No. 42, December 2006
Counter-Revolution in Military Affairs?
Wheat Imports — A Tool for Re-shaping Indian Agriculture
India — Global Leader in Malnutrition
How the Wheat Crisis of 2006 Was Created
Government Plans to Dismantle the FCI
Failure of Procurement in 2006-07
Appendix: Food Imports and the Fate of Peasants in the Philippines and Mexico
Wheat Imports – A Tool for Re-shaping India’s Agriculture
As part of their effort to dismantle the food procurement and public distribution system, the country’s rulers are playing down the extent of malnutrition in India, and thus playing down the need for cereal production. Briefly,2 we should note that the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN)’s normative cereals requirement is 157 kg per capita per year, whereas the National Sample Survey of January-June 2004 shows a rural consumption of 149 kg per capita and an all-India consumption of 142 kg per capita. These are averages: thus vast numbers are consuming far less than the minimum requirement. Moreover, as the Committee on Long Term Grain Policy (CLTGP) notes, “NIN norms assume a more varied diet than is actually consumed in India at present, and therefore the norm for cereals may be on the lower side.”
This concern is borne out in nutritional outcomes, as depicted in the following tables. The proportion of children in India who are underweight (low weight for age, indicating both chronic and acute malnutrition), stunting (low height for age, indicating chronic malnutrition) and wasting (low weight for height, indicating acute malnutrition in the period before the survey) is among the worst in the third world.
Table 1: India: Percentage of children under three, by different measures of malnutrition
Table 2:Underweight, stunting and wasting, by global region, 2000
Preliminary state-wise results of the latest National Family Health Survey (2005-06) show only slight improvement in the above state of affairs; indeed, certain indicators show a deterioration. (Results from certain states, such as Bihar and Jharkhand, are not yet available.) This despite the fact that the economy was experiencing a much-celebrated “boom” that year.
Table 3: Preliminary results of NFHS-3 (2005-06), select states:
Cereals (such as wheat and rice) play a critical role in India’s overall food security, accounting for 58-65 per cent of total calories and proteins consumed in 1999-2000. It is unlikely that the calorie share of cereals will reduce below 50 per cent by 2020. They will remain particularly important for the poor, accounting for 70 per cent of their nutrient intake.3
Protein and energy deficiencies cast a pall on the entire future of India’s children and even the future of generations to come. Children who are underweight or stunted face a greater risk of illness or mortality, poor physical and mental development, poor school performance and reduced adult size and capacity for work. Protein-energy malnutrition weakens immune response and aggravates the effects of infection, exposing children to more severe bouts of diarrhea and a higher risk of pneumonia. Underweight and stunted women are at greater risk of obstetric complications (because of smaller pelvic size) and low birth weight deliveries. Low birth weight infants tend as adults to remain shorter than those of normal birth weight; the result is a cycle of malnutrition carried over to the next generation.4
It is a different matter that the very sections who are malnourished are the ones who perform strenuous manual labour, and gain the kinds of knowledge and capability that the over-nourished never will achieve. But that is the product of their grim struggle to survive and better their conditions – individually and collectively.
It is against the background of this large-scale malnutrition that we must look at the recent developments in the foodgrains sector.
2. We have discussed this in detail in Aspects no.s 36 & 37, pp. 117-151. (back)
3. CLTGP, Report on Long Term Grain Policy, p. 15. (back)
4. India’s Undernourished Children: A Call for Reform and Action, Michele Gragnolati, Meera Shekar, Monica Das Gupta, Caryn Bredenkamp and Yi-Kyoung Lee, World Bank, 2005, p. 6. (back)
NEXT: How the Wheat Crisis of 2006 Was Created
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