 9.28 physicians.

What has worked 

It is very important to learn what strategies have actually worked. 

Many global experiences are proving that an integrated approach comprising a school feeding program, with nutrition education, nutri-gardens or homegrown school feeding along with the nutrition agriculture, social protection, and public procurement can bring sustainable change in terms of food and nutrition security. 

The 2021 FAO report mentions that the following strategies — the use, promotion, and protection of traditional varieties and wild edible species from local food systems to increase climate resilience has been adopted and in specific cases like in Brazil, local products have been included in the public procurement system and in the meals that are part of the school feeding program – have played a very constructive role in the reduction and prevention of Hunger and Malnutrition. 

Even in the conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic, Brazil continued to provide in-kind food transfer to be delivered directly to the children’s home and these food kits include at least 30% locally procured fresh foods as established by Brazil school feeding law. 

The World Food Program’s report – State of School Feeding Worldwide 2020 finds that School Feeding Programmes can create 1,700 jobs for every 100,000 children fed.

It is good to note that the Government of India proudly provided two of these ideas to the SOFI 2021 report. The report acknowledges that in India, an agro-ecological program based on the traditional knowledge of indigenous people has promoted the use of finger millets to address the impact of climate change on food production and rights of indigenous people to forest, land, and territorial management are enshrined within the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

Thus, now what is most important is to make sure that the three laws – Forest Rights Act (all rejected claims are revived and community rights are distributed), Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (Wages are increased by 60% and corruption is controlled) and National Food Security Act (inclusion of edible oil and pulses and foodgrains entitlement is increased to 10 KGs) are actually and completely implemented with the spirit to achieve SDG 2 of Ending Hunger.

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Bitter or sweet, but the truth is that India has become self-reliant in the case of cereals (rice and wheat), but when it comes to dietary diversity, the situation is rather bleak. 

According to the study report of ICMR-National Institute of Nutrition titled “What India Eats”, India’s rural population is arranging 65% energy, 48.4% protein from cereals. The part of cereals in their food plate must be less than 40% and the rest should comprise pulses, fat, milk, meat/eggs, vegetables, and fruits. 

The official body says that the proportion of the population consuming more than the recommended intakes of cereal was 97.1% in rural and 68.8% in urban regions. 

Will eating a huge amount of cereals make India free from hunger and malnutrition? 

Will eating a huge amount of cereals make India free from hunger and malnutrition?

This is also a fact that unless Niti Aayog decides to make dietary diversity (ensuring availability of at least five food groups in the daily food plate out of a total of 10 Food Groups) as a prioritized national agenda with a time-bound framework and sufficient financial resource allocations, India will continue to be afflicted with Hunger and Malnutrition.

Since we are keeping our focus on the subject of Food Insecurity and Malnutrition in India, it is important to mention here that pulses are the most important source of protein in Indian diets for hundreds of years, but in reality, the total availability is only 17 kgs per capita and even then there are many challenges for the poor in accessing the pulses due to higher prices in the market.

The matter can be resolved by bringing pulses in the public procurement system for public distribution under the National Food Security Act 2013. 

Edible oil requires the same advocacy. In the year 2019-20, India had to import 15 million tons of edible oil, because the country does not produce it as per its demand of 24 to 25 million tons. The consumption of oil is declining because of price rise and unaffordability since 2018-19.

Edible oil requires the same advocacy.

Making hunger a priority 

In the given situation, India has to make fighting against hunger its first priority. There are programs and schemes being implemented. However, it is a bitter truth that their souls have been sacrificed for growth-based development. 

The GHI is designed to raise awareness and understanding of the struggle against hunger, provide a means to compare the levels of hunger between countries and regions and call attention to the areas of the world in greatest need of additional resources to eliminate hunger.

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The policy recommendations of the GHI include a call to action to enhance the resilience of food systems to simultaneously address the impacts of conflict and climate change and to ensure food and nutrition security, base actions on a thorough understanding of the context, and strengthen inclusive, locally-led initiatives, commit to flexible, need-based, cross-sectoral, and multiyear planning and financing, address conflict on a political level, strengthen international law, and ensure accountability for rights violations; and lead the way to fundamentally change food systems.

Essentially, the Global Hunger Index does not seek to throw any stone on anyone’s sophisticated ego. It simply shows us the mirror and seeks to pull India out of its slumber to correct its perspective, priorities and accordingly align effective programming.

It is not the time to fight over the index. It is time to fight hunger conclusively. Every life counts and lets us help every individual celebrate it with dignity.

Sachin Kumar Jain is the Director, Vikas Samvad, a civil society organisation based in Madhya Pradesh. The views in this opinion piece are those of the author.

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