India’s Needless Hunger

SINGAPORE – India is expected to overtake China as the world’s most populous country by 2030, reaching 1.7 billion people by 2050. On World Food Day, India’s leaders must consider whether they can feed the country’s booming population.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, one in seven people worldwide – 925 million people in total – goes to bed hungry each night. Roughly one-quarter of these people – 230 million – are Indian. In other words, nearly one in five Indians suffers from chronic hunger.

The Global Hunger Index, published by the International Food Policy Research Institute, ranks India 65th among 88 vulnerable countries, below both Pakistan and Nepal. Indeed, 21% of India’s population is undernourished, and more than half of all pregnant women are anemic. Nearly 44% of children under the age of five are malnourished – 7% of whom die each year. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called this “a national shame.”

Given India’s impressive economic performance and rapidly growing per capita GNP, this failure is unjustifiable. In fact, India – the world’s largest producer of milk and edible oils, and the second-largest producer of wheat, fruits, vegetables, and sugar – produces enough food to combat hunger. But poverty, creaking supply chains, rampant food waste, and badly formulated, poorly executed policies, such as rigid subsidies for grain farmers, prevent millions from receiving their share.