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India’s Journey From Food Security To Nutrition Security

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Hunger and malnutrition are chronic problems in the Indian subcontinent. The tragic famine in 1943-“The Great Bengal Famine” is still remembered today where it was estimated that 2 million people died of starvation. In present times, according to the Global Hunger Index 2018, India ranks 103rd out of 119 countries and suffers from a “serious” level of hunger. We share a quarter of the global hunger burden.

The famine in Bengal in 1943 lead to several attempts by the policymakers to address the issue of hunger and its consequences on the people. In 1943, a Foodgrains policy committee was set-up under British Raj. Independent India, with its focus on planned economic development, set up a Foodgrains Policy Commission in 1947. Its report submitted in 1948 concluded that to maintain central reserves, imports were necessary. Other recommendations included that India should continue with the rationing system that was introduced during World War II and should increase its indigenous food production to attain self-sufficiency. This commission was led by several commissions in the latter half of the 20th century where recommendations included self-sufficiency, procurement & distribution, price control mechanisms etc.

In 1942, a Food Department was established by British which was subsequently controlled by independent India from August 1947 and was re-designated as Ministry of Food. Since then there have been several changes in the control and constitution of the ministry governing food management in the nation. Today, it stands as the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, with two departments, namely the Department of Food & Public Distribution and Department of Consumer Affairs.

Independent India started as food grain importing nation in 1947. In the eighties, India was nearly self-sufficient. In the 1990s, structural reforms – Liberalization, Privatization, and Globalization (LPG)- were implemented in India and the nation opened its economy to free trade and privatization. Although India achieved better economic growth in the post-liberalization era and became the fastest growing major economy in the world just next to China; its food grain production also increased but, inequality deepened to a significant extent and the class divide continues to plague the country. Subsidies on food were thinned and Public Distribution System (PDS), existing from the inter-war period, from being a general entitlement scheme was redesigned in 1992 to include only selected blocks in India and was implemented as Revamped PDS (RPDS).  Further, in 1997, targeting was revised to be based on the poverty level, and Targeted PDS (TPDS) was launched, as it continues today.

In 2007, a Centrally Sponsored Scheme, ‘National Food Security Mission‘ (NFSM), was launched with the objective of increasing the production of rice, wheat, and pulses. In the same year, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana was also launched with the objective of increasing public investment in Agriculture & allied sectors.

With its food grain production increased from 50 million tonnes in 1950-51 to 250 million tonnes in 2014-15, India has become a net food exporter.

India has the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme from 1975 which is one of the world’s largest early childhood care programme. It gradually increased its coverage from 33 blocks to pan India. Its main component is supplementary nutrition to children aged 6 months to 5 years and pregnant women & lactating mothers. However, the commitment to tackle malnutrition started becoming more evident only from the 1990s when India launched the National Nutrition Policy in 1993 and Midday Meal Scheme in 1995 (roots of this scheme can be traced back to 1925 followed by the introduction in few states in the  1980s, but was nationally introduced as a scheme in 1995). Since then there has been an intensification of focus on nutrition with the initiatives like National Nutrition Plan of Action (1995), National Nutrition Mission (2001), and nutrition-specific policies like Policy on Infant and Young Child Feeding (2004), Policy on Control of Anaemia (2004), Guidelines for Administration of Zinc Supplements (Diarrhoea Management; 2007), Operational Guidelines on Facility-based Management of Children with Severe Acute Malnutrition (2011) etc.

Most recently, there is an intensification of efforts to make a food plate well- balanced in terms of both quantity and quality. In 2013, India announced the National Food Security Act (NFSA). Though the name suggests so, this act doesn’t focus just on food security but aims to provide both food and nutrition security. It discusses both- food’s adequate quantity and quality. The Act also has a special focus on nutritional support to women and children. India is now moving in the direction of food fortification. In October 2016, a National Summit for Fortification of Food was held wherein a draft of Food Safety and Standards (Fortification of Foods) Regulations, 2016 was released. Since then several consultations on fortifying various foods have occurred. In 2018, a long-awaited development happened and India launched the National Nutrition Mission, more famously known as Poshan Abhiyaan.

India’s food policies have gradually and steadily transitioned from prioritizing food security towards both food & nutrition security. In fact, nutrition security has always been a part of food security in independent India, but it was not explicit and didn’t attain focus in the beginning till the 1990s. In the wake of dual burden of malnutrition (under-nutrition & over-nutrition), this relationship between food and nutrition security seems complex and demands more evidence and explanation.

More than half a century has gone by and numerous food & nutrition security measures have been taken, but India is yet to achieve its nutrition goals. There is a five-fold increase in food grain production from 1950-51 to 2014-15. This remarkable development, however, has not resulted in making India a well-nourished nation. This can be partly attributed to several fluctuations in Indian food system scenario and its initial primary focus on becoming self-sufficient due to its past experiences. However, major factor is the poor governanace and lack of implementation which makes all the schemes and policies inefficient and poorly effective.

With an increasing population which is estimated to be 1.6 billion in 2030 and challenges like climate change and diminishing bio-diversity, there is a high probability that maintaining adequate food quantity and quality could be a challenge in decades to come. Examining the existing health policies and filling the policy implementation gaps might help India achieve the goal 2 of “Zero Hunger” and goal 3 of “Good Health & well-being” of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030.

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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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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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