Food Security And Hunger

Rana Kapoor, Published in The Hindu

The term ‘food security' encompasses not only the availability of food, but also the ability to purchase food.

Achieving global food security will become increasingly difficult as the demand for food is projected to grow 50 per cent in the next 20 years. FAO defines hunger specifically as consumption of fewer than about 1,800 kilocalories a day – the minimum that most people require to live a healthy and productive life.


In 2008, nearly 9 million children died before they reached their fifth birthday. One third of these deaths were due, directly or indirectly, to hunger and malnutrition. Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes. That's one child every five seconds. In 2010, about 925 million people suffered from hunger. According to FAO data, 13 per cent (850 million) of world's population and 19.2 per cent (224.6 million) of India's population was undernourished during 2006-08.

The state of a country's hunger situation is measured and tracked by Global Hunger Index (GHI). The GHI measures progress and failures in the global fight against hunger. It is calculated each year by the International Food Policy Research Institute based on a combination of three equally weighed indicators of undernourishment, child underweight and child mortality. The 2011 GHI is calculated for 122 countries, 81 of which were ranked. India ranked 67th with GHI index of 23.7 - a figure that is alarming. The highest GHI scores occur in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Twenty-six countries still have levels of hunger that are extremely alarming. Globally, the GHI fell over one fourth from 19.7 in 1990 to 14.6 in 2011. Regardless of this positive trend, the global fight against hunger is still proves to be a grave challenge.


Hunger as a problem has a host of challenges and tackling it effectively will entail addressing these impediments. The major challenges to the reduction of hunger are:

•Low agricultural productivity

•Inadequate market access to producers

•Inferior post harvest infrastructure

•Inefficient supply chain management

•Lack of policy initiatives by the government

•Rising and volatile price swings


•Lack of access to quality food

•Lack of access to health care

•Gender inequality



Significant improvements in agriculture productivity, market access, post-harvest infrastructure, and rural incomes, are necessary to mitigate the imbalance between food supply and demand as well as reduce food scarcity, food price volatility, and food insecurity.

Gains in productivity can be achieved by increasing the access to agricultural inputs, more efficient use of labour, mitigation of risk, improved links to market, and adoption of improved technologies and production practices. However, improvements in productivity will not translate into higher farm incomes and reduced hunger unless the surplus harvests and products can be sold in local, regional and international markets at affordable prices.

In addressing this challenge, all the stakeholders must make multi-faceted, strategic choices involving a wide range of government agencies, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, civil society, and last but not the least at an individual level.

These choices include:

A concerted approach towards agricultural development leading to economic growth and reducing poverty;

Implementing a community and region-led approach where the regions decide on their own needs, solutions, and development strategies;

Building local capacity across central governments and communities and farm organisations;

Focus on increasing market access to small-scale growers and farmers;

Catalysing private sector investment and participation in the food and agri landscape;

Incorporating science and technology in farm practices to increase productivity, protection against extreme weather condition, market access and generate higher incomes;

Promoting improvement in nutrition for women and young children as a foundation for future growth;

A four-pronged approach to prevent malnutrition focusing on prevention through community-based programmes, improved diet quality and diversification, community management of acute under-nutrition and improved nutritional value of food aid commodities;

Better regulation and supervision of agricultural futures and derivative markets;

Building up well coordinated food reserves by exporting countries for making stocks available when supplies are tight and ensuring that small and net-importing countries can get access to food. Similarly national food reserves should be maintained by importing countries which can act as an emergency mechanism to satisfy the needs of the most vulnerable;

Sharing reliable and up-to-date information on food markets;

Provide means for supporting non-farm income in rural areas and better livelihood options for the poor in urban areas;

Timely market information and sufficient grain reserves in order to prevent overreaction to moderate shifts in supply and demand.

Another key focus area towards reducing hunger is greater regional integration. Regional integration will be a great enabler in food movement from surplus to deficit areas, increasing food availability and reducing price volatility. Greater regional integration entails breaking down tariffs and other barriers, trade-facilitating policies, dissemination of research and technology developments, collective management of natural resources, and improvements in physical infrastructure. Regional integration connects disparate locations, leads to improved productivity, and expands trade and competitiveness that increases incomes and ensures a more resilient food supply.

In today's globally interconnected world, information sharing plays a crucial role in taking timely and accurate decisions related to import/export of food products. To increase collaboration among international organisations, major food exporting and importing countries as well as the private sector a Central Food Market Intelligence Unit should be established with the objective of providing accurate and transparent information. This cell will share data related to production, surplus, deficit, prices and freights etc. which will enable the governments to take timely decisions. This cell would be based at the FAO and would use the existing infrastructure of the organisation to further its implementation and efficacy. The cell will also work to promote greater international policy convergence and will proactively initiate discussion of appropriate policy responses when the market situation indicates a high risk of food insecurity.


Reducing hunger will have a host of positive effects on all stakeholders. Promoting agricultural growth helps farmers to increase their productivity and realise higher incomes in commercial markets. This higher income goes a long way in alleviating bottom line poverty. It is estimated that for every one per cent growth in agriculture, poverty declines by as much as two per cent. And because the majority of those who are hungry live in rural areas and depend on agriculture and natural resources for their livelihoods, investing in agriculture is the most efficient way to aid those in need. Investments in the agricultural sector also contribute to overall economic growth by increasing efficiency in the supply chain, reducing the cost of spending on food, and enabling the weaker stakeholders to purchase vital other goods and services, like education, health care, and housing.

(The writer is Founder, Managing Director & CEO, YES Bank)

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