Zero Hunger Programme: A Step to Remove Nutritional Deficiency in India

By Arifa Khan, Post Graduate College of Law, Osmania University, Hyderabad.

Every day, men and women across the globe struggle to feed their children a nutritious meal. In a world where we produce enough food to feed everyone, one in nine – still goes to bed on an empty stomach each night. The second most populous country in the world, India has a steady economic growth and has achieved self-sufficiency in grain production in recent years. Despite this, high levels of poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition exists. About 21% of the population lives on less than US $1.90 a day and levels of inequality and social exclusion are very high. India is home to a quarter of all undernourished people worldwide, making the country a key focus for tackling hunger on a global scale.

First proposed at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil in June 2012, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s Zero Hunger Challenge aims for a future where every individual has adequate nutrition. This requires comprehensive efforts to ensure that every man, woman and child enjoy their Right to Adequate Food; also where women are empowered, priority is given to family farming and food systems are sustainable.

Article 21 of the Constitution, which provides a fundamental right to life and personal liberty, has been repeatedly interpreted by the Supreme Court as enshrining within it the Right to Food. The landmark “PUCL v. Union of India and others” case, better known as the Right to Food Case, has seen at least 60 orders over the last eight years, and has emerged as the longest continuing mandamus—a legal writ where the Court orders a person or entity to do something—in the world on the Right to Food.

The Asia-Pacific Consultation on achieving the “Zero Hunger Challenge” at M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, in Chennai, held from August 7 – 10, 2017, brought together the largest gathering of ministerial delegates, diplomats and academicians from across the world. In his concluding remarks, Professor M S Swaminathan referred to the 5C approach in the Chennai Declaration. “Conservation, cultivation, consumption, commerce and communication; in addition to the right combination of political will, determination and professional skill would help us further on the pathway towards the Zero Hunger Challenge. In addition, the family farmers should have technological, social and political empowerment.”

Three districts – Gorakhpur (Uttar Pradesh), Koraput (Odisha) and Thane (Maharashtra) will initiate India’s Zero Hunger Programme through interventions in the farm sector on October 16 (World Food Day). Many more Districts will eventually be covered under this programme with India’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end hunger by 2030; these three districts would act as a model of an integrated approach to deal with hunger and malnutrition by adopting suitable agricultural\horticultural practices. If we want to see a world free of hunger by 2030, governments, citizens, civil society organizations and the private sector must collaborate to invest, innovate and create lasting solutions.

“The programme will ensure suitable methods of measuring the impact of intervention. There will be intensive training programmes in order to identify the nutritional maladies in each district and the appropriate agricultural/horticultural and animal husbandry remedies”, said the eminent agriculture scientist, M S Swaminathan, who is popularly known as the Father of ‘Green Revolution’ in India, while speaking about the plan to initiate the programme. Under the UN-approved SDGs, which were adopted by countries including India in 2015, the government is expected to ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices in the country.

The programme will be initiated by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in association with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation and the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC). 
The concerned State Governments will also be involved in the programme which consists of organisation of farming system for nutrition, setting up genetic gardens for biofortified plants/crops and initiation of  ‘Zero Hunger’ training. 

The Need for Zero Hunger Programme

Zero Hunger Campaign is the need of the hour in India. Despite the Government’s several social safety nets to address these challenges: Public Distribution System, Antyodaya Anna Rozgar Yojana, Mid-day Meal Scheme, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the landmark Food Security Act, which aims to provide subsidized food grain to up to 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban households; many children are stunted, i.e. are less tall than expected for their age, face learning difficulties and limited employment opportunities as they grow older, and often face a life of poverty. A rising population coupled with changing climates and land use pressures, increases the burden on the ecosystem to ensure enough food production. An overwhelming majority of India’s farmers are small and marginal farmers, i.e., holding less than one hectare of land. Many are not able to generate enough income to keep their families out of poverty, yet increasing their productivity is crucial to meeting India’s future food requirements. The challenge of food security is compounded by significant loss of food, much of which can be attributed to poor post-harvest management and a lack of storage facilities.

A major cause of hunger in India is the tremendous wastage of food  here. Due to lack of storage facilities, 21 million tonnes of wheat are going into waste. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) also blames wastage as a main problem in the food sector. According to its calculation, 40% of the food is wasted in India. Food losses occur in three places – at production places, storage, transportation and marketing places, and at the places of consumption. The problem of wastage has to be tackled in all these places.

Goals of Zero Hunger Programme

While India produces enough food to feed its population, the country is home to 25% of the world’s hungry population. A holistic approach to food security requires ensuring available, accessible and nutritious food to eradicate hunger and malnutrition in India. The main objective of this programme is-

  1. Zero stunted children who are less than 2 years of age;
  2. 100% access to adequate food all year round;
  3. All food systems are sustainable;
  4. 100% increase in smallholder productivity and income;
  5. Zero loss or waste of food.

Eliminating hunger involves investments in agriculture, rural development, decent work, social protection and equality of opportunity. It will make a major contribution to peace and stability and to the reduction of poverty. It will contribute to better nutrition for all – especially women from the beginning of pregnancy till their children are under the age of two.

Zero Hunger Programme looks very promising on paper. The real challenge lies is executing the proposed plan. In the present economic and social conditions, India can easily get over the problem of hunger provided there is political will and action and people’s cooperation. This is an opportunity to bring those millions of citizens out of starvation by offering them affordable and healthy food, thus leading the nation to a prolific sunshine.