India is home to 194.6 million undernourished people, the highest in the world, according to the annual report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released on Thursday.
This translates into over 15 per cent of India’s population, exceeding China in both absolute numbers and proportion of malnourished people in the country's population.
“Higher economic growth has not been fully translated into higher food consumption, let alone better diets overall, suggesting that the poor and hungry may have failed to benefit much from overall growth,” says the report The State of Food Insecurity in the World.
The report suggests that this is a result of growth not being inclusive. “Rural people make up a high percentage of the hungry and malnourished in developing countries, and efforts to promote growth in agriculture and the rural sector can be an important component of a strategy for promoting inclusive growth.”
There has however been a significant reduction in the proportion of undernourished people in India — by 36 per cent — from 1990-92. In India, the extended food distribution programme has contributed to a positive outcome, the FAO says.
795 million globally
Around the world, 795 million people — or around one in nine — are undernourished. Asia and the Pacific account for almost 62 per cent of this section. Yet, the trends are positive, with a decrease in the prevalence of people with undernourishment — from 18.6 pc in 1990-92 to 10.9 percent in 2014-16 worldwide.
Children faring better
Southern Asia, which has historically had the highest number of underweight children below five years of age, also happens to be a region that has made big strides in reducing malnutrition among children.
According to the statistics, the prevalence of underweight children declined from 49.2 per cent in 1990 to 30 per cent in 2013. A host of factors can contribute to children being underweight, not just deficiency in calories or protein, the report says. Poor hygiene, disease or limited access to clean water can also contribute to the body’s inability to absorb nutrients from food, manifested finally in nutrient deficits such as stunting and wasting.
The report cautioned that the reasons for undernourishment should be viewed against the backdrop of a “challenging global environment.” Factors include “volatile commodity prices, higher food and energy prices, and rising unemployment and underemployment.” The global recession in 2008, natural disasters, political instability in various regions of the world, and civil strife were also cited as hindering food security.