Malnutrition in India persists at unacceptable levels, admits Vice President

M. Venkaiah Naidu said that a considerable section of the population in our country suffers from malnutrition consisting of undernutrition, hidden hunger caused by micronutrient deficiencies and obesity

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The Vice President of India, M. Venkaiah Naidu has said that government, civil society, scientists and researchers must share knowledge and expertise with farmers to make agriculture sustainable and nutrition-rich.

Addressing the National Consultation on Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition organised by MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, in Chennai on July 29, he called on institutions like Indian Council of Agricultural Research and Krishi Vigyan Kendras to take the lead in educating our farmers.

He further said that it is quite distressing that in spite of the efforts taken by successive governments at the Centre and in various States, the problem of malnutrition persists in India at unacceptable levels.

The Vice President lauded the efforts of Prof. M.S. Swaminathan for conceptualising and promoting the Farming System for Nutrition (FSN) to tackle household food and nutrition insecurity in rural India.

He further said that the concept of FSN is a sustainable framework of farming and it involves crops, farm animals and fish. It calls for the integration of interventions in non-farm factors like hygiene and sanitation to improve nutrition and it addresses different human nutritional needs across gender and age groups through the life cycle, he added.

“It is a matter of concern that the number of hungry people in the world has risen for the first time in more than a decade, according to the Sustainable Development Goals Report, 2018 of the United Nations, released on June 20, 2018.

The report mentioned that the proportion of undernourished people worldwide increased from 10.6 per cent in 2015 to 11.0 per cent in 2016. This translates to 815 million people worldwide in 2016, up from 777 million in 2015. There are now approximately 38 million more undernourished people in the world than in 2015.

“The increase in number of hungry people in the world is an enigma. The extent of malnutrition in India is incredibly high. However, it tends to be relegated to the background in policy debates. It is therefore, quite heartening that the father of India’s green revolution, Dr Swaminathan has convened this consultation meeting with a view to connect agriculture with nutrition,” Naidu said.

In 2017, 151 million children under age 5 suffered from stunting (low height for their age), 51 million suffered from wasting (low weight for height), and 38 million were overweight, according to SDG Report.

In India, a considerable section of the population suffers from malnutrition consisting of under nutrition, hidden hunger caused by micronutrient deficiencies and obesity.

In 2015-16, according to National Family Health Survey – 4: 38.4 per cent of India’s children, below the age of five, are stunted, while 35.7 per cent are underweight.

With more than one-third children suffering from the problems of stunting and underweight, we need to address this problem on a war footing for the country’s population to remain healthy and productive in future.

The NFHS-4 also revealed that one-fifth of women in the reproductive age group are estimated to be suffering from chronic energy deficiency, while another one-fifth are obese. More than 50 per cent of children and women suffer from anaemia.

Three types of nutritional deficiencies are observed in India:

  • Calorie deficiency due to inadequate consumption of food;
  • Protein deficiency due to inadequate consumption of pulses, milk, egg etc;
  • Micro­nutrient deficiency (or hidden hunger) due to inadequacy of iron, iodine, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin B12 etc.

Naidu said, “I am glad that the Indian Government is extremely concerned with the status of malnutrition in the country and has adopted The National Nutrition Strategy in September 2017 to address the problem.”

“This policy recognises the imperative need to have a relook at our agriculture policy. We must make agriculture nutrition-sensitive. It is critical that we explicitly make this vital connection between agriculture and nutrition,” the Vice President said.

He added, “While we have by and large achieved food security, there is an increasing recognition today that food production has to be modified to achieve nutrition security.”