As India progresses and is being recognized as a global power, it still faces issues that all poor and developing nations are exposed to.
A World Bank expert said that budget constraints limit access to nutrient-rich foods for many families, who are unaware or unable to afford a nutritious diet. He further added that micronutrient deficiencies, especially Vitamin A and D, were highly prevalent in India. These deficiencies often go unnoticed and are referred to as ‘hidden hunger’.
A recent report published by the International Food Policy Research Institute, ranks India at number 100 out of 119 countries on the Global Hunger Index. China, and even Nepal and Burma have performed better at 29, 72, and 77, respectively. It takes into account things like malnutrition, stunting among children, wasting, and the mortality rate of children under the age of five.
According to senior agriculture economist Edward W. Bresnyan, who wrote, in a blog called “Tackling India’s hidden hunger’, that night blindness, a condition afflicting millions of pregnant women and children, stems from low intake of foods rich in essential nutrients like Vitamin A. He further adds that when milk is fortified with vitamin A and D, it can help alleviate dietary deficiencies when supplementation is not available.
Bresnyan said that except for salt fortification with iodine, India has not yet achieved large-scale food fortification. “Food fortification is a relatively simple, powerful and cost-effective approach to curb micronutrient deficiencies. It is in general socially accepted and requires minimal change in existing food habits. The process is inexpensive and costs about 2 paisa per liter or about one-tenth of a cent. And because it only adds a fraction of daily recommended nutrients, the process is considered safe. For these reasons, food fortification has been successfully scaled up in some emerging economies.”
Malnutrition is a huge problem in India and even though the government is doing what it can, it does not seem adequate enough to eradicate it completely.
There are many organisations trying to do their bit as well, like the South Asia Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (SAFANSI) which is piloting a large-scale milk fortification project to help Indian families better access micronutrient-rich foods.
The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) provides food, day care, immunization, health checks and basic learning to pre-school children, and support for expecting and nursing mothers. Amount spent on these varies with states.
Obstacles dampening India’s robust place in food safety and fight with malnutrition are reduced crop area under cultivation resulting in increased food imports. Mandatory Aadhaar denies ration to several poor not possessing it. We urge the government and the food safety regulator and private institutions to ensure fortification of essential food is done across the country so that hidden hunger can be exposed and stamped out of India.