How Agriculture and Malnutrition are Linked?
An analysis of the links between agricultural
performance and nutrition status in the different states of India,
published in the Economic Times is quite enlightening. India’s stable
economic growth of over 8% in the last five years has received plaudits
from economists internationally, but agricultural growth was below par at
2.8%, missing the Eleventh Plan target of 4%.
The authors of the article have tried to study whether
better agricultural performance can bring down malnutrition levels. The
level of agri-performance, namely its land productivity measured as the
gross value of agriculture and livestock output per ha of gross cropped
area (GVOAL/ha) was calculated for each state. This was compared to a
malnutrition index constructed from under five malnourished children and
thin adults between 15-49 years (National Family Health Survey-3 data).
There was a strong inverse correlation (correlation
coefficient 0.75) between land productivity and malnutrition. Kerala and
Punjab top the list in agri-performance and also have the lowest levels of
malnutrition. Not surprisingly Madhya Pradesh with the lowest levels of
agricultural performance also has the highest levels of malnutrition (The
Economic Times; 29 June, 2010).
Global Hunger Index
When the Global Hunger Index (GHI) was released by the
International Food Policy Research Institute, German aid group
Welthungerhilfe and Irish aid group Concern Worldwide, there was little
cause to cheer. The Global Hunger Index combines three equally weighted
indicators – percentage of underweight population, percentage of
underweight children below 5 years and mortality rate of children below 5.
India was ranked a poor 65th among 84 developing
countries, with a GHI of 23.70, sandwitched between 23.53 of Burkina Faso
and 23.83 of Zimbabwe. Pakistan with a rank of 61, Nepal (rank of 57) and
Sri Lanka with a rank of 40 did much better. We obviously cannot blame it
all on population pressure when we see that China was ranked 15 with a GHI
of only 7.07.
When we look at India State Hunger Index (ISHI) another
paradox becomes apparent. Orissa with 40% of population below the poverty
level (BPL) has a hunger index of only 23, while Madhya Pradesh with 33.5%
BPL has a hunger index of 30.9, which is categorized as extremely
alarming.Thus, Madhya Pradesh achieved the dubious distinction of being
placed under extremely alarming group along with Ethiopia, Liberia, Sierra
Leone, Niger, Burundi, Eritrea and Congo, ranks 82 to 88. Punjab, Kerala,
Haryana and Assam come under ‘serious’ hunger group, whereas 12 States
namely Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, West Bengal,
Karnataka, Orissa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Chattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand
with increasing order of ISHI between 20.0 to 29.9 fall under ‘alarming’
hunger group (The Hindu; 29 Aug, 2009).
Why Pulses and Milk are Costly in India?
Many trans-national companies control the world market
for food, fertilizer and pesticide. How did this all begin? During World
War II, these companies owned factories which produced ammunitions and
lethal chemicals. When the market for these ended they decided to produce
fertilizers and pesticides. To create a market for this, hybrid grains
were developed which had abundant yield, but required large amounts of
fertilizers, pesticides and water.
India’s green revolution was based on this. Today, the
granaries of Punjab are overflowing with wheat and rice and we have become
food secure. On the flip side, farmers who had been multicropping for
generations and growing water-friendly and pesticide free millets and
pulses, started switching to growing wheat and rice.
But water requirements rose and ground water was
depleted. The government was subsidizing fertilizers and soon the farmers
and the land could no longer do without them. The consequence? The
production and the intake of pulses and healthier traditional grains like
jowar, bajra and ragi fell precipitously. Socially, eating white rice and
polished wheat became fashionable. Pulse production fell, costs rose. The
consumption of pulses fell in a predominantly vegetarian population with
dire consequences on protien intake. Continual media advertizing of
interesting new snacks (predominantly made of corn and soya with plenty of
chemicals) has captured a large market of urban Indian children, who have
now discarded real food for these tasty delights. This has hammered in
another nail in the coffin of pulses and traditional grains.
What else happened? Initially India had a mixed farming
system. Crop residue was used by cattle and in return they gave manure
which enriched the land. The changeover to a commodity specific system has
meant more purchased input and less non-traded ones. The price of fodder
has gone up. And about 70% of the cost of milk production is due to
fodder. On a year-on-year basis, the inflation in pulses was 32.60 per
cent and in milk 21.12 per cent.
"There is a gap of 1.8 million tonnes (MT) between
demand and the current milk supply," Sharad Pawar, Union agriculture
minister, told a conference of state ministers for animal husbandry and
dairying in January. On March 17, the Centre allowed duty-free import of
up to 30,000 tonnes of milk powder and 15,000 tonnes of butter oil which
till now used to attract customs duty of 60% and 30%, respectively. The
imported milk powder and butter oil were for reconstitution as milk, meant
for supply in the summer months when shortage peaks. When milk and pulses
become costly, India’s protein intake goes down. (http://www.downtoearth.org.in/node/793,
30 June 2010; and http://www.dnaindia. com/india/column_bet
ween-godowns-and-chronic-hunger-in-india_ 1401812, 27 June, 2010).