Current Affairs

Hunger and the world

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    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    31st Dec, 2021


  • People, all around the world are hoping that the bells ringing in 2022 will herald the start of a better era after two years of a global pandemic that has decimated economies, tested health systems to their limits and is increasingly shaping politics. 
  • However, multiple interlocking crises look set to characterise the new year.
  • Over 2021 a perfect storm of COVID, conflict and climate change have pushed millions more children into malnutrition, and in 2022 an estimated two million children under the age of five are going to suffer due to hunger-related causes.

This brief aims to analyse the current scenario of hunger all around the world and how this situation is going to get worse if the world does not give attention to the issue.

Global status of food security

Food security

Food security is the measure of an individual’s ability to access food that is nutritious and sufficient in quantity. The FAO defines four dimensions of food security, all of which must be fulfilled simultaneously, for food security to exist.  The four dimensions are:

  • Physical availability of food
  • Economic and physical access to food
  • Food utilization
  • The stability of those other dimensions over time
  • Many countries are facing growing levels of acute food insecurity, reversing years of development gains. 
  • Even before COVID-19 reduced incomes and disrupted supply chains, chronic and acute hunger were on the rise due to various factors including conflict, socio-economic conditions, natural hazards, climate change and pests. 
  • COVID-19 impacts led to severe and widespread increases in global food insecurity, affecting vulnerable households in almost every country, with impacts expected to continue into 2022 and possibly beyond.
  • ?Between 720 and 811 million people in the world went hungry in 2020,?according to the UN report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World.?

Basic terms

  • Hunger defines a short-term physical discomfort as a result of chronic food shortage, or in severe cases, a life-threatening lack of food. 
  • Acute hunger designates undernourishment over a definable period. It is the most extreme form of hunger and arises frequently in connection with crises like droughts due to El Niño, wars and disasters.
  • Chronic hunger designates a state of long-term undernourishment.
  • World hunger refers to hunger aggregated to the global level. Related terms include food insecurity and malnutrition. 
  • Food insecurity refers to limited or unreliable access to foods that are safe and nutritionally adequate.
  • Malnutrition is a condition resulting from insufficient intake of biologically necessary nutrients. Although malnutrition includes both over-nutrition and undernutrition, the focus for global hunger is undernutrition.

How is the situation in India?

  • With nearly 195 million undernourished persons and a raging crisis in its farm sector, India’s position is critical when it comes to food security.
  • Over two decades of high economic growth has failed to make a dent in domestic undernutrition figures.

Global Hunger Index 2021

  • India is home to nearly a third of all undernourished children globally, and it ranks 101st among 1116 countries in the Global Hunger Index 2021 report.
  • India's Global Hunger Index (GHI) score has fallen from 38.8 in 2000 to somewhere in the range of 27.5 to 28.8 between 2012 and 2021.
  • The highest levels of stunting and underweight are found in Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra. Starvation deaths are also common in some parts of Jharkhand and Bihar.

Global Nutrition Report 2021

  • In 2012, World Health Organizationidentified 6 global nutrition targets to be achieved by 2025 that included –
    • 50% reduction of anemia among women at reproductive age
    • 30% reduction in low birthweight
    • increase the rate of first 6 months’ exclusive breastfeeding up to at least 50%
    • 40% reduction of stunting among under-5 children
    • ensuring below 5% reduction and maintenance of under-5 wasting
    • no increase in under-5 overweight; and seizing the increase in obesity and diabetes prevalence
  • The 2021 Global Nutrition Report (GNR 2021)revealed five out of six global maternal, infant and young children nutrition (MIYCN) targets to address stunting, wasting, anemia, low birth weight and childhood obesity are off track.
  • At the same time, the global nutrition target (GNT) to combat the growing prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is also off track.
  • A shift from eating whole-food-based balanced meals to consuming sugary drinks, ultra-processed foods and processed red meat is negatively impacting our health and environment.

The irony

  • Even when its own situation is critical, India took cognisance of the challenges posed by the pandemic to provide relief and assistance to several other countries.
  • The country deployed the Indian Navy Ship (INS) Kesari in May 2020 on a special relief mission (Mission Sagar) to deliver essential medical and 580 tonnes of food supplies in addition to two medical assistance teams to the Maldives, Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros Islands and Seychelles.
  • In October 2020, the INS Airavat was deployed with food aid to South Sudan, Djibouti and Eritrea.
  • India also provided medical support and food aid to Nepal and Afghanistan, and contributed US$10 million to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation COVID-19 emergency fund.

What are the reasons behind increasing hunger?

National level

The primary risks to food security are at the country level: 

  • Higher retail prices
  • Rising food prices
  • Reduced incomes
  • Poverty
  • Corruption
  • Poor implementation of government schemes

Global level

  • Natural disasters: Weather extremes have always led to hunger crises. Droughts and floods destroy harvests. With climate change, extreme weather events are increasing. Droughts over many consecutive years weaken the resilience of the population. They are forced to use up their seed supplies or slaughter cattle. 
  • Poverty: Hunger is, above all, a consequence of poverty. Someone who is poor has insufficient money for food but also cannot provide for their own health and cannot invest in education for children. Women are usually particularly disadvantaged. Only site-appropriate agriculture can combat poverty and hunger.
  • Wars and conflicts: Armed conflicts cause to farmers flee, leaving them unable to cultivate their fields. Frequently they lose all of their possessions. Roads and agricultural infrastructure such as irrigation facilities are destroyed. Due to the limited security, trade also suffers; food becomes scarce and expensive.
  • Inequality: The inequality between rich and poor is increasing, both globally and within individual countries. 
  • Gender inequality: In its outline of the Sustainable Development Goals, the UN reveals that “if women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million.” Female farmers are responsible for growing, harvesting, preparing, and selling the majority of food in poor countries. Women are on the frontlines of the fight against hunger, yet they are frequently underrepresented at the forums where important decisions on policy and resources are made.
  • Biased global trade: Unfair trade agreements and subsidies create market access and price advantages for enterprises from the industrial nations. 
  • Poor governance: The governments in developing countries mostly do not align their policies to the needs of the poorest population.
  • Waste of resources: The consequences of wastage of natural resources are borne by others.
  • Climate change: Expansion of deserts, soil erosion, water scarcity and extreme weather phenomena as a result of climate change are becoming particularly apparent in countries that already suffer from hunger and poverty.

World Food Production:

  • The world produces enough food to feed everyone. For the world as a whole, per capita, caloric availability and food diversity (the variety of food groups in a diet) have increased between the 1960s and 2011.
  • This growth in food availability, along with improved access to food, helped reduce the percentage of chronically undernourished people in lower-middle-income countries from about 30 percent in 1990-92 to about 13 percent two decades later (FAO, 2017). 
  • A principal problem is that many people in the world still do not have sufficient income to purchase (or land to grow) enough food or access nutritious food.  This is an element of “food security”.  

What happens when there is food insecurity?

  • Economic losses: Hunger and food insecurity directly leads to economic loss. Additionally, governments are forced to spend more on food aid and care, rather than investing in schools, infrastructure, and healthcare.
  • Increased vulnerability to disease: Hunger make the body weak and vulnerable to diseases and infections, as the body does not have the fuel to build muscle and fight off infections. 
  • Malnutrition:Malnutrition can be a devastating reality for those who are food insecure.
  • Stunting: This issue is all too common in countries affected by food insecurity.
  • Migration: People who are able to migrate to nearby towns and cities end up in slums or run down communities, as they cannot afford the high living standards in the cities.
  • Increased criminalization: Those who migrate with low education level makes them unsuitable for many good paying city jobs. Many of them end up doing drugs, robbery, prostitution and other crimes to make a living.

Government Initiatives:

  • Food Security Act 2013:  This is one of the largest food security schemes across the world. Under the provisions of this law, beneficiaries would get five kg of grain per person per month, including rice at Rs. 3 per kg, wheat at Rs. 2 per kg and coarse grains at Re 1 per kg. 
    • The act proposes meal entitlement to specific groups, including pregnant women and lactating mothers, children between six months and 14 years, malnourished kids, disaster-affected people, and those who are destitute, homeless and starving. 
  • Integrated Child Development Scheme:ICDS was launched in 1975 in India, and has since then, worked for the overall development of children below 6 years primarily, and also women. Its main provisions are supplementary feeding, immunization, and raising awareness about health and nutrition amidst its beneficiaries.
  • TDPS and PDS (Targeted Public Distribution system and Public Distribution System): The TDPS was introduced in India in 1997. The PDS in India is one of the largest distribution systems of its type across the globe. It ensures the availability of food at subsidized prices at the household level to the poor.
  • Other efforts include:
    • National Nutrition Mission (NNM)
    • Zero Hunger Programme
    • Eat Right India Movement
    • Atma Nirbhar Bharat Scheme
    • Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojna

Constitutional Provisions and Food Security:

  • The right to food or in general the economic, social, and cultural rights are defined in Part IV of the Constitution as Directive Principles of State Policy.
  • The Right to Food in Indian Constitution is not recognized as a “Fundamental Right”
  • However, Article 21 and 47 of the constitution obliges the Government of India to take appropriate measures to ensure a dignified life with adequate food for all citizens.
  • Article 47: Article 47 of the Indian Constitution provides that it is the “duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health”
  • Article 21: Protection of life and personal liberty – No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty.

What strategies can be adopted?

  • Efficient and effective food system: There is a growing need for the design and development of more efficient integrated systems of food production, processing, preservation and distribution that will feed the changing tastes of the nation.
  • Upgrading agricultural system: The government should focus on improving the agricultural infrastructure by adopting the following activities:
    • Developing and upgrading rural infrastructure
    • training farmers in post-harvest practices that minimize losses
    • integrating small scale enterprises into value chains
    • organizing smallholder farmers into farmer producer organizations
    • customized financial services
    • investment in agricultural research
    • last-mile marketing channels 
  • Block the speculators: Huge sums of investment fund money have flooded into the commodities markets since the financial crisis, looking for returns no longer available in equities. Automated trading systems that exploit tiny flaws in the market and encourage volatility to make it impossible for traditional traders to keep prices stable and hedge against spikes.
  • Focus on infant nutrition: The solution lies in education on good feeding techniques and getting the right nutrients to the mother and child from the beginning of pregnancy. Overall, malnutrition makes people poorer – it is responsible for an 11% decline in GDP in affected countries.
  • Effective genetic modification: Huge gains could be available for health and agricultural productivity if the promises of genetic modification can be believed. Gene-splicing crops to help them withstand drought and flood may be vital. Pigs and chickens could have their digestive systems altered so that they eat food not required by humans, and pollute the environment less.
  • Poverty reduction: Economic growth has long been seen as the key to reducing hunger. More trade, financial liberalization, and open markets should aid the flow of food, of which there's no overall shortage. Successful poverty reduction in China has led some economists to predict there will be no more hungry people there by 2020.
  • Immediate policy intervention: There is an urgent need for immediate policy intervention to uplift the poor from hunger and deprivation. 
  • Revamping policy: There is a great need to revamp the existing policy.


Given the rapidly growing population, resource constraints and climate change concerns, accompanied by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic; it is imperative to make food security a core policy priority. But before that India must understand how it can re-design the food system to be healthy, sustainable, and more resilient to climate change, helping to meet both the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. For this, a few policy changes are essential to improve India’s hunger situation.

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