Food security has been a major developmental objective in India since the beginning of planning. India achieved self-sufficiency in food grains in the 1970’s and has sustained it since then. But the achievement of food grain security at the national level did not percolate down to households and the level of chronic food insecurity is still high. Over 225 million Indians remain chronically under nourished. In 2000-01, about half of the rural children below five years of age suffered from malnutrition and 40% of adults suffered from chronic energy deficiency. Such a high level of wasting away of human resources should be a cause for concern.
In recent years, there has been a shift in policy focus towards household level food security and per capita food energy intake is taken as a measure of food security. The government has been implementing a wide range of nutrition intervention programmes for achieving food security at the household and individual levels. The Public Distribution System (PDS) supplies food items, such as food grains and sugar, at administered prices through fair price shops. There have been a range of food-for-work and other wage employment programmes. Another approach adopted by the government is to target women and children directly; this includes mid-day meal programme for school going children and supplementary nutrition programme for children and women.
According to NSS, per capita cereal consumption has been declining since the early 1970’s despite a significant rise in per capita cereal production. This can be attributed to changes in consumer tastes, from food to non-food items and, within food group, from coarse to fine cereals. The decline in cereal consumption has been greater in rural areas, where the improvement in rural infrastructure has made other food and non-food items available to rural households.
The reality is that the bottom 30% of the population has not shown any improvement in cereal and calorie intake in the rural and urban areas despite a significant improvement in their real per capita expenditure. Their per capita calorie intake (1600 to 1700) falls short of the required norm. Intra-family food distribution is also inequitable in the rural households and the pre-school children get much less than their physiological needs as compared to adult males and females. Micronutrient deficiency is common among people. Diets of about 80% of the rural population contain less than half of the normal requirement of vitamin-A. This deficiency leads to preventable blindness. Iron deficiency is widely prevalent among pregnant women. This results in a high incidence of low birth weight children, which in turn contributes to malnutrition.
The most important challenge is to increase the energy intake of the bottom 30% of the population and at the same time facilitate diet diversification to meet micronutrient deficiency. The food gap can be met from the existing foodgrain stocks in the medium term and by increasing their purchasing power in the long run through increasing job opportunities. The micronutrient deficiency can be rectified through supplementary nutrition and supply of fortified food. There is also a need to improve the efficiency of the various food schemes initiated by the government and make it more available and free of corruption and urban bias.
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