GianPietro Bordignon

India is a poignant example of how food sufficiency at the aggregate level has not translated into food security at the household level. The revised thrust of the World Food Programme will be to bring the hungry, malnourished, and vulnerable within the ambit of human development.

TODAY, ON the threshold of 60 momentous years of Independence, the nation is justifiably proud of its myriad achievements. Among these is the remarkable success in eliminating widespread famines and the impressive increases in food production. Nonetheless, there is a long road to be travelled before the vision of a truly food secure India is achieved.

As the world's leading humanitarian agency and the food aid arm of the United Nations, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been privileged to work with the Government of India in its efforts to eliminate hunger and ensure food security to the poor. Although its assistance is small compared to the scale of the Government's own programmes, yet with its international outreach, and the experience gained globally, the WFP has a special niche in complementing and sharpening government efforts to eliminate hunger.

Recent years have seen the economy booming and growth rates have been among the highest in the world. The flip side, however, is that one in every five Indians suffers from overt or covert hunger. "Hunger," as stated by Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze, is "intolerable in the modern world" in a way it could not have been in the past, because it is "so unnecessary and unwarranted." India is a poignant example of how food sufficiency at the aggregate level has not translated into food security at the household level. A staggeringly large number of undernourished about 214 million people is chronically food insecure. Many more, varyingly about 40 million, are exposed to natural disasters. About 50 per cent of children (mostly tribal and rural) are undernourished and stunted, 23 per cent have a low birth weight and 68 out of 1000 die before the age of one year. There is a high prevalence of anaemia and other micronutrient deficiencies.

The challenge before the WFP is to help the country attain the critical Millennium Development Goal on eradicating hunger. The Draft Approach Paper to the Planning Commission's Eleventh Five-Year Plan articulates a "vision of growth that will be much more broad-based and inclusive." These priorities of the Government match the WFP's own goals and will guide future initiatives. As part of the U.N. system, the WFP also works within the U.N. Development Assistance Framework to achieve synergy and, at the same time, avoid costly duplication of efforts.

Committed to the vision of a hunger-free India, the WFP set itself twin goals. The first is to be a catalyst for change in the country's effort to reduce vulnerability and eliminate food insecurity. The second is to leverage policy and resources to demonstrate models that provide immediate and longer-term food security in the most food insecure areas.

The WFP seeks to achieve its strategic objectives through three major initiatives. The first is the support it extends to the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). India is home to the largest number of children in the world. But what distinguishes India is not the numbers but what has been called its "silent emergency": astonishingly high child malnutrition rates. As part of its assistance to the ICDS, the WFP has successfully piloted Indiamix a nutritious fortified food widely recognised as an innovative nutrition intervention.

Secondly, the WFP complements the Government of India's mid-day meal scheme in some districts with a mid-morning snack that is fortified with vitamins and minerals and enhances learning by children, many of whom go to school on an empty stomach. This has proved to be an effective means to increase enrolment and retention, especially that of young girls.

With increasing degradation of resources, the livelihoods of poor tribal communities are under threat. In collaboration with the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the WFP assists food-for-work activities in tribal development programmes undertaken by Governments in select States. This has led to empowerment of tribal communities and sustainable use of natural resources.

In addition to the core programmes, the WFP has proposed significant capacity-building initiatives that relate to food fortification, grain banks, and strengthening of the Government's food-based programmes. The Ending Child Hunger and Undernutrition Initiative is an alliance between UNICEF and the WFP at the global level as well as in India that holds great promise.

The WFP takes pride in the analytical rigour it has imparted to the conceptualisation of food security. The Food Insecurity Atlases, prepared in collaboration with the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, were a landmark. Extending the earlier work to the regional and district levels, the WFP proposes to prepare, in partnership with the Government, food insecurity atlases for several States.

The future beckons! As India surges ahead to take its rightful place in the comity of nations, we in the WFP look forward to the coming years with renewed faith and optimism and a firm belief that hunger and undernourishment can be banished.

The revised thrust of the WFP endeavours will be to bring the hungry, malnourished, and vulnerable within the ambit of human development, to change the course of their destiny and unleash their potential through opening a new world of opportunities. Courtesy: U.N. Information Centre, New Delhi.

(The writer is WFP Representative and Country Director in India.)