World Food Day [Part-1]

Posted on October 17, 2012 in Specials

By Dr. Amrit Patel

Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO] of the United Nations was established on October 16, 1945 with a mandate “to raise levels of nutrition, improve agricultural productivity, better the lives of rural populations and contribute to the growth of the world economy.” The FAO in order to fulfil this mandate has been putting in concerted efforts to achieve food security for all and make sure people have regular access to adequate and better quality food that can help them lead active and healthy lives. Over the period the FAO has become the reservoir of knowledge about food, agriculture and natural resources which it shares among its member countries.

It was the former Hungarian Minister of Agriculture and Food, Dr. Pál Romány who at the 20th Session of the FAO Conference suggested the idea of celebrating the World Food Day [WFD] worldwide and member countries of the FAO at this General Conference in November 1979 proclaimed to celebrate October 16 each year as the WFD to mark the date of establishing the FAO in 1945. The aim of the WFD has been to continuously heighten public awareness of the world food problem and strengthen solidarity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition and poverty. Accordingly, General Assembly on December 5, 1980, acknowledging that “food is a requisite for human survival and well-being and a fundamental human necessity” endorsed observance of the WFD.

Making the beginning in 1981 with the theme “Food Comes First” more than 150 countries observe the WFD every year with specific theme that sharply focus the issues responsible for poverty, malnutrition and hunger; identify the areas that need specific actions; and initiate policies, programs and strategic action plans to minimize the incidence. The WFD should provide a common focus to help share knowledge and experiences among countries to achieve the expected goals. The World Food Day theme for 2012 was “Agricultural cooperatives — key to feeding the world”.

Global Concern: FAO, World Food Program and Internal Fund for Agricultural Development define undernourishment, or hunger, in the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012 report as “food intake that is insufficient to meet dietary energy requirements continuously”. According to their report, economic recovery, especially in the agriculture sector, will be crucial for sustained hunger reduction.

Agricultural growth involving smallholders and women will be most effective in reducing extreme poverty and hunger when it generates employment for the poor. The factors inhibiting agricultural growth include growing bio fuel demand, financial speculation in food commodity markets and inefficiencies in food supply and distribution which lead to almost a third of total production being wasted.

The FAO on October 9, 2012 said “one out of every eight people in the world is chronically undernourished, and warned that rising food prices could reverse gains in the fight against hunger”. Its report on food insecurity, mentioned that 868 million people were hungry in 2010-2012 accounting for about 12.5% of the world’s population. This, despite having declined from about one billion, or 18.6% estimated two decades ago in 1990-92, reflects quite slow progress. The vast majority of people suffering hunger, 852 million, live in developing countries, where the prevalence of undernourishment is estimated at 14.9 %. In the past two decades hunger has fallen by nearly 30% in Asia and the Pacific, due to socio-economic progress. Africa was the only region where the number of hungry grew over the period, to 239 million in 2010-12 from 175 million in 1990-92. These figures followed adjustments to population size and human height estimates, besides taking into account a more detailed assessment of food availability and the amount of food wasted along the supply chain.

Most of the progress achieved in hunger reduction until 2006, as food price levels continued to decline, has now been reversed with the rise in food prices and the economic crisis that followed. Food prices have risen over the past few months, fuelled by drought in the United States, Russia and other major grain exporting countries, and FAO expects prices to remain close to levels reached during the 2008 food crisis. Lack of political action to tackle high food prices, gender inequality, land grabs and climate change risked reversing past gains in the fight against hunger. Governments need to use a food summit of October 16, 2012 to redouble efforts to create a more sustainable food system, build up food reserves as a buffer to high prices and introduce protection programs for those most at risk of hunger.

India’s Concern: The Global Hunger Index [GHI] combines three equally weighted indicators like undernourishment, child underweight and child mortality in one index. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute India’s Gross Hunger Index score was 30.3 in 1990, which declined to 22.6 in 1996. It, however, increased to 24.2 in 2001 and stood at 22.9 in 2012. Thus, while it significantly declined between 1990 and 1996, it was closer to 1996 levels. The lower the index, lower is number of incidence of hunger. Unfortunately, India is ranked 65th among 79 major countries where hunger is significantly prevalent and much below smaller nations like Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan and Nepal. This means that India could not improve hunger index from 1996 onwards despite India’s Gross National Income (GNI) per capita almost doubled between 1995-97 to 2008-10. In India, 43.5% of the children less than five years are underweight, which accounts for almost two-thirds of the country’s alarmingly high GHI score. Between 2005 and 2012, India is ranked second to last on child underweight — below Ethiopia, Niger, Nepal and Bangladesh. This reflects that the Government policy and programs have not been effective to improve child under-nutrition by 2012 and India’s fight against child under nutrition is disappointing.

With the theme of the World Food Day for 2012 as “Agricultural cooperatives — key to feeding the world” the year seeks to encourage the growth of agricultural cooperatives that can facilitate small farmers’ access to affordable finance, adoption of sustainable production techniques, investments in rural infrastructure and irrigation, strengthened marketing mechanisms and support for the participation of women in economic activities. Against this background the Government needs to initiate following policy and strategic action plans to achieve targeted agricultural growth and revitalize moribund agricultural cooperatives to support agricultural growth.

– The country must draw the road map to achieve the Millennium Development Goal to halve the prevalence of undernourishment in all the States of the country by 2015. This goal is one of a series of targets adopted by India at the United Nations in 2000 to slash poverty, hunger and disease by 2015

– Government on this occasion should critically review the agricultural policy and programs with reference to expected performance region, State and district-wise, identify gaps between expectations and outcome and reasons thereof to initiate timely remedial measures.

– It should be the endeavour of the Ministry of Agriculture at the Centre and the States to identify key partners having established expertise and facilitate dialogue to turn knowledge into action, link the field to national, regional and global initiatives in a mutually reinforcing cycle.

– It should discuss issues of current or emerging interest, and present each year an in-depth analysis of a selected topic of importance to specific agro-ecological regions of the country in respect of food and agriculture.

– In spite of the importance of agriculture as the driving force for Indian economy this vital sector is frequently starved of investment. In particular, investment in agriculture has shown marked declines over the past 20 years. The theme aptly revolves around agriculture because it has been very well realized that only investment in agriculture [together with support for education and health] can accelerate agricultural growth. While private sector can provide the bulk of the investment, the public investment has to play a crucial role, especially in view of its facilitating and stimulating effect on private investment.