Here is how India can eradicate malnutrition, hunger, food insecurity by 2030

Significant adjustments in the foods we produce and consume are necessary to maintain the integrity of our ecosystem and the health of communities

By Rommila Chandra
Published: Monday 31 October 2022
The quantity and quality of food that people can access continue to be challenged by the intensification of the major factors contributing to food insecurity and malnutrition. Photo: iStock

Food and nutrition security is a fundamental human right. We are still not on track to achieve the 2030 targets for eradicating hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition.

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened obstacles to a healthy future. It underlined the vulnerabilities of our food systems and exposed the disparities in our society.

The quantity and quality of food that people can access continue to be challenged by the intensification of the major factors contributing to food insecurity and malnutrition.

Such factors include — conflict, climate extremes, economic shocks and growing inequality.

These factors frequently occur in combination, complicating fiscal situations and the efforts towards mitigating the same.

It is crucial to ensure the affordability of a healthy diet. It entails an increase in the supply of safe and nutrient-rich foods as well as a shift in consumer preferences.

From a policy standpoint, this also suggests that good diets must be more reasonably priced than unhealthy ones.

Developing countries like India could invest heavily in agri-food systems to support recovery with enhanced food security and nutrition despite an economic slowdown, decreased household income, irregular tax revenues and inflationary pressures.

The current policies have encouraged modern agri-food systems to price healthy diets many times more than diets that rely on staple cereals.

These restrictions have made low-cost foods with a high energy density and little nutritious value more popular.

In the past, national food security plans aimed at ensuring nationwide food supply. They focussed on cereals like wheat, rice, or maize. As a result, most of the poor can afford cereals. But they don’t provide a complete range of nutrients.

Future smart crops — such as amaranthus, buckwheat, minor millet, finger millet, proso millet, foxtail millet and pulses — were traditionally grown in India, making them an important source of food and nutrition security.

These traditional crops are gradually becoming extinct for various reasons.

A lack of knowledge about their nutritional worth, viable local markets for the output and the rising demand for cash crops are fuelling their extinction.

In recent years, unanticipated forces in the socio-cultural value system have changed eating habits and diets worldwide.

The majority of the food and agriculture policy assistance now in place does not support the promotion of healthy eating. In addition, much of the support is market-based, inequitably dispersed and environmentally harmful.

Trade and market interventions, among other policies, produce pricing incentives, disincentives and fiscal subsidies to producers and consumers.

These laws impact all stakeholders. They also affect the accessibility and cost of healthy diets. The change in diet has detrimental effects on health, causing undernutrition and obesity. 

It is also necessary to reconsider how public funds are allocated to repurpose food and agricultural policies — in terms of agricultural productivity, supply chains and consumer behaviour.

Significant adjustments in the foods we produce and consume are necessary to maintain the integrity of our ecosystem and the health of communities.

Six global nutrition targets were set by the World Health Organization in 2012, which are to be achieved by 2025.

India is not on track on achieving five of the six global maternal, newborn and young child nutrition targets to address — stunting, wasting, anaemia, low birth weight and childhood obesity, according to the 2021 Global Nutrition Report.

Global nutrition target, established to tackle the rising incidence of non-communicable diseases, is also falling short of its goals in India.

Our health and the environment are significantly shifting away from whole-food-based, balanced meals. It is now inclined towards sugary drinks, highly processed foods and processed red meat. 

Go traditional

The Indian diet is notably deficient in fruits, legumes, nuts, fish and dairy — all of which are essential for healthy development and the prevention of non-communicable diseases.

Thus, bridging the gaps in the nutritional composition of the daily meal is the first step India must take to tackle the triple burden of malnutrition, nutrition disparity and food insecurity.

Traditional food systems are best positioned to maintain the general public’s health and nutritional security as they are aligned with the local, ecological, socio-cultural and economic contexts.

The future smart crops are more nutritious compared to staple food crops.

They provide more macro and micronutrients, require less external input and are well-adapted to marginal and harsh climatic conditions. Policy actions are urgently needed to incorporate all stakeholders to improve the current food system.

Additional funding is required to bridge the production and nutrition gap brought by the agricultural dominance of some staple crops.

India also needs — a more robust data management system, improved responsibility in the food distribution system, effective resource management, enough nutrition education, increased staff and rigorous monitoring — to achieve the global nutrition targets by 2030.

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.