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Where India’s food bill fails the children


A very interesting and well written article by Shailey Hingorani and Allison Hutchings in the Wall Stree Journal talks about India’s alarming malnutrition problem and how the National Food Security Bill has failed in some ways to solve this. They highlight some key issues with the Bill.

According to the article, India’s Food Minister K.V. Thomas in a conference earlier this year said the country would be known the world over for taking an important step toward eradicating hunger, malnutrition and poverty. This step was the  National Food Security Bill, which aims to provide very cheap grains to around 70% of the population.

Despite the unprecedented scale of the bill’s agenda, it feels stale.It is an amalgamation and continuation of previous nutrition and food distribution programs in India, including the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), which was launched in 1974 to provide supplementary nutrition to children up to the age of six. There is also the midday meal program, which came into the spotlight in June when 23 schoolchildren in Bihar died after eating a contaminated lunch.

By focusing on food intake alone, these programs have failed to adequately address malnutrition in India. They do little to address children’s different nutritional needs, which vary according to age and gender. Malnutrition is a complex condition with many drivers. Malnourished children need a holistic set of solutions, not just more food.

According to the World Bank, the nutrition indicators for Indian children under five are dismal. Nearly 43% are underweight, 70% are anemic, and 57% are vitamin A deficient.

The Food Security Bill ignores new approaches to tackling malnutrition and instead relies too heavily on the ICDS to meet all the nutritional requirements of children up to the age of six. The World Health Organization says malnutrition encompasses poor feeding practices like inadequate breastfeeding, and persistent infections like diarrhea, which rob children of nutrients. But the ICDS works on the assumption that lack of adequate food intake is the primary driver of malnutrition.

To read the entire article , please click here.

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