[Editorial] India’s food response: A lesson for the developing world

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Context

Global hunger is on the rise

  • In 2019, 650 million people around the world suffered from chronic hunger — 43 million more than in 2014.
  • Since the onset of the pandemic, the number of people on the brink of starvation has doubled from 135 million people, pre-COVID, a year ago to 270 million.

What the editorial is about?

  • India’s journey from chronic food shortage to surplus food producer.

Global hunger

  • Global hunger is on the rise, driven by the climate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic shocks, conflicts, poverty, and inequality.
  • Millions are living in hunger and many more do not have access to adequate food.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

  • More people are living in hunger than in 2015 when the member states of the United Nations, including India, agreed to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.

Chronic hunger

  • In 2019, 650 million people around the world suffered from chronic hunger — 43 million more than in 2014.

The impact of the pandemic on hunger

  • Since the onset of the pandemic, the number of people on the brink of starvation has doubled from 135 million people, pre-COVID, a year ago to 270 million.

India’s outreach

The concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam

  • The concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, ‘Earth is One Family’, from India’s traditional philosophical outlook has gained huge relevance over the past 75 years since being cited in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to underline the collective nature of the crises and a matching response that is needed.

Vasudha

  • At the core of the concept is ‘Vasudha’, which means the planet earth, and describes how different nations form one collective and cannot escape the common connection of concern and humanity.

Voice of India

  • India’s traditional outlook sees the world as one family and that is linked to its Vedic tradition of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” — underlining its relevance not just for global peace, cooperation, environment protection but also for humanitarian response including rising global hunger and leaving no one behind.

People in need of urgent food assistance

  • The number of people in need of urgent food assistance — estimated at 270 million in 2021 — because of the pandemic will grow significantly with the crisis in Afghanistan and the ongoing war in Ukraine.
  • The fallout of the war is driving food and fuel prices that will add to the burden on the millions (especially the poor and marginalised) who are struggling.

Global burden of malnutrition

  • Sadly, the global burden of malnutrition remains enormous, with almost 150 million children stunted, nearly 50 million wasted, and every other child — as well as two billion adults — suffering from micronutrient deficiencies.

India’s recent and ongoing humanitarian food assistance

Helping Afghanistan

  • India’s recent and ongoing humanitarian food assistance to the people of Afghanistan, through the United Nations Food Programme (where half of the population needs urgent food assistance to avert a famine) is an example of its commitment and commendable steps towards the humanitarian crises.

Helping Africa and the Middle East/West Asia

  • In the past two years, India has provided aid to several countries in Africa and the Middle East/West Asia to overcome natural calamities and the COVID-19 pandemic.

India’s enormous progress in food production

From sufficiency to assistance

  • India has made enormous progress in food production over the years, with an inspiring journey towards self-sufficiency in food production, marked by the Green Revolution.
  • In 2020, India produced over 300 million tonnes of cereals and had built up a food stock of 100 million tonnes.
  • The country has registered record harvests over the last few years, with several enabling policies and incentives for farmers.
  • In 2021, India exported a record 20 million tonnes of rice and wheat.

World Food Program (WFP)

  • As India’s foodgrain surplus continues to grow, its footprint as a key humanitarian food assistance player, underlining its partnership with the WFP is also evolving.

Lessons for other developing countries

  • The long journey from chronic food shortage to surplus food producer offers several valuable lessons for other developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America in land reforms, public investments, institutional infrastructure, new regulatory systems, public support, and intervention in Agri markets and prices and Agri research.

India’s food safety nets

  • One of India’s greatest contributions to equity in food is its National Food Security Act (NFSA) 2013 which anchors the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), the Mid-Day meals (MDM), and the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).
  • Today, India’s food safety nets collectively reach over a billion people.
  • Food safety nets and inclusion are linked with public procurement and buffer stock policy.
  • This was visible during the global food crises of 2008-2012, and more recently during the COVID-19 pandemic fallout, whereby vulnerable and marginalised families in India continued to be buffered by TPDS which became a lifeline with a robust stock of food grains.

Way Forward

Support its neighbours

  • India’s support to its neighbours and other countries that struggle with food emergencies and food insecurity must continue its growth trajectory.

The progress that India is not enough

  • India has made major progress in addressing hunger and malnutrition, but a lot needs to be done and we must continue this path as the trailblazer in access and inclusion through public policies and systems.
  • India can do more and is doing more on delivering the goal of Zero Hunger and equity globally.

Practice Question for Mains

  1. The world’s largest humanitarian agency, the WFP, and India, the largest democracy, can leverage the partnership to contribute to addressing food emergencies and strengthening humanitarian response, embodying the spirit of ‘leave no one behind’ and Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. Discuss. (250 Words, 15 Marks)
Referred Sources

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