Global Hunger Index 2017

India’s high ranking on the Global Hunger Index (GHI) again this year brings to the fore the disturbing reality of the country’s stubbornly high proportions of malnourished children—more than one-fifth of Indian children under five weigh too little for their height and over a third are too short for their age.

At 31.4, India’s 2017 GHI score is at the high end of the “serious” category, and is one of the main factors pushing South Asia to the category of worst performing region on the GHI this year, followed closely by Africa South of the Sahara. India is ranked 100th out of 119 countries, and has the third highest score in all of Asia—only Afghanistan and Pakistan are ranked worse.

“Even with the massive scale up of national nutrition-focused programs in India, drought and structural deficiencies have left large number of poor in India at risk of malnourished in 2017,” said P.K. Joshi, IFPRI Director for South Asia. “The on-going efforts are expected to make significant changes in improving the existing situation. It is welcoming that India has developed and launched an action plan on “undernourishment free India” by 2022. The Action plan shows stronger commitment and greater investments in tackling malnutrition in the coming years.”

As of 2015-16, more than a fifth (21 percent) of children in India suffer from wasting (low weight for height)—up from 20 percent in 2005-2006. Only three other countries in this year’s GHI—Djibouti, Sri Lanka, and South Sudan—show child wasting above 20 percent, and India’s child wasting rate has not shown any substantial improvement over the past 25 years. By contrast, the country has made considerable improvement in reducing its child stunting rate, down 29 percent since 2000, but even that progress leaves India with a relatively high stunting rate of 38.4.

Globally, the Central African Republic (CAR) has the highest score (reflecting the highest hunger level) of any country ranked in the report, and is the sole country in the Index’s “extremely alarming” category. CAR has the same score in 2017 as it did in 2000, suggesting any progress made in reducing hunger in the country in recent years has been reversed of late. Several other countries including Sri Lanka, Mauritania, and Venezuela also have higher GHI scores in 2017 than in 2008, after witnessing falling scores in the previous two decades.

“Conflict and climate related shocks are at the heart of this problem. We must build the resilience of communities on the ground, but we must also bolster public and political solidarity internationally.  The world needs to act as one community with the shared goal of ensuring not a single child goes to bed hungry each night and no-one is left behind.” said Concern Worldwide CEO Dominic MacSorley

Despite recent setbacks, the report spotlights some areas of progress in the fight against global hunger. The level of hunger in developing countries decreased by 27 percent since 2000. Declines in average hunger at the regional or national levels obscure some grim realities though. The averages can mask lagging areas where millions are still hungry, demonstrating the need to hold governments accountable not only for investments in timely data but also for building resilience in communities at risk for disruption to their food systems from weather shocks or conflict.

Uneven hunger levels bring into sharp focus this year’s theme of ‘the inequalities of hunger’, which emphasizes the inequalities of social, economic and political power underlying nutritional inequalities. Groups with the least social, economic, and political power like women and girls, ethnic minorities, and the rural poor often also experience greater levels of poverty and hunger.

“With a GHI score that is near the high end of the serious category, it is obvious that a high GDP growth rate alone is no guarantee of food and nutrition security for India’s vast majority. Inequality in all its forms must be addressed now if we are to meet SDG 2 of Zero Hunger for everyone by 2030,” said Nivedita Varshneya, Welthungerhilfe Country Director India.

The GHI, now in its 12th year, ranks countries based on four key indicators: undernourishment, child mortality, child wasting and child stunting. The 2017 report ranked 119 countries in the developing world, nearly half of which have “extremely alarming”, “alarming” or “serious” hunger levels.

More information can be found at: http://www.globalhungerindex.org/

Interpreting India’s Performance on the Global Hunger Index

 

Why eastern India needs a Green Revolution

Women Farmers in field, Nalanda District, Bihar. Source: (flickr) Divya Pandey, IFPRI

Eastern India is waiting for Green Revolution to improve food security and reduce poverty. A large fraction of the population in this part of the country is dependent on agriculture for food and livelihood security. The region is home to the highest density of rural poor in the world and poverty is high among agricultural laborers and sub-marginal farmers cultivating less than 0.5 ha land. Despite several government efforts in the past, eastern India still lags when it comes to agricultural development. Though the region has the best of soils in the country and an abundance of water, sunshine and labor, agricultural performance is appears to be of subsistence level only.

The majority of farming families in this region are poor; increasing their net returns from agriculture is essential to reduce poverty. However, the returns from agriculture are significantly lesser in eastern India compared to, say, the north-western states. For example, average net returns from paddy are 5-7 times lower in Bihar than that in Haryana and Punjab. The crop yields are low and almost stagnating in eastern India compared to the north-western and other parts of the country. For example, average yield of rice is around 2-2.5 tons/ha in Bihar (and similar in other states) compared to 5 tons/ha in Haryana and 6 tons/ha in Punjab. In the case of wheat, the yield is around 2.5 tons/ha in Bihar—significantly below the national average and much below the yield levels in Punjab and Haryana (4.5-5 tons/ha).

High population pressure on land, combined with relatively low crop-yields, results in lower average per capita income for farm households in the region. The average annual farm incomes in eastern states are also nearly half of the national average. The region is also highly vulnerable to climate change and thus suffers from high inter-year crop yield variability, making agriculture more vulnerable to climate extremes such as droughts and floods. For example, during 2009, a drought year, paddy yields in Bihar dropped by nearly 15% compared to normal year yields, leading to serious social and economic impacts. A similar situation played out in other eastern states, too; however, in north-western states like Haryana and Punjab, the yields were similar to that in normal years. Therefore, the major policy challenge is to promote sustainable intensification of agriculture to make agriculture more profitable and resilient to climate change.

IFPRI conducted some surveys in major states of India to map the adoption of improved varieties of crops and new technologies. Surveys from the eastern states show that most farmers there continue to use 25-30 years-old seed varieties with low yield potential and high susceptibility to biotic and abiotic stresses. Further there is negligible adoption of conservation agriculture (CA) technologies (zero tillage, laser land leveller, etc). In contrast, Punjab and Haryana are adopting the latest varieties and technologies. Non-availability and lack of knowledge are reported to be the important constraints in adopting modern varieties and technologies. Lack of a legal framework for land leasing was also stated to be a constraint in adopting the latest technologies and committing investment to development of farm assets. Global experiences reveal that legalised land leasing improves efficiency and reduces poverty.

Despite all constraints, in recent years, agriculture in eastern India has begun to transform, but the pace needs to be accelerated by reforming policies, institutions, and markets and by developing agri-infrastructure. Diversification of agriculture in eastern India towards high-value produce is the next step forward to increase farmer’s income. There is enormous scope for dairy, horticulture and fisheries in eastern India. An integrated-farming-system approach can generate additional incomes for farmers along with higher crop and water productivity. Research shows integrated farming system is the most reliable way of obtaining high incomes to the farmers. It would need investment in developing physical and financial infrastructure such as agro-processing, rural warehouses, cold storages, cold chains, and financing institutions.

Market availability is yet another factor to consider. In the absence of suitable marketing facilities in the region, most farmers sell their surplus at non-remunerative prices soon after harvests. In addition, marketing and the ability to negotiate a good price for produce is severely constrained. Therefore, adequate facilities need to be created in rural areas through public–private partnership to provide price advantage, reduce transaction costs and give access to efficient input- and output-markets. The region also has experienced low investment in agriculture development, especially on land, water, markets and extension services in comparison to other parts of India. IFPRI research shows that encouraging private investment in irrigation development will trigger agricultural growth in the region.

The success of all efforts will rely on how farmers are consolidated through self-help groups or farmer-producer organisations or cooperatives to take advantage of economies-of-scale.

Finally, a comprehensive approach by integrating technologies, policies, institutions and agri-infrastructure is necessary to usher in a new green revolution, in eastern India this time.

This piece was originally published in Financial Express.

 

Wish to increase net farm income? Root for institutional agricultural credit!

Farmer in Uttrakhand. Credit (flickr): Divya Pandey/IFPRI

More than half of India’s workforce is engaged in agriculture and its allied activities. However, the condition of the agricultural community, in the country, is not very encouraging. Lack of accessibility to formal credit pushes the farmers to reach out to the informal credit sources, mainly the local moneylenders, avail credit at exorbitant interest rates and thus, entering into a debt trap.

Indian agriculture policy aimed to reduce the farmer’s dependence on informal credit and increase the accessibility to formal credit. Various policy initiatives have been taken by the government in this regard starting from nationalization of large commercial banks (1969 and 1980) and establishment of Regional Rural Banks (1975), National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (1982), to farm credit programs like the Kisan Credit Cards (1998–1999) and the Interest Subvention Scheme (2010–2011).

Efforts have also been made to strengthen the formal credit system through programs like Priority Sector Lending (PSL) and recently with financial inclusion schemes Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJSY) and Swabhimaan. Although these initiatives have indeed made a positive impact in the agriculture credit system with continuous increase in the agriculture credit flow in the rural areas, yet the informal credit sources still account for more than one third of the agriculture credit flow.

Of late, there has been rising demands, in different states of the country, for waiving off farmers’ loan as a measure to deal with the debt crisis. Some state governments have already announced the waivers. However, this appears to be a very short term solution to the current problem. There aren’t much evidence that suggest that loan waivers have a positive impact on either the farm/ household income or their expenditures. Alternatively, increasing farmers’ access to formal credit mechanism is believed to empower them, help them channelize their resources better and in turn boost the agricultural economy. A recent IFPRI discussion paper Institutional versus Noninstitutional Credit to Agricultural Households in India: Evidence on Impact from a National Farmers’ Survey tries to understand the role of institutional farm credit on farm income and farm household consumption expenditures.

The findings of this study reveal that farmers with smaller land size find it difficult to borrow from formal credit system in the absence of collateral and thus resort to borrowing from informal sources. Caste also seems to be a factor affecting the access to formal credit sources as most formal borrowers were from the General and Other Backward Classes (OBC) and fewer from the Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST).

Apart from this, male-headed household were found to be receiving greater share of institutional credit as opposed to their female counterparts. Educated households had access to formal financing sources more than others. For example, households that are aware of the government schemes such as Minimum Support Prices (MSP) were more likely to obtain credit from formal sources.

Access to formal credit was found to have a direct relationship with the net farm income and per capita household expenditure. Increase in access to institutional credit was seen to increase the farm income and also the consumption expenditure. Thus, accessibility to formal financing could significantly improve the overall economic welfare of the agriculture households.

The study, suggests that existing policy and program initiatives must be scaled up in order to expand the reach of formal credit systems and increase farmer’s accessibility, especially of small and marginal farmers, to institutional credit. As highlighted by the findings of the study, concerted efforts needs to be taken to reduce the social discrimination in the financial sector based on gender and caste. Literacy levels, especially financial literacy levels, need to be improved considerably. Convergence among different policies would significantly help in bringing out desired results and increasing the share of institutional credit in the agricultural credit system. It’s time to break the debt cycle for the farmers and give them their due as economic and social welfare of farmers is a prerequisite for a healthy and progressive India.

 

Let the Dhara flow: GM mustard is pro-farmer and pro-science

Abhijit Kar Gupta

After years of wait and regulatory scrutiny, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), India’s regulator for transgenic products, has finally recommended the genetically modified mustard seeds named Dhara Mustard Hybrid 11 (DMH-11) for commercial release. The seeds contain genes from a bacterium that facilitate hybridization, with the aim of creating more high-yield mustard hybrids. In 2010, GEAC had approved Bt Brinjal, but the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF) did not permit its commercialization. We hope that this time, the government will respect scientists’ recommendation and allow farmers to grow DMH-11 in their fields.

Once again, anti-GMO activists are vociferously opposing GEAC’s decision. They claim that GM (genetically modified) seeds are not good for human health. Anti-GMO advocates have been stoking public fears about the safety of GM foods ever since the first GM crops reached the market in the United States in 1990s. Even after 25 years, there is no evidence that GMOs are harmful for human health. India imports thousands of tons of GM edible oil (and other GM food items) every year, but we do not know of a single verified case of illness or death attributed to genetic alterations. There is strong scientific consensus that GM crops are safe to eat and no different from their conventional alternatives in their health effects. Denying this evidence is as unscientific and anti-intellectual as denying climate change.

Opponents also claim that transgenic seeds lead to increased use of chemicals without offering any yield gains. This is also an unsubstantiated claim based on selective reading of evidence. Pest-resistant GM seeds (whose plants produce an insecticidal protein from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt) do lead to reduced use of pesticides while herbicide resistant (Ht) seeds may result in increased use of herbicides. Overall, GM seeds lead to the reduced application of active chemical ingredients to crops. GM crops are safe for the environment.

The third argument against GMOs is distributional: GM technology is anti-farmer and pro-multinational corporation. According to this claim, farmers have nothing to gain from GM technology. They lose control over genetic material, only to pay hefty premiums on GM seeds that require higher expense on herbicides, but do not offer better yields or better protection from pathogens. However, it is difficult to believe that farmers in India and elsewhere would be so hapless. The facts point to a very different reality. In India and in many other parts of the world, millions of small and large farmers have readily and voluntarily adopted genetically modified Ht and Bt seeds of cotton, soybean and corn, even when GM seeds are expensive and they have other choices. This revealed preference of millions of farmers across the world makes it hard to believe that GM technology is anti-farmer.

The fourth and a related argument against the use of GM technology in agriculture is that it can give too much power to large companies like Bayer and Syngenta, which own many of the patents. However, these concerns do not apply to DMH-11 or Bt Brinjal as they have been developed by government research institutions in India. Furthermore, even if this were a valid concern, giving up on this technology entirely is unwise. We can deal with each of these potential problems directly.

There is overwhelming scientific evidence for net benefit and minimal risks of GMOs, but the government of India continues to ignore mainstream science in following an extreme version of the precautionary principle advocated by critics of transgenic crops. This extreme precaution has raised the regulatory costs to a level that only large firms can pursue this technology. Critics of GM technology demonize large firms, but ironically, they have helped to create a regulatory environment where only the “demons” can survive.

GMOs can be used to increase crop yields, benefit the environment and make crops more nutritious. Indian farmers are eager to use GM technology and our scientists are ready to deploy it to more crops. It would be both pro-science and pro-farmer if the government and honorable courts allow the technology to take root.

Avinash Kishore is a Research Fellow in IFPRI's South Asia Office in New Delhi. The opinions expressed in this article are his own and do not represent those of the institution. This piece was originally published in The Business Standard.

Sustainable Development Goals: Strengthening rural-urban linkages is the key for India

Farmer offloading the produce at wholesale market in Lucknow.
Source:(flickr) Pallavi Rajkhowa/IFPRI

Strengthening rural-urban linkages is key to help achieve SDG-2 in India

The world is rapidly urbanising. Currently, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and by 2050, as much as 66% is projected to be urban, with much of this rise taking place in developing countries. India is no exception: 33% of the population is urban and will rise to 50% by 2050.

What does this mean for the world and India’s food security, nutrition and ability to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

The International Food Policy Research Institute’s 2017 Global Food Policy Report highlights how rapid urbanisation brings unique challenges to rural and urban areas, and strong linkages between these sectors can help achieve SDG-2 (end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture).

Urbanisation comes with challenges to agriculture and nutrition. Higher urban incomes are associated with a dietary transition to more animal-sourced food, fats and oil, refined grains, and fruits and vegetables, which requires more intensive use of natural resources. Urban lifestyles tend to increase consumption of processed foods and the urban poor are often limited to cheap unhealthy foods. At the same time, as urban population grows, hunger and under-nutrition will also increase in urban areas. In addition to access to healthy and nutritious foods, access to clean water, toilets and sanitation will also be challenges to hunger and malnutrition.

Yet rapid urbanisation brings opportunities, as the rise in urban food demand from rapid urbanisation for increased and diversified food production in rural areas can contribute to improved farmers’ livelihoods. To take advantage of these opportunities, strong rural-urban linkages are needed.

Rural-urban linkages are the physical, economic, social and political connections that link remote areas to large cities through smaller towns and cities in between. Where links are strong, rural farmers can sell larger shares of produce in urban markets, labourers can migrate or commute to nearby towns for seasonal work.

In 2016, the government set a goal to double farmers’ income by 2022 and create a budget that supports the agriculture sector. It is also increasing investment in infrastructure, irrigation, education and training, and healthcare. The National Food Security Act, Mid Day Meal Scheme and Anganwadi Centres contribute to tackling food and nutrition insecurity. Nevertheless, a comprehensive policy to improve agricultural productivity, strengthen value chains, promote diversification and agro-processing, and reduce food loss and waste is necessary to accelerate agricultural growth. Moreover, such a policy is needed to increase farm incomes and spur employment in rural areas, while improving the availability of diverse, healthy, nutritive and safe foods in urban areas. In this regard, policy coordination across rural, peri-urban and urban areas will be critical.

To strengthen value chains of agricultural commodities and improve market efficiency, a provision has been made to develop e-NAM. However, to establish efficient and inclusive rural-urban value chains, institutional arrangements that support the participation of marginal and small farmers who often have little marketable surplus are further needed.

Production in urban and peri-urban areas is shifting towards resource-intensive foods such as vegetables, dairy, meat and poultry to meet the rapidly growing demands. To veer production to rural areas—thereby reducing pressure on increasingly scarce urban and peri-urban lands—rural agri-infrastructure such as cold chains, cold storage and processing facilities is necessary. Leveraging towns and intermediate cities to facilitate economic and social connections between rural and urban areas, and improving rural infrastructure is crucial.

Concerns for food safety and critical civil amenities in the context of rapid urbanisation cannot be overlooked. As food and agricultural markets develop, quality and food safety standards will become increasingly important. Rapid urbanisation without safe drinking water, drainage, housing and hygiene facilities needs to be addressed, especially considering India’s slow decline in under-nutrition.

To end hunger and malnutrition in India and beyond, we must find solutions that consider the historic, ongoing trends of rapid urbanisation. Doing so is key in India, where despite progress 15% are hungry and 39% children are stunted. Improving links between rural and urban areas is a critical start.

Shenggen Fan is Director General and P K Joshi is Director South Asia, IFPRI.
This piece was originally published in The Financial Express.

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