Legislation targets poor and vulnerable sections among whom malnutrition was particularly high
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Thursday that the government was committed to bring to Parliament a Right to Food Act which would serve as a viable safety net for the poor and the vulnerable sections among whom malnutrition was particularly high.
Addressing an international conference on ‘Leveraging Agriculture for Improving Nutrition and Health,' the Prime Minister said such issues were “topical” as the world faced rising food prices and there was growing recognition that climate change may endanger food security in many developing countries.
The issue was particularly important in developing countries where agriculture was the mainstay of a large number of people. “Studies in India show some correlation between agricultural performance of a State and the nutritional status of its people. States that have high agricultural productivity also have lower malnutrition rates for both adults and children.”
Noting that India had not done as much as it should have to promote modernisation of agriculture marketing, Dr. Singh said he had asked the Planning Commission and the Agriculture Ministry to focus particularly on this aspect in the 12th Five Year Plan beginning 2012.
“Agricultural diversification in food requires back-up support in terms of viable delivery and marketing chains. Modernisation of marketing inevitably implies a greater interaction and involvement of the private sector. We will work with State governments to ease whatever implications may exist in this regard,” he said.
The conference was organised by the United States think tank, the International Food Policy Research Institute.
Observing that malnutrition was not only a consequence of poverty but also a cause of it, Dr. Singh said a malnourished child was more vulnerable to disease and less able to earn a leaving. The complexity of causes that underlie malnutrition called for a multi-sectoral strategy to address the three key issues of availability, access and absorption.
The Prime Minister emphasised that availability and access to foodgrains was only part of the solution. “With economic growth and changing dietary habits, demand for fruits and vegetables, milk and milk products, meat and fish, is steadily increasing. This is entirely natural. Good nutrition requires a balanced diet through multiple food sources.”
“Rapid growth in agriculture, particularly that which diversifies the food basket while ensuring adequate availability of energy and other basic nutrients, combined with other activities and initiatives in health, hygiene and women's education will help overcome poor health, hunger and malnutrition,” he added.
Earlier, addressing a press conference, eminent agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan said controlling food inflation in urban areas would be “difficult” unless the supply chain was improved.
He recalled how food inflation in the 1960s was checked through government intervention by opening super bazaar and ‘apna' bazaars. “The National Food Security Act will, to some degree, meet the challenge of nutrition security.”
“The government will have to bring the Bill to Parliament and to the Standing Committee,” he said in reply to a question on the differences between the National Advisory Council that wants near-universalisation of the public distribution system and the C. Rangarajan experts group that suggested that only the vulnerable sections (below poverty line population) be covered under the proposed Bill. David Nabarro, U.N. Special Representative on Food Security and Nutrition, said nations had to ensure that rising food prices did not negatively impact the poor and vulnerable sections.
Answering a question on futures trade in farm commodities, he said: “Yes, certain kinds of commercialisation in agricultural commodities lead to accentuation of price volatility but other kinds of trade may act as a smoother and reflector.”