Hunger Overview

Hunger Overview

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According to the report Nourish South Asia: Grow a better future for regional food justice by Swati Narayan, Oxfam, September, 2011,

•    Children are the most vulnerable. In homes, nutritional rehabilitation centres and hospitals, unreported by the media, every single day more than 2000 children die of hunger in India alone.

•    At the peak of food and financial crises, more than 100 million people across South Asia were added to the ranks of the hungry-the highest in four decades.

•    Even after decades of land reforms in India, 41 percent of the rural population is effectively landless.

•    Within five years, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has expanded to provide work to 53 million households-roughly 33 percent of India’s rural population in 2009–10.

•    Since it is the panchayats who decide and plan, seventy percent of the ‘public works’ under NREGA chosen have prioritized environmental protection. In just the last three years, as many as 1.9 million ‘works’ have focused on water conservation and drought proofing alone.

•    India had set aside 100 million acres for jatropha cultivation (although in practice, 85 percent of farmers have already stopped its cultivation).

•    The Indian government’s aggressive promotion and cultivation of jatropha on 11 million hectares (27 million acres) of plantations, including on regular agricultural land where it will displace existing crops, including food crops, is therefore an example of an especially ill-advised policy. Its ambition to source 20 percent of all its petrol and diesel from biofuels by 2017 should be repealed.

•    Even in the midst of the food price crisis in 2008–9, government food stocks in most South Asia countries were above the buffer norm. Economist Jean Drèze’s graphic description a decade ago of India’s ‘mountains of foodgrains’, in state warehouses which ‘if they are laid in a row, would stretch more than a million kilometres, taking us to the moon and back,’ holds true to this day.

•    Though three quarters of South Asia’s poor live in rural areas, and are largely food producers, most are net purchasers of food. Food remains the biggest item in their household budgets. It is as high as 50 percent in South Asia compared with 17 percent in the United States. Food price inflation is therefore highly regressive as it hurts the poor the most.

•    More than 250 million dalits across South Asia live precariously. Despite being unconstitutional, untouchability has acquired new guises. Dalit farmers in 35 percent of villages surveyed across India were found to be barred from selling their produce in local markets. The musahars, in particular, who rarely own land, are among the most food insecure.

•    Forest dwellers and tribal populations across South Asia are also among the most acute victims of food insecurity.

•    Despite comprising only nine percent of India's population, indigenous tribal adivasis have been disproportionately affected in the race to modernity. In the last three decades, 55 million have been forcibly displaced from their traditional homes and livelihoods in the name of steel mills, large dams and other so-called ‘development projects’.

•    Ninety percent of adivasis are also either absolutely landless or own marginal plots of land that provide them with little or no food security. The Centre for Environment and Food Security in a 2005 survey found that a staggering 99 percent of tribal households face chronic hunger as they could not obtain even two square meals for even a single month in the entire year.

•    Almost one-third of children in the South Asia region are born with low birth weight. Today, 57 percent of the world’s underweight children live in South Asia.

•    Two-thirds of South Asia’s poor people live in a feudal rural landscape. Here, access to land is all important for food security. But land is concentrated in a few hands, largely with men. Though absentee landlordism has been officially abolished, in practice genuine land reform and redistribution has failed across most of South Asia.

•    The South Asian land Gini coefficient is 0.54–which is very unequal. Skewed landholding and the massive scale of rural landlessness are both chronic.

•    Nearly three-quarters of all farmers in South Asia cultivate less than five acres. The majority of farmers do not even own the lands they till. Instead, they remain bound by feudal relations of exploitation

•    Women now form 30 percent of the agricultural labour force in India.

•    Most rural women continue to earn less than men. Worse still, despite their back-breaking labours in the fields, 46 percent of women are in fact ‘contributing family members’ who are unpaid.

•    In India only 40 percent of the poorest are able to gain anything from 11 social programmes which cost the exchequer 2 percent of GDP. The ‘hoarding’ of ‘below poverty line’ (BPL) cards by village officials to fudge records and siphon off food grains and cash is also rampant.

•    The revolving door between government and business is also a threat. Three years ago, the Indian Education Ministry had to stave off severe pressure from private companies eager to replace the $1bn ‘market’ for freshly cooked school meals with packaged biscuits.

•    The onion crisis in India in January 2011, in particular, exposed the invisible role of the middlemen. Consumers had to pay 200–500 times more than the price at which they were purchased from farmers .

•    In India agriculture's contribution to GDP has declined from 62 percent in 1960 to a mere 17 percent in 2011. But the crux of the problem is that more than half the population of the region continues to survive on cultivation.

•    In desperation, a quarter of a million Indian farmers crippled by debt have committed suicide in the last fifteen years. The main culprit is the mismatch between the cost of production and income, which has increasingly begun to pauperise the peasantry.

•    With groundwater tables plunging, loan burdens rising and smaller holdings yielding less and less, ‘farming has become unviable’.

•    Since the fifties, South Asia’s population has more than tripled. In comparison, in the next forty years, it is estimated to increase by only one-third, to 2.3 billion. But with declining agrarian yields, even the current level of food security may prove to be too difficult to maintain with more mouths to feed.

•     Currently, across South Asia, 17–30 percent of the population does not consume the minimum level of globally recommended dietary energy

•    Though food grain production has more than trebled in South Asia over the last 30–40 years, per capita food availability struggles to keep pace. The productivity peaks of the Green Revolution are undeniably over. Even as India's population burgeoned by 17 percent in the last decade, farm output has expanded at just half that rate.

•    The Indian breadbaskets of Punjab and Haryana are heading towards desertification. The once lush, fertile landscape is fast turning grey.

•    Long-established state subsidies for smallholder farmers are also being systematically dismantled. In 2010, India moved to a cash subsidy scheme to replace fertiliser subsidies. The budget for extension services has almost been wiped out. And district agriculture research centres have become almost moribund.

•    More than 55 million tribal peoples were forcibly evicted through land acquisitions between 1951 and 2005. In the tribal-dominated Indian state of Chhattisgarh, a ministry of rural development report itself blamed the government and private companies for the ‘the biggest grab of tribal lands after Columbus’.

•    The Indian government estimates that since 1990 only 1.5 percent of the sown area has transitioned from farm to non-farm use. But even this would have yielded enough to feed more than 43 million hungry people every year.

•    In South Asia, a rise in temperature of 1.5ºC and a precipitation increase of 2 mm could result in a decline of rice yields of 3 to 15 percent.

•    Seven out of nine food crops could deteriorate in yield with just 1–2ºC of warming by 2030. Crop models indicate that average yields in 2050 may decline by about 50 percent for wheat, 17 percent for rice, and about 6 percent for maize from their 2000 levels.

•    Across South Asia, 60 percent of farming is concentrated in rain-fed areas that depend solely on monsoons.

•    Only 41 percent of the grains released by the Indian government reach poor households.

•    Though in 2008 the Indian government in response to the spate of suicides, cancelled the entire debt of $15bn of 40 million smallholder farmers, this has remained a one-off initiative..

•    The governments of Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam–where over two-thirds of the world’s rice is produced–have also explicitly endorsed System of Rice Intensification (SRI) methods in their national food security programmes.

•    Each day in India alone around Rs. 130 crores (US$ 27m) of fruits and vegetables spoil before they reach markets.


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