Review PDS for nutritional security

For India, the demand for food to meet the requirement of its growing population

According to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Country Report 2014, prepared by Social Statistics Division of Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India, on achieving the MDG, India posted mixed results. For instance, percentage of people below the national poverty line has already narrowed down to a level less than half of its position in 1990 in 2011-12, much before the stipulated year of 2015.

But on targets such as proportion of underweight children below three years which ought to be reduced to 26 per cent by 2015, we could to bring it to 33 per cent only. The target for the infant mortality rate (IMR) was to reduce it to 27 per cent but we could bring it to the present level at 40. Similarly, in maternal mortality ratio (MMR), India was required to reduce the MMR to 109 per 1,00,000 live births by 2015 but we could reduce it to only 140.

Contrast to these stark realities, India moved far away from the shortages of 1960s, with the help of Green Revolution, into surpluses of cereals in post-2010 period and also has one of the biggest public distribution networks in the world.

Through the Food Corporation of India (FCI), we could deliver various government progr-ammes such as Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) including the Antyodya Anna Yojana (AAY), nutrition progra-mmes like mid-day meals, and Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) to needy segments. But we failed to handle the ‘South Asian Enigma’ (levels of malnutrition in Asia are higher than in Africa). To overcome this, we need to shift our focus to nutritional security.

By ‘food security’, we emphasise an economic approach in which food as a commodity has a central focus while the ‘nutrition framework’ adopts a biological approach in which human beings are central. Both frameworks promote interdisciplinary approaches but stress that adequate food production alone is not sufficient to secure a sustainable and satisfactory nutritional status. Therefore, health and environment also need to be equally considered.

The term ‘nutrition security’, emerging in the mid-1990s, has much broader meaning than  food security. It is focused on food consumption utilised by the body, both at household or individual levels. The nutrition security came to be defined as ‘adequate nutritional status in terms of protein, energy, vitamins, and minerals for all household members at all times’.

From a nutritional perspective, adequate utilisation refers to the ability of the human body to ingest and metabolise food. Alongside nutritious and safe diets, an adequate biological and social environment, and proper nutrition ensure the adequate utilisation of the nutrients in food and this, in turn, helps promote health and prevent disease.

If not, it is estimated in economic terms that global losses in economic productivity due to under-nutrition and micronutrient deficiencies have been estimated at more than 10 per cent of lifetime earnings and 2–3 per cent of global GDP. It translates into a global cost of US$1.4–2.1 trillion.

Two-fold causes
It is estimated that cumulative output loss due to non-communicable diseases will touch $47 trillion over the next two deca-des. According to UNICEF framework, the immediate causes of malnutrition are two-fold – inadequate dietary intake and unsatisfactory health status. In developing countries, infectious diseases such as diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections are responsible for most nutrition related health problems.

India is about to welcome population dividend and is on the verge of becoming the most populous country in the world. Therefore, the demand for food will also rise to meet the requirement of its population. But the growth rate of food grain production is declining (from 2.93 per cent to 0.93 per cent during the last 10 year period).

Similarly, rate of yields of food grain declined from 3.21 per cent to 1.04 per cent. In addition, projections under global climate change are not presenting any rosy picture. Present drought conditions prevailing in paddy granaries of south India can be example of things to come.

Under these circumstances, a model to ensure nutritional security as conceptualised by the M S Swaminathan Foundation – the Farming System for Nutrition (FSN) – to develop location-specific inclusive models to address the nutritional needs of farm and non-farm families based on their resource endowments and surrounding environment could offer implantable solutions.

In addition, the High Level Committee on Reorienting the Role and Restructuring of Food Corporation of India (2015) has recommended several measures such as proper identification of beneficiaries to check leakages, releasing six-month ration to TPDS beneficiaries immediately after the procurement season, gradual introduction of cash benefits in PDS, enhancing basket of goods under PDS to also introduce coarse cereals such as pearl millet, finger millet, sorghum, barley etc.

Introduction of these minor millets could help not only in better nutritional status over traditional staple food of rice and wheat, but also in a) being less water demanding crops, reduced pressure on water resources, cope with climate change, b) reduced cost of inputs and thus more benefits to farmer, and c) promotion of agro-biodiversity as well.

(The writer is associated with  Karnataka State Women’s University, Vijayapura, Karnataka)
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