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According to the World Disaster Report 2011: Focus on Hunger and Malnutrition, which has been produced by International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies,

• There has been progress in feeding more people than ever before even as the world’s population has grown by around 50 per cent since the mid-1970s. Even so, the number of undernourished people in the world was higher in 2010 – 925 million according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)–than in the early 1970s. There was a record peak of more than 1 billion hungry people in 2009 following dramatic food price rises in 2007–2008.

• The majority of the hungry are in the Asia Pacific region, especially the Indian subcontinent, and in sub-Saharan Africa. Most of the hungry live in rural areas. A substantial and growing number of the world’s hungry also lives in urban and peri-urban areas.

• In 2005 the World Bank estimated that malnutrition costs the global economy around US$ 80 billion a year. The loss to the Indian economy alone is at least US$ 10 billion a year, or 2 to 3 per cent of GDP.

• The United States Department for Agriculture (USDA) reports that in 2010 about US$ 68 billion was spent through its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – also known as ‘food stamps’ – to reach just over 40 million people – compared to US$ 250 million (1969 prices) in 1969 that benefited some 2.9 million people.

• At least 1 billion people are undernourished and lack key vitamins and minerals, while at the same time a staggering 1.5 billion people are overweight or obese.

• India’s public distribution scheme technically caters to 316 million people who are in the ‘below the poverty line’ category. Add the ‘above the poverty line’ category and the scheme is supposed to provide food to more than 900 million people. But the way the below the poverty line (which should be dubbed the ‘starvation line’) has been drawn, the distribution scheme fails to provide them with their minimal daily food intake. If the scheme had been even partially effective, there is no reason why India should be saddled with the largest population of hungry people in the world.

• Despite four ministries administering 22 programmes to alleviate hunger and poverty, the budget allocation for which is enhanced almost every year, the poor still go hungry and hundreds of children die every day in India from malnourishment.

• According to the recommendations of the Indian Council of Medical Research, each able-bodied adult needs a minimum of 14 kilograms (kg) of grains a month. Given that an average family comprises five members, the household allocation would be 70kg. The distribution scheme at present provides only 35kg of wheat and rice to each family, so the hungry remain perpetually hungry.

• In a country that has emerged as the world’s fifth largest economy with a growth rate of almost 9 per cent, more than 700 million people remain food insecure.

• One problem in India, according to the Deccan Development Society and others, is the neglect of small farmers – especially women – who are the main producers of local foods and traditional grains such as millet and sorghum. The Deccan Development Society has been working with poor, illiterate dalit (untouchable) women to help them to restore the fertility and productivity of the almost barren lands they received from the government as a result of land reforms and to have the means to communicate about their needs. It also works to get the government to include the millets and sorghums, which grow so well in drier areas such as the Deccan, into the national food distribution system and to consider actions to promote their production and consumption as a priority.

• In New Delhi, India, a research project which gave thin and anaemic pregnant women a multiple micronutrient supplement in addition to their regular iron and folic acid, found a mean increase of 98 grams in the birth weight of their babies and a 50 per cent reduction in illness among the newborns compared to a placebo.

• India has been a net exporter of agricultural and food products since 1995. It is also a net exporter of meat and dairy products. India, Pakistan, Thailand, the US and Viet Nam represent 80 per cent of world rice exports.

• In countries with public procurement systems in place, such as Bangladesh and India, the governments were able to support farmers by procuring rice at a higher price and providing subsidies to poor and marginal farmers to mitigate higher costs of production for irrigation and fertilizer.

• Evidence from India and elsewhere in Asia shows that smallholders consistently produce higher yields than larger capital-intensive farms. Small farmers generally use their land more intensively than larger operations, because they utilize every scrap and corner. Most importantly, there is an inverse relationship in low- and middle-income countries’ economies between farm area and both labour and output per hectare, because smallholders aim to maximize food production.

• The Indian dairy industry has gone from being the 78th largest in the world to number one in just a few decades, almost entirely on the basis of cooperative dairies collecting milk from small farmers whose small herds are fed with home-grown fodder crops.

• Globally, human nutrition has come to depend upon very few crops as its staples. Just three crops–rice, wheat and maize–account for more than half the energy intake from plants. Another six–sorghum, millet, potatoes, sweet potatoes, soybean and sugar–take the total to more than 75 per cent, while 90 per cent of humanity’scalorie intake comes from just 30 crops.

• From 1988 to 1997, foreign direct investment in the food industry increased from US$743 million to more than US$2.1 billion in Asia and from US$222 million to US$3.3 billion in Latin America, significantly outstripping the level of investments in agriculture. At the same time, sales through supermarkets grew as much as they had in the United States over 50 years.

• Much development policy has focused on industrialization and has neglected rural and agricultural development over the last 30 years. Attention has shifted away from agriculture in the big development agencies, such as the World Bank, which lent about 26 per cent of its total budget to agriculture in the 1980s but only 10 per cent in 2000.

• Every year some 9 million children across the world die before they reach their fifth birthday, and about one-third of these untimely deaths is attributed to undernutrition.

• Some 178 million children under the age of 5 suffer from stunted growth as a result of undernutrition. About 55 million under 5 years of age are acutely undernourished, which means that their bodies are wasted – they are underweight for their height – and 19 million of these children are severely wasted.

• Anaemia in children has only relatively recently been recognized as a widespread problem, and there are almost no data before 1995. Haemoglobin is now one of the elements measured in demographic and health surveys, and they show that in sub-Saharan Africa around 60 per cent of children are anaemic compared with a global average of nearly half of all preschool-age children. Some 40 per cent of women in low- and middle-income countries are believed to suffer from anaemia, which affects a total of around 2 billion people worldwide.

• Vitamin A deficiency, which is the most common cause of blindness in low- and middle-income countries, affects around 30 per cent – some 163 million – of children in poor countries. Two-thirds of affected children are in South and central Asia, which along with West Africa have the highest prevalence of childhood vitamin A deficiency, at more than 40 per cent. Latin America and the Caribbean have the lowest prevalence, at 10 per cent. Nearly 14 million children with the condition have some degree of visual loss, and 250,000 to 500,000 are blinded every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight.

• More than 1.7 billion of the world’s people (of whom 1.3 billion live in Asia) suffer from iodine deficiency , which can lead to stunted growth and other developmental abnormalities and which is one of the commonest causes of mental impairment and retardation in children worldwide.

• More than 3 billion people, or 31 per cent of the world’s population, are deficient in zinc, which increases the risk for children of diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria, and is thought to contribute to more than 450,000 child deaths annually worldwide.

• According to Save the Children, deficiency in vitamin A and zinc could be prevented with supplements costing just 6 US cents and US$ 1.6 per child per year respectively.

• A multi-country study reported in The Lancet in 2007 found that for every 10 per cent increase in the prevalence of stunting in the population, the proportion of children reaching the final grade of school fell by 8 per cent.

• The causes of hunger and undernutrition are complex and include structural factors such as lack of investment in agriculture, climate change, volatile fuel prices, commodity speculation and the ebb and flow of global market forces

• About one-fifth of the world’s 185 million undernourished people live in towns and cities and the root cause of their hunger is overwhelmingly poverty.

• Families in many countries consider their girls an economic burden and marry them off young, occasionally even before puberty. The practice is most common in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Girls who become pregnant in their teens stop developing physically themselves and are at increased risk of delivering low birth weight babies, thus setting in motion the cycle of deprivation described earlier. In India, where 40 per cent of the world’s low birth weight babies are born, 8 per cent of women aged 20–24 years in 2006 had given birth to her first child before she was 16 years old.

Save the Children estimated that in 2008 alone, a minimum of 4.3 million (and potentially as many as 10.4 million) additional children in low- and middle-income countries may have become malnourished as a result of food price rises.


Rural Expert

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