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15% India is undernourished, as Rs 50,000 crore food goes waste

By Sheshu Babu* 
Sujalam suphalam bharat desh mein/ Roti mehengi kyon rey bhai (In Bharat, where there’s plenty of water and resources, why is bread so very costly?). -- From 'Bharat Apna Mahan Bhumi', performed by the Revolutionary Cultural Front. Song originally written by poet-singer Gaddar, translated into Hindi by Villas Ghogre
Poverty and hunger are common features of India. The Global Hunger Index (GHI) has further exposed this truth in a report prepared by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) . The report said, “India is ranked 100th out of 119 countries, and has the third-highest score in all of Asia – only Afghanistan and Pakistan are ranked worse.”
The report further said that at 31.4, India's GHI of 2017 is at the high-end of “serious” category, and is one of the main factors pushing South Asia to the category of worst performing region, followed closely by Africa south of Sahara.
In an article analysing India's low performances in most development indexes, policy analyst Mohan Guruswamy (“How Hungry is India and Why?” October 20, 2018, thecitizen.in) rightly said, “Hunger in India is not a consequence of not producing enough food. It is a consequence of very many people not having enough money to spend on food, sometimes even for bare sustenance.”
While there were over 190.7 million people who were undernourished in 2014, the number has increased since then. According to a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimate in “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018” report, 195.9 million people are undernourished in India (Hunger in India, www.indiafoodbanking.org). That is,14.8% of people are undernourished.
India as the largest undernourished population in the world, and yet, total foodgrains produced reached an all time high of 251.12 million tonnes (MT) in FY15. Total rice and wheat production stood at 102.54 MT and 90.78 MT respectively. Thus, distribution of food is a primary cause of starvation and deaths.

Factors for hunger

The most important factor for hunger is that food remains inaccessible to most poor people. Much food is wasted which may feed thousands of people. Indians waste as much food as the whole of United Kingdom consumes. According to United Nations Development Programme, up to 40% of food produced in India is wasted. (“Food Wastage in India: A Serious Concern”, September 10, 2015, thecsrjournal.in). According to the Ministry of Agriculture, about Rs 50,000 crore worth of food is wasted every year.
Another factor relates to the small size of land holdings. There are about 58% of rural households dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. According to a 2011 census, there are about 118. 9 million cultivators across the country in addition to 144 million landless labourers. Both together constitute about 22% of the population.
About 65 per cent of India’s farmland consists of marginal and small farms with less than one hectare in size. The average holding size has halved since 1970 to 1.05 ha. As per 2001 census, about 490 million people depend on small farms. This reflects the spread of poverty.
Also, poverty and hunger is more among lower castes because of low and pathetic wage levels. They are well below the level of minimum wage prescribed by government in construction, marginal labor, agriculture labour, unorganized labour, etc.
Another cause of hunger is high rate of unemployment, specially among lower castes and sections of society. They go without food for days due to unavailability of enough money.
Adding to misery, the present system of identification has contributed to starvation deaths. The public distribution system (PDS), which assisted many poor to get ration in time, became inaccessible due to technical glitches of identification. Many women and children have died of hunger due to unavailability of monthly ration in states like Odisha and Jharkhand.
Poor healthcare system also led to deaths of the rural poor, who could not afford medication to get treated for malnutrition. The starved people in tribal areas were not provided with adequate medicines for improving health and alleviating from hunger.
Thus, hunger and starvation is mostly not due to unavailability of food but apathy of the rulers. Unequal distribution of wealth and resources widened gap between rich and poor. While rich had many amenities, the poor did not have minimum money for subsistence. The gap is increasing.
Hunger and starvation is rising, though there are plenty of resources that can be distributed. Food production is rising but deaths due to starvation continue unabated. India is truly, a rich country with poor people. The system has created more hungry people because of the hegemony of elites controlling wealth of the country.
According to a Johannesburg-based company, New World Wealth, India is the second most unequal country globally with millionaires controlling 54% of its wealth. (Inequality in India: What is the Real Story?”, October 4, 2016, weforum.org).
The richest 1% own 53% of wealth according to latest data by Credit Suisse. Richest 5% own 68.6% and top 10% own 76.3%. The poorer half has only 4.1% of national wealth. Thus, there is a long way to go to reduce income gap and consequently hunger and starvation deaths of poor.
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*Writer from everywhere and anywhere, is inspired by the life and lyrics of Gaddar who works for the poor and the voiceless. Gaddar’s lyric 'Aagadu aagadu aagadu/ Aakali pooru aagadu' (It won’t stop, won’t stop/ The struggle for eradicating hunger won’t stop) inspires him

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