42% of Indian children under the age of five, are underweight. Every 15 seconds, a child dies due to neonatal complications. And India has one of the highest rates of child deaths in the world, accounting for 20% of the world total. In addition to this, India's sex ratio is one of the worse in the world, bringing to the light the issue of female foeticide and infanticide.
The Jaisalmer district in Rajasthan for example, has one of the worst gender ratios in India. There are 868 girls for every 1000 boys under the age of six. The national average is 914 girls for every 1000 boys according to the 2011 census data. But I digress... back to the issue of malnourishment. I simply do not understand this phenomenon in a country that actually produces enough food to feed everybody. The revamped Food Security Bill is going to do nothing to alleviate this problem and it is not the solution.
I will use Devinder Sharma's point to also argue my case. He has said that, "the PDS (public distribution system) - on paper - meets the food requirement of 900 million people. If this is true, I see no reason why the country should have the largest population of hungry in the world."
What India needs is deep introspection but for some reason this seems to fail our government. The hunger situation can only be alleviated through a program at a sub-national and state level. A grass-root inventory of food supplies and distribution system is needed to target the most needed communities - any PDS should only target the poorest of the poor. In spite of its largely agricultural economy, Indian farmers have tremendously difficult jobs and low wages. This needs rectification, otherwise addressing food security is pointless.
Education in rural levels should cater to rural lifestyle - the growing trend of establishing sub-par engineering and medical colleges not only diverts farmlands that are needed but educates children of farmers in education streams that do not fetch jobs. This also results in loss of local knowledge of agricultural techniques, paving way to more chemically intensive methods of farming and genetic engineering.
Agricultural education needs a new focus with rural colleges that teach sustainable farming, permaculture and organic farming techniques. This needs to become a priority fast so that the farming community can have a sense of pride in their heritage. These colleges should also develop to become research centers for studying about indigenous crops that resist drought and are nutrient dense. Dependence on monoculture like rice and wheat should be discouraged.
Community-based organic agricultural programs should be encouraged, especially in urban areas to reduce transportation burden as well as to encourage a culture of eating locally and seasonally. With growing environmental and climatic pressures on agriculture, measures that are taken now will ensure hunger eradication in the future.
It is indeed shameful for India to still struggle under the stigma of malnourishment. It is an even greater shame for Mr. Singh to admit it after seven years of being Prime Minister, and the only solution he can offer is to revamp an already broken system.
Photo Credit: Akhila Vijayaraghavan ©