There are well-equipped schemes to address the malnutrition, plugging the policy gaps is the problem.
Nutrition and hunger in India
Global Hunger Index rank 102: The Global Hunger Index reported that India suffers from “serious” hunger, ranked 102 out of 117 countries.
Only one tenth of children between 6 to 23 months are fed a Recommended dietary allowance
The urgency around nutrition was reflected in the Union Finance Minister’s Budget speech, as she referred to the “unprecedented” scale of developments under the scheme for Holistic Nutrition, or POSHAN Abhiyaan, the National Nutrition Mission with efforts to track the status of 10 crore households.
The Economic Survey notes that “Food is not just an end in itself but also an essential ingredient in the growth of human capital and therefore important for national wealth creation”.
How malnutrition affects the mind?
Malnutrition affects cognitive ability, workforce days and health, impacting as much as 16% of GDP (World Food Programme and World Bank).
Multiple dimension of malnutrition: There are multiple dimensions of malnutrition that include-
Addressing the issue through Agriculture
An important approach to address nutrition is through agriculture.
The Bharatiya Poshan Krishi Kosh which was launched in 2019 is a recent attempt to bridge this gap.
The krishi kosh was launched by Ministry of Women and Child Development along with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).
Existing schemes can well address India’s malnutrition dilemma. Following is the analysis of budgetary allocation and expenditure in FY 2019
- Tackling Calorific deficiency
The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme provides a package of services including-
- Supplementary nutrition.
- Nutrition and health education.
- Health check-ups and
- Referral services addressing children, pregnant and lactating mothers and adolescent girls, key groups to address community malnutrition, and which also tackle calorific deficiency and beyond.
The allocation this year is marginally higher, but clearly, the emphasis needs to be on implementation.
Mid-Day Meal Scheme
Another way to address hunger is the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, to enhance the nutrition of schoolchildren.
Here too, the issue is not with allocation but with expenditure.
The 2019-20 Budget allocation was ₹11,000 crore and revised estimates are only ₹9,912 crores.
- Protein Hunger
Pulses are a major contributor to address protein hunger.
Underutilisation of funds: A scheme for State and Union Territories aims to reach pulses into welfare schemes (Mid-Day Meal, Public Distribution System, ICDS) has revised estimates standing at just ₹370 crores against ₹800 crore allocation in the 2019-20 Budget.
- Micronutrient deficiency
The Horticulture Mission can be one of the ways to address micronutrient deficiency effectively, but here too implementation is low.
Revised estimates for 2019-20 stand at ₹1,583.50 crores against an allocation of ₹2,225 crores.
National Millet Mission: In 2018-19, the Government of India launched a national millet mission which included renaming millets as “nutri-cereals” also launching a Year of Millets in 2018-19 to promote nutritious cereals in a campaign mode across the country.
This could have been further emphasised in the Budget as well as in the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) which includes millets.
Under-utilisation of funds: The NFSM strains to implement the allocation of ₹2,000 crores during 2019-20, as revised expenditures stand at ₹1,776.90 crore.
Need to sustain the momentum: As millets have the potential to address micronutrient deficiencies, the momentum given to these cereals needs to be sustained.
POSHAN Abhiyan and issues involved
72% expenditure on technology: The National Nutrition Mission which is a major initiative to address malnutrition, had 72% of total expenditure going into “Information and Communication Technology.
Misplaced focus: The focus of the bulk of the funding has been on technology, whereas, actually, it is a convergence that is crucial to address nutrition.
Under-utilisation of funds: Only 34% of funds released by the Government of India were spent from FY 2017-18 to FY 2019-20 till November 30, 2019.
Limiting the possibility of an increase in the allocation: With underspending, allocations for subsequent years will also be affected, limiting the possibility of increasing budgets and the focus on nutrition schemes.
The agriculture-nutrition link is another piece of the puzzle.
Link not explicitly mentioned: While agriculture dominated the initial Budget speech, the link between agriculture and nutrition was not explicit.
Why the link is important: The link is important because about three-fifths of rural households are agricultural in India (National Sample Survey Office, 70th round)
The malnutrition rates, particularly in rural areas are high (National Family Health Survey-4).
Need for greater emphasis: Agriculture-nutrition linkage schemes have the potential for greater impact and need greater emphasis.
Bring all departments in one place: Intensify the convergence component of POSHAN Abhiyaan, using the platform to bring all departments in one place to address nutrition.
Nutrition based activities by farmer-producer: Direct the announcement to form 10,000 farmer producer organisations with an allocation of ₹500 crores to nutrition-based activities.
Youth schemes: Promotion of youth schemes to be directed to nutrition-agriculture link activities in rural areas.
Emphasis on fund allocation: Give explicit emphasis and fund allocation to agriculture-nutrition linked schemes.
Early disbursement and utilisation of funds: Ensure early disbursement of funds and optimum utilisation of schemes linked to nutrition.
Nutrition goes beyond just food, with economic, health, water sanitation, gender perspectives and social norms contributing to better nutrition. This is why the implementation of multiple schemes can contribute to better nutrition.