India’s Homemade Food Crisis

What accounts for India’s chronic food insecurity? The most significant factor – one that policymakers have long ignored – is that a high proportion of the food India that produces never reaches consumers.

SINGAPORE – According to current estimates, India’s total population will reach 1.45 billion by 2028, similar to China’s, and 1.7 billion by 2050, equivalent to nearly the combined population of China and the United States today. Given that India is already struggling to feed its population, its current food crisis could worsen significantly in the coming decades.

According to the 2013 Global Hunger Index (GHI), India ranks 63rd, out of the 78 hungriest countries, significantly worse than neighboring Sri Lanka (43rd), Nepal (49th), Pakistan (57th), and Bangladesh (58th). Despite India’s considerable improvement over the past quarter-century – its GHI rating has risen from 32.6 in 1990 to 21.3 in 2013 – the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization believes that 17% of Indians are still too undernourished to lead a productive life. In fact, one-quarter of the world’s undernourished people live in India, more than in all of Sub-Saharan Africa.

More distressing, one-third of the world’s malnourished children live in India. According to UNICEF, 47% of Indian children are underweight and 46% of those under three years old are too small for their age. Indeed, almost half of all childhood deaths can be attributed to malnutrition – a state of affairs that former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called a “national shame.”

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