India is self-sufficient, but millions go hungry

03.10.2016

It is depressing that, despite India producing sufficient food to feed its population, it is unable to provide access to food to a large number of people. The amount of food wasted in our country is staggering

India, with a population of over 1.2 billion, has seen tremendous growth in the past two decades. Its gross domestic product has increased 4.5 times and per capita consumption has increased threefold. Similarly, food grain production has nearly doubled. However, despite the phenomenal industrial and economic growth and while India produces sufficient food to feed its population, the nation is unable to provide access to food to a large number of people, especially women and children.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in a report, ‘The State of Food Insecurity in the World, 2015’, said 194.6 million people in India are under-nourished. By this measure, India accounts for a quarter of undernourished population in the world. Also, 51 per cent of women between 15 years and 59 years are anaemic and 44 per cent of children under five are under-weight. Malnourished children have higher risk of death from common childhood illnesses like diarrohea, pneumonia, and malaria.

The Global Hunger Index 2014 ranks India at 55 out of 76 countries on the basis of three leading indicators — prevalence of under-weight children under five years, under-five child mortality rate, and the proportion of undernourished in the population.

On the other hand, it is estimated that nearly 40 per cent of the fruits and vegetables and 20 per cent of the food grains that are produced, are lost due to inefficient supply chain management. Food grains do not reach the consumer market. The telling conditions in our country are revealed by the following state of affairs.

India is home to the largest under-nourished and hungry population in the world. Fifteen per cent of our population is under-nourished; 194.6 million people go hungry everyday; 30 per cent of children under five are under-weight;  58 per cent of children stunted before they turn two; one in four children malnourished; 3,000 children in India die every day from poor diet-related illness; twenty four per cent of under-five deaths in India; 30 per cent of neo-natal deaths in India. On food wastage, despite being a food surplus country, we have  not been able to curb food grain wastage. Topping it all, the produced food too is wasted.

On lost produce, a report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers revealed that each year, wheat equivalent to Australia’s annual grain production is wasted in India.

In Australia, 0.75 per cent of grain was wasted; in Ghana, 50 per cent of 2008 maize production was lost during storage. Globally, one-third of food production is lost, according to the FAO. This amounts to about 1.3 billion tonnes per year.

According to a Government study, India is growing more food but also wasting up to 67 million tonnes of it every year. That is more than the national output of countries such as Britain and, is possibly, enough food for Bihar, which is one of India’s larger States.

The value of the food lost — Rs 92,000 crore — is nearly two-thirds of what it costs the Government to feed 600 million poor Indians. The result is that lower supplies add to inflation and reduce the farmers’ returns.

The study was done to update findings two years ago that revealed enormous levels of food being chucked along the supply chain. The picture is more alarming for individual crops. One million tonnes of onions vanish on their way from farms to markets, as do 2.2 million tonnes of tomatoes. Overall, five million eggs crack or go bad due to lack of cold storage.

The following media revelation must serve as an eye-opener for the Government, only if it is willing to open its eyes. Of course, this has been going on for the last five decades. Even I have seen the place where food grain is stored — in the open, come sun shine or rain.

A report published in a leading national daily of Punjab sometime back said, “Over 95,000 bags of rotten wheat lying in the storehouse of the Haryana State Warehousing Corporation (HSWC) at Bani village will fetch the corporation much less than one rupee per kg. The highest bid received by the corporation for the disposal of the decayed wheat is 62 paise per kg.”

Though the authorities maintain that they are yet to accept the bid, sources say that there was no hope for a better option and any delay will see the bid amount fall further.

As many as 1,70,000 bags of wheat, belonging to the HSWC, was submerged in 10 ft to 12 ft of water when floodwaters from the Ghaggar entered Bani village. The authorities claimed that, depending on the percentage of sound grain, the wheat would be classified as “sound, feed-one, feed-two, feed-three, industrial, manure and dumping”.

The Food Corporation of India’s norms state that wheat with less than two per cent damage is  “sound”. The lot with 85 per cent to 90 per cent sound grain is categorised as feed-one, and that with 70 per cent to 85 per cent sound grain as feed-two. Both are used as animal feed.

Category feed-three with 55 to 70 per cent sound grain, is used for poultry, that with 30 per cent to 55 per cent sound grain, to make starch, with 10 per cent to 30 per cent sound grain, for manure. That with less than 10 per cent sound grain, is placed in the ‘dumping’ category.

After sorting the rotten wheat, the authorities found that 95,340 bags (4,767 tonnes) out of a total 1,70,000 were of ‘dumping’ category, for which the highest bid received by them was 0.62 paisa per kg. Only 2,280 bags were found of ‘feed one’ quality, for which the highest bid was Rs 940 per quintal.

The 4,920 bags with more than 60 per cent damage to the grain attracted a maximum bid of Rs 216 per quintal. It is a sad truth that the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India’s report on food grain management in the country says that out of 29 States and 7 Union Territories, eight have storage capacities of 120 days.

Most States like Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Assam do not have the capacity to handle stocks for more than 13-75 days. Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand and Assam cannot even handle their stocks for a month.

The bureaucracy claims to solve such problems on files, raising queries after queries and so called inter-departmental consultations. Rather than looking and rectifying this issue, our rulers have lost touch and are busy with foreign trips.

Instead of giving cash food-subsidy, why not give the food grains in kind as subsidy? Giving subsidy not in cash but in kind will solve the food storage problem and ensure that nobody remains hungry. The present approach will not work, despite all claims of poverty aviation programmes. The  Government has forgotten the dictum: ‘Waste not and want not’.


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