The costs of corruption: Hunger in India. (Where do food and farm subsidies go?)
India is emerging as the world centre of hunger and malnutrition, a report by Indian campaign group, the Navdanya Trust, says. The trust says that there are more than 200 million people – or one-in-four Indians – going without enough to eat.
The prominent environmentalist Vandana Shiva, who runs the trust, said there were now more hungry people in India than in sub-Saharan Africa.
The government has not responded to the report which was released on Thursday. But it has repeatedly pointed out that huge progress has been made in recent years to improve the country’s food security as its population grows by an estimated 18 million people a year. The government also argues that individual states must take more responsibility to ensure that there is enough food to go around, especially in rural areas afflicted by bad harvests.
Ms Shiva said that 57 million children in India are underweight due to malnutrition.
“Studies worldwide show that the hungriest of people are its producers – the farmers”
The Navdanya Trust says that per capita food consumption in India has decreased from 186 kg per person annually in 1991 to 152 kg in 2001, despite government food subsidies costing billions of dollars.
The report is largely based on data collected from government surveys as well as the trust ‘s own material from areas where malnutrition is an issue. Ms Shiva argued that food provided in ration shops across the country does not provide for a balanced diet and is too rich in starch, leading diseases to such as diabetes.
She was also critical of genetically modified crops and chemical fertilisers, arguing that they only served to increase the costs of food production, forcing farmers into debt and in some cases causing them to commit suicide.
“Studies worldwide show that the hungriest of people are its producers – the farmers,” she said.
Ms Shiva told the BBC that the region of Bundelkhand in central India has been hit by drought and starvation for about five years. “So we’ve done a primary study there and 90 percent of the families aren’t eating a full meal. There are very high rates of starvation,” she said.
The BBC’s Jyotsna Singh says that the trust’s report comes at a time when the central government is working on new legislation which aims to ensure all citizens have enough to eat.
Our correspondent says that there are doubts as to whether the poorest of the poor will actually benefit under the scheme.
Some experts say that if the government is able to pass the bill it will be a significant first step towards improving India’s ranking on the global hunger index.
The trust’s report follows a UN study released in June which said that hunger in South Asia had reached its highest level in 40 years because of food and fuel price rises and the global economic downturn.
The report by the UN children’s fund, Unicef, says that 100 million more people in the region are going hungry compared with two years ago.