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Vol. 11 No. 1 - January 2005

Mission 2007: A Nutrition Secure India

By: M.S. Swaminathan

India, inspite of the impressive progress made in enhancing food production in recent decades, is the home of a very large number of chronically undernourished children, women and men.  A recent analysis of the reasons for food insecurity in rural and urban India by the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation and the UN World Food Program has revealed that inadequate purchasing power arising from inadequate employment / livelihood opportunities is the primary cause of under- and mal-nutrition.  This situation is due to both high population pressure on land, and slow growth rate in non-farm employment opportunities.  Maternal and foetal under-nutrition results in the incidence of low-birth weight babies, with serious long term consequences to the mental and physical development of the child. 

Because of substantial grain reserves with the Government as a result of the operation of a minimum support price for wheat, rice and other cereals, the Government of India has introduced in recent years a wide range of nutrition safety-net programs for those suffering from poverty.  India operates he world’s largest Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) and nutritious school meal program. Inspite of all such innovative social support programs, the incidence of both endemic and hidden hunger (caused by micro-nutrient deficiencies) is high.  Recently, a special Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS) has been introduced in 150 out of the 600 districts of India.  The National EGS provided 5 kgs. of wheat or rice per person per day and 25% of the total wage in cash.

The following are the other steps being taken to bring down significantly poverty-induced endemic hunger by 15 August, 2007, which marks the 60th anniversary of India’s independence.

  1. Implement all nutrition safety net schemes in an integrated manner on a life-cycle basis; fill gaps with reference to adolescent girls and pregnant women to avoid children with low birth weight, as well as to infants with 0-2 age group.

  2. Promote the widening of the food security basket by encouraging the establishment of Community Grain Banks based on local grains (millets, pulses, etc).

  3. Organise a Food Guarantee Programme combining the principles of Employment Guarantee Scheme and Food for Work.  Engender the Food for Work Programme so as to assist women to undertake a wide variety of human and social development programmes.

  4.  Sustain, strengthen and spread the on-going self-help revolution (SHGs) by ensuring backward linkages with technology and credit and forward linkages with markets.

  5. Enhance the productivity of cropping and farming systems by helping to bridge the prevailing wide gap between potential and actual yields, through mutually reinforcing packages of technology, services and public policies.

  6. Promote a Food based approach to Nutrition Security through the widespread cultivation and consumption of vegetables, fruits and a wide range of millets, legumes, tubers and by introducing a nutrition dimension in land use planning.

  7. Ensure access to clean drinking water, environmental hygiene, primary health care and elementary education.

These steps may help to remove the image of India being a country with grain mountains and hungry millions.


Prof. M S Swaminathan, F.R.S. is Chairman, National Commission on Farmers, Govt. of India; President, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs; Chairman, M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai, India. 

This article has been reproduced from the archives of EnviroNews - Newsletter of ISEB India.

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