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India's malnourished population rises from 189.9 to 194.6 million in 2011-15, blame it on "neo-liberal" model, FAO suggests

By Our Representative
A just released volume, “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015", by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), prepared in coordination with International Fund for Agricultural Development and World Food Programme, has revealed that over the last thee years there has been an absolute rise in undernourished persons in India over the last five years -- from 189.9 million to 194.6 million between 2011 and 2015. The report insists, economic growth alone cannot fight issues of malnutrition.
The FAO report says, higher economic growth in India has "not been fully translated into higher food consumption, let alone better diets overall", adding, this suggests that "the poor and hungry may have failed to benefit much from overall growth."
In percentage terms, the proportion of the undernourished persons to total population has only slid marginally -- from 16.6 per cent to 15.2 per cent, not a very good shortfall. This is compared with China's undernourished persons, who have gone down from 11.7 per cent to 9.3 period during the same period, it points out.
The report comes against the backdrop of well-known pro-Narendra Modi economists Columbia University professor Jagdish Bhagwati and Niti Ayog chairman Arvind Panagariya strongly favouring the view that economic growth is the panacea for improved social sector and poverty reduction.
Calling these economists "neo-liberal", their critics, mainly follows of Nobel Laureate Amrtya Sen believe, however, that without special efforts growth per se cannot lead to poverty reduction. Critics also say, the "neo-liberal" policies under Modi are merely continuation of the former UPA government.
Rise in the number of undernourished persons in India has taken place when there has been a fall in their numbers in the Asia Pacific region, from 535.to 490.1 million during 2011-15. In China it went down from 163.2 million to 133.8 million. Bangladesh similarly showed reduction, albeit little -- from 26.5 to 26.3 million. However, by sharp contrast, quite like India, the number of undernourished persons in Pakistan went up from 38.3 to 41.4 million.
Praising Bangladesh, the FAO says, "A notable exception in terms of performance is Bangladesh, which has made faster progress and has already reached millennium development goal (MDG) hunger target, thanks also to the comprehensive National Food Policy framework adopted in the mid-2000s. Nepal also has not only reached the MDG hunger target, but has almost reached the 5 percent threshold."
As for China’s achievements, the FAO says, they come amidst the country's continued prospects of growth, increasing orientation towards the domestic market, expansion of economic opportunities in internal areas of the country and growing ability of the poor to benefit from developments.
On India, the FAO says, its picture if blurred by "inconsistency" between food consumption and income levels, increasing inequalities, poor data, and challenges of capturing the changing energy requirements of the population. The fact is, in India, "calorie consumption is lower than what per capita incomes and poverty rates would suggest", the FAO insists.

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