Hunger Overview

Hunger Overview

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The key findings of the report entitled The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020: Transforming Food Systems for Affordable Healthy Diets (released in July 2020) by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and others of the United Nations (UN) are as follows (please click here to access):

• In India, the 'prevalence of undernourishment' in the total population has reduced from 21.7 percent (i.e. 249.4 million) during 2004-06 to 14.0 percent (i.e. 189.2 million) during 2017-19. In Bangladesh, the same decreased from 14.3 percent during 2004-06 to 13.0 percent during 2017-19. In China, the 'prevalence of undernourishment' in the total population has fallen down from 7.9 percent during 2004-06 to less than 2.5 percent during 2017-19.

• For India, data pertaining to 'prevalence of severe food insecurity' in the total population and 'prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity' in the total population are not available in the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020 report.

• According to Vaishali Bansal, since 2017, SOFI presents two key measures of food insecurity: the conventional measure called the 'prevalence of undernourishment (PoU)' and a new measure called the 'prevalence of moderate and severe food insecurity (PMSFI)'. While PoU is focused on estimating the proportion of population facing chronic deficiency of calories, the PMSFI is a more comprehensive measure of the lack of access to adequate and nutritious food. Estimates of PoU are based on food balance sheets and national surveys of consumption. Given that consumption surveys are done infrequently in most countries, these estimates are often based on outdated data and are revised when better data become available. In contrast, the PMSFI is based on annual surveys that collect information on experiences of food insecurity (such as food shortages, skipping meals, and changing diet diversity because of a lack of resources). The PMSFI uses the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES), a gold standard in food security measurement developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), for estimating globally-comparable prevalence rates. Given the solid conceptual foundations of this methodology and the ease of collection of data, FIES and the PMFSI have been widely adopted by countries across the world. The FAO commissions Gallup to include FIES questions in the Gallup®World Poll (FAO-GWP) survey conducted in more than 140 countries across the world. Many countries have also started conducting their own FIES surveys. Unlike most other countries, the Government of India neither conducts official FIES surveys nor accepts estimates based on FAO-GWP surveys. Although FAO-GWP surveys are conducted in India, India is among the few countries that do not allow publication of estimates based on these surveys. Consequently, as in the past years, estimates of PMSFI for India are not published in SOFI.

• According to Vaishali Bansal, the SOFI 2020 report provides three-year average estimates of the number of food insecure people for South Asia as a whole and for South Asia (excluding India). By taking a difference between the two, one can derive the estimates for India. These estimates show that while 27.8 percent of India’s population suffered from moderate or severe food insecurity in 2014-16, the proportion rose to 31.6 percent in 2017-19. The number of food insecure people grew from 42.65 crore in 2014-16 to 48.86 crore in 2017-19. India accounted for 22 percent of the global burden of food insecurity, the highest for any country, in 2017-19. It is also noteworthy that while the PMSFI increased in India by 3.7 percentage points during this period, it fell by 0.5 percentage points in the rest of South Asia.

• The prevalence of wasting in Indian children below 5 years of age stood at 17.3 percent in 2019.

• The prevalence of stunting in Indian children below 5 years of age has fallen from 47.8 percent in 2012 to 34.7 percent in 2019.

• The prevalence of anaemia among Indian women of reproductive age (15-49 years) has slightly increased from 51.3 percent in 2012 to 51.4 percent in 2016.

• The prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding among infants (0-5 months of age) in India has grown from 46.4 percent in 2012 to 58.0 percent in 2019.

• The prevalence of overweight in Indian children below 5 years of age has declined from 1.9 percent in 2012 to 1.6 percent in 2019.

• The prevalence of obesity in the adult population (18 years and above) of India has gone up from 3.1 percent in 2012 to 3.9 percent in 2016.

• The relative inexpensiveness of energy-dense foods high in fat, sugar and salt is implicated in high rates of obesity. This is seen in high-income countries as well as in transitional economies, such as China, India and urban Africa. New research also shows that overweight increases in lower-middle-income countries are mainly due to very rapid changes in food systems, particularly the availability of cheap, highly processed food and sugar-sweetened beverages.

• The average cost of energy sufficient diet in India during 2017 is US$ 0.79, which is about 27.3 percent of food expenditure. Roughly 0.9 percent of the population cannot afford it.

• The average cost of nutrient adequate diet in India during 2017 is US$ 1.90, which is about 66.0 percent of food expenditure. Around 39.1 percent of the population cannot afford it.

• The average cost of healthy diet in India during 2017 is US$ 3.41, which is about 118.2 percent of food expenditure. Almost 77.9 percent of the population cannot afford it.

• The two sub-regions showing reductions in undernourishment – Eastern and Southern Asia – are dominated by the two largest economies of the continent – China and India. Despite very different conditions, histories and rates of progress, the reduction in hunger in both countries stems from long-term economic growth, reduced inequality, and improved access to basic goods and services. Average GDP growth rates were 8.6 percent and 4.5 percent in China and India, respectively, in the last 25 years.

• In Southern Asia, significant progress was also made in reducing hunger in the last ten years in countries like Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, owing largely to improved economic conditions.

• In countries like India, Ethiopia, etc., increases in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be necessary to meet dietary energy and protein requirements.

• Countries like India that have achieved larger-scale commercial poultry production with the use of improved breeds, feed, housing and vaccinations have seen marked declines in the prices of eggs and poultry products, even in the face of rising demand.

• For many, contract farming is an instrument that can provide certainty in expected returns on production. In India, for instance, contract farming in onions has led to increased yields and overall production levels.

• In middle-income countries of Asia, in particular in India and South-eastern Asian countries, the penetration of the modern retail sector in the form of supermarkets has been less pronounced than in other countries, such as in Mexico and South Africa.

• In India, rural business hubs have facilitated linking smallholder farmers to rapidly growing urban markets. Apart from procuring food products from the farmers, these hubs provide services such as farm inputs and equipment, as well as access to credit. Having food processing, packaging and cooling facilities at the same location allows consumers to benefit from economies of agglomeration and, on the whole, reduce transaction costs throughout the food supply chain. This model in India has given rise to rural supermarkets that provide cheaper staple foods. Consumers have been drawn to supermarkets providing fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, dairy, meats and fish, because they are without food safety concerns linked to traditional wet markets.

• In India, Indonesia and Viet Nam, traditional food retail outlets still represent more than 80 percent of the food retail share, and about 60–70 percent of the food retail share in upper-middle-income countries like China and Turkey.

• In India, policies that promote staple crop production, such as fertilizer and credit subsidies, price supports and irrigation infrastructure (particularly for rice), have tended to discourage the production of traditional non-staple crops, such as pulses and legumes. A bias in irrigation infrastructure development in favour of staple crops has been maintained in many other regions. Instead, policies should promote investment in irrigation infrastructure specifically targeting strengthened capacity for all-season vegetable production, and other high-value commodities to increase availability of nutritious foods.

• In India, the country’s Targeted Public Distribution System represents the largest social protection programme in the world, reaching 800 million people with subsidized cereals that can be purchased from more than 5 lakh fair price shops across the country. Evidence of the impact of the programme on dietary diversity and nutrition is mixed, although it showed some positive impact on the intake of macronutrients.


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