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Poverty, Hunger & Food Security and Twelfth Plan: Need For Focused Attention

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By Dr Amrit Patel:

Mahatma Gandhi ji had a vision that India after its independence should achieve self-sufficiency of villages in which every one would have adequate food, shelter, clothing, proper hygienic and sanitation facilities and every person willing to work is provided gainful employment. Let not history of India record that Mahatma Gandhijee brought political independence for India but the Government could not bring economic emancipation for rural poor. In this context, this paper highlights following alarming state of poverty, hunger, child nutrition and food security in the country and suggests that Twelfth Plan [2012-17] should give focused attention to significantly ameliorate the deteriorating situation.

Our Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, while chairing the full Planning Commission meeting on April 21, 2011, aptly said “The 12th plan objective must be faster, more inclusive and also sustainable growth. We need to identify the critical areas where existing policies and programs are not delivering results and should, therefore, be strengthened or even restructured”. In this context, since policies, programs and their implementation on rural poverty, hunger, child nutrition and food security could not deliver expected results during the 11th Plan which achieved an annual growth rate of 8.2%, need to be re-looked and new initiatives are called for to tackle them during the 12th Plan when the Prime Minister has agreed to work towards a growth target of 9.0% to 9.5%.

Poverty: According to NSS round [2004-05], 41.8% rural population had monthly per capita expenditure of Rs.447 as against 25.7% urban population having monthly per capita expenditure of Rs.578.8. According to Multidimensional Poverty Index [MPI] worked out by UNDP & Oxford University, July 2010, about 645 million people [55%] in India are poor. As against 410 million MPI poor in 26 of the poorest African countries, eight Indian States [Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal] have 421 million MPI poor. The MPI reveals a vivid spectrum of challenges facing the poorest households. MPI considers 10 sharp indicators, namely Education [child enrolment and years of schooling]; Health [child mortality and nutrition] and Standard of living [electricity, drinking water, sanitation, cooking fuel, flooring and assets]. A global report on poverty eradication of the U.N. Secretary-General shows that economic growth is evident for the progress in China in reducing extreme poverty and raising living standards, whereas India is expected to be home to more than 300 million in poverty out of 900 million predicted to be in extreme poverty in 2015.

Hunger: In India, the right to food campaign launched in 2001 focused its demand to address the structural roots of hunger since India’s commitments to tackle the problem of hunger and malnutrition are among the worst. India currently has world’s largest food insecure population with more than 260 million people facing hunger and deprivation. According to the Global Hunger Index [2008], India ranks 66 among 88 countries surveyed by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute. India comes below Sudan, Nigeria and Cameroon. Under the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goal No.1, for Sustainable Human Security and Peace India is committed to reduce hunger and poverty by half by 2015

Food Security: Per capita availability of food grains and other essential food products in India is below the world average and significantly lower than in developed countries. Food is unaffordable for a large number of the poor in India. Under the proposed legislation for food security to India’s teeming millions, the Expert Committee has estimated procurement & distribution of food not less than 63.98 million tons, rising to 73.98 million tons by 2016-17 against the likely procurement of 57.61 million tons in 2013-14.As about 800 million persons are sought to be covered under Food Security Act, it is necessary to substantially increase food productivity & output to facilitate the estimated level of procurement, create additional facilities for transport, processing, storage and evolve transparent distribution mechanism. A large amount of the subsidized food grains targeted at BPL households, some APL households and other vulnerable groups find its way to the open market. Scientific studies revealed that in 2001-02, 18.2% of PDS rice and 67% PDS wheat were diverted. In other words, over 40% of all grain targeted at the poor did not reach the poor. Using the NSS expenditure survey of 2004-05, overall diversion was of 55% of the grain meant for the poor. The same problem is manifested in case of kerosene, diesel and fertilizers. Besides, the current system is beset with significant level of adulteration, pilferage and corruption.

Focused Attention: Chronic problems of rural poverty, hunger, child nutrition and food security, among others, need focused attention to significantly develop productivity, production and profitability of farming enterprise by creating enabling environment through enhancing annual public sector investment, arresting imbalance in the flow of farm credit, legal framework for defining tenant farmers’ relationship with land in particular

Investment: The Gross Capital Formation [GCF] in agriculture and allied sectors as a proportion to the GDP in the sector stagnated around 14% during 2004-05 to 2006-07. Though it increased to 16.03% in 2007-08 and 19.67% in 2008-09 [provisional] and estimated 20.30% in 2009-10, the GCF in agriculture and allied sectors relative to overall GDP has remained stagnant at around 2.5% to 3.0%. As a result the share of GCF in agriculture and allied sector in total GCF has remained in the range of 6.6% to 8.2% during 2004-05 to 2009-10. To accelerate the process of farm development and achieve inclusive rural growth, policy should focus on critical areas, namely [i] accelerated investment in rural infrastructure to improve transport, communication, storage, processing and marketing facilities [ii] establishing State of Art Agri-meteorology [iii] expanding irrigation and reclamation of wastelands [iv] strengthening agricultural education, research and extension services and capacity building of farmers to bridge the yield gap between the potential yields and actual yields at field level in rain-fed and irrigated farming systems [v] development and use of genetically engineered seeds, micro-irrigation systems, greenhouse technology, integrated nutrient and pest management techniques, computer-based modeling to track disease and pest incidence [vi] farm mechanization [vii] remote sensing technology. Investment in agriculture would facilitate farmers’ access to frontier technology, food processing, farm-to-market linkages, agricultural extension, weather and crop forecasting, large-scale development of bio-diesel, mechanization and commercialization of agriculture. Public, private and foreign investment should remedy the situation of investment shortage in agriculture and help transform a ‘negative subsidy regime’ into a ‘capital-intensive positive Agricultural Marketing Service regime’ and stimulate Indian producers to access global markets. Government, Agricultural Universities and ICAR Institutes along with industrial, business and commercial houses in close coordination should accelerate their efforts to accomplish this task

Farm Credit: The credit flow to agriculture since 1970 till 2010 has been of the order of Rs.28,53,261 crore, of which 81.50% was disbursed between 2001-02 to 2009-10. However, its impact on improving crop productivity and output has been low. Despite banking system has been achieving stipulated credit targets announced in the budgets since 2001-02 in absolute terms every year there have been significant disparities in credit flow between States, between districts and between villages. In fact, in absence of appropriate legal frame work tenant farmers, share croppers, oral lessees, landless laborers, households residing in hilly, tribal, desert, drought prone areas in particular do not have easy and reliable access to institutional credit.

Tenant Farmers: India has a large number of tenant farmers whose legal relationship with the landowners and the piece of land they cultivate has yet not been acknowledged through statutory legal framework to facilitate them to access credit from banks and insurance cover from insurance companies. The National Sample Survey [2003] estimated that the area under informal tenancy in India varies between 15% and 35% of the total farm area and 36% of the total households leasing land are landless laborers and 47.5% having land below 0.5 hectare.

Conclusion: Rural households should identify their financial and non-financial needs for income generating activities in rural farm and non-farm sector and infrastructure and demand them from elected representatives. State and Union Government need to allocate adequate financial resources in their annual budgets to tackle issues of poverty, hunger, child nutrition, food security and rural infrastructure.


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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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