The Constitution of India ensures Food and Nutrition Security to its citizen as a fundamental right under Article 21. However, being home to 1.3 billion people, the reality is far from the constitutional definition. Juru Sabar, a landless farmer, living in Kaspani village, Ghatsila block, East Singhbhum district of Jharkhand, is an unfortunate example of this scenario. Juru belongs to the Sabar community—a particularly vulnerable Tribal Group (PVGT) as categorised by the Government of India.
For years, Juru has been cultivating only paddy on others’ land on equal sharing basis. Every year, he shares half of his total produce with his landlord. Unpredictable rainfall leading to failed crops, limited market access and no access to government services, make Juru and his family an obvious victim of malnutrition and hunger. Every year, the period from June to October is an extremely lean for the family where they consume only one or two meals a day which includes less than three food groups daily. His wife is anemic and their two children under 5 years are moderately malnourished, as per WHO growth chart. Juru and his family is one of the thousands of families living under similar situation in India. With such ground realities clubbed with legislations ensured by the government, are we still on track to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030?
India’s hunger status
As per the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2020 report, India with a score of 27.2 stands in the serious category. 46.6 million children are stunted in India with over 17 million children being wasted under the 5 years of age. Jharkhand bears the burden of very high level of malnutrition in the country. Malnutrition is one of the worst manifestations of food and nutrition insecurity. It is one of the worst enemies for the human development of the state. As per NFHS4 data, in Jharkhand, 45.3 % of children under 5 years are stunted (3rd rank), 29.0 % are wasted (1st rank),
and 47.8 % are underweight (1st rank). 65.2 % of women in the reproductive age (15-49 years) are anaemic (4th rank) and 31. 5 % have a Body Mass Index below normal (India average: 22.9 %). This worrying trend clearly indicates that Jharkhand may not be able to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030.
Dichotomy between food production, legislations and malnutrition in India
India’s increase in food production is not directly proportionate to its nutrition status. As per the Second Advance Estimates for 2019-20, total
food grain production in India is estimated at a record 291.95 million tons which is higher by 6.74 million tons of the food grains produced during 2018-19. Still, India is a home to 194 million hungry people (UN). Therefore, enhancement in food productivity and reforms in agriculture do not automatically ensure the food distribution or access to food by all in the country. In other words, access and consumption of food by people
is possible if there is a stable governance support mechanism.
India has many progressive legislations such as the National Food Security Act 2013 and various schemes to address food security. Despite this, more than 80% of the population live below the poverty line (BPL)1 in specific parts of the state of Jharkhand, and typically suffer from food shortages for 3-5 months per year. A significant number of the population are deprived of the various social security programmes.
Welthungerhilfe believes that good governance and strong institutional mechanism at all stages are indispensable for effective availability and
accessibility of food by every individual. In any democratic set up like India, the functioning of such institutions in food justice delivery is of utmost importance.
Need to strengthen legislations and government services
In Jharkhand, the government has declared to cover 82% instead of 75% (national target) of the population under the National Food Security Act(NFSA), 2013. Under this provision, individuals are entitled to five kg rice per person per month. Non-inclusion of pulses and the meagre quantity fails to fulfill the objective of ‘adequate food’ as mentioned under NFSA.
Another immensely effective act is the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNEGA)2 – a well-designed flagship programme to ensure wage employment and rural infrastructure development including agricultural production but falls short in its implementation. In Jharkhand, the government has passed a series
of welcoming initiates jointly with the civil society organisations which includes implementation of “Didi Badi” (Nutrition Garden under MGNREGA) that directly enhances a family’s dietary diversity. During the COVID-19 pandemic, MGNREGA turned out to be a good source of cash income for the rural households in the state.
Similarly, India also implements the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS)3 – one of world’s largest feeding programmes – which targets children from 0 to 6 years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers and adolescent girls for nutrition supplement, school meal programme, etc. But there are huge operational issues which hinder it from reaching the targeted population. If implemented effectively, the ICDS scheme can address the issue of malnutrition. In the year 2020, suspension of the services due to the COVID-19 pandemic created a large gap in the nutrition outcomes at the community level. Annapurna scheme, micronutrient supplementation programmes like (a) distribution of iron folic acid tablets to pregnant and lactating women, children, and adolescent girls), (b)vitamin-A programme for 1-6 years old children, (c) universal iodization of salt to combat iodine deficiency disease, etc. are among other Government initiatives which have potential to address malnutrition.
An efficient governance system is required to ensure synergy through convergence between Programmes/Missions/ Acts which impact nutrition directly or indirectly (income, sanitation, drinking water, feeding programmes etc.). Planning and execution should be done with community participation and involvement of trained community leaders. Most of the above programmes and schemes are the outcome of long-standing civil society movements in India which stand as good examples of people’s participation. There is an urgent need for collaboration between government and civil society, here civil society plays an advisory role to strengthen policies and support creating models.
Welthungerhilfe’s efforts to achieve Zero Hunger in Jharkhand
In Jharkhand, Welthungerhilfe with its partners Abhivyakti Foundation in Giridih, Center for World Solidarity (CWS) in East Singhbhum and PRAVAH in Deoghar is therefore promoting a multi-sector approach to achieve food and nutrition security by bringing together communities and government machineries. The planned initiatives aim to reduce chronic undernutrition, improve government extension services to better integrate agriculture,
nutrition, WASH, and train government healthcare workers.
In the past three years, under the project, 9,000 households, at least 7,000 malnourished children and 15,000 women in the reproductive age group of 15-49 years, and 1,000 small and marginal farmers have been supported across 162 remote villages of the three districts. In order to achieve SDG 2 – Zero Hunger by 2030, the state of Jharkhand needs rebalancing of agricultural policies and incentives towards more nutrition sensitive investment and policy actions all along the food supply chain to reduce food losses and enhance efficiencies at all stages. Nutrition-sensitive social protection policies will also be central for them to increase the purchasing power and affordability of healthy diets of the most vulnerable populations. Policies fostering behavioral change towards healthy diets will be needed.
To achieve SDG 2 – Zero Hunger–the state will need a system that ensures improved access to food, increase homestead production or promote sustainable integrated agricultural systems. This will not only improve productivity but also improve quality of family food basket. The state should invest more and more in promoting small holder farmer and
strengthen the local food system.