Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy or Hungry New Year?

For one person out of six in the World, the New Year is unlikely to be a happy one. For them it is another Hungry New Year. In India hunger will be felt more as one person out of 4 may remain hungry in 2010.

Chronic Hunger increasing

The number of under nourished people in the World is steadily increasing for the last 10 to 18 years. From 845 million in 1992, the number of people who eats less than their minimum dietary energy requirement increased to more than 1000 million in 2009. In India the increase was from 210 million in 1992 to 250 million hungry people in 2006. The irony of the situation in India is that this period between 1992 and 2006 was the period of rapid growth in economy in terms of GDP. The realisation that economic reforms have not benefited the poorest section of our society might have been the reason for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh 's recent defensive remark while addressing the conference of Indian Economic Association.

He said,

"As far as poverty is concerned, the facts are quite clear. The percentage of population below the poverty line has certainly not increased. In fact it has continued to decline after the economic reforms at least at the same rate as it did before."

It is true that in the World as a whole the percentage of population who are undernourished decreased between 1992 and 2006 though the absolute numbers continue to increase. Now new estimates of 2009 predict an increase in percentage also of undernourished.

As per Food and Agriculture Organisation's statistics India show an increase not only in absolute number but also in percentage of under nourished population in recent years.

Why hunger is increasing?

A common myth is that people are hungry because there is not enough food available or because of over-population. However, it is almost always poverty that prevents people from buying what is readily available in their local markets, rather than food shortages.

The number of undernourished in the world was actually declining in the 1970s and 1980s in spite of relatively rapid population growth during those decades and the proportion of undernourished in developing countries was declining quite rapidly.

At that time, large investments in the agriculture sector (including for scientific research, rural roads and irrigation) led to rapid growth in cereal yields and lower cereal prices that, in turn, significantly reduced food insecurity. During those decades, the proportion of government spending devoted to agriculture was also relatively high.

During the 1990s and the current decade, however, the number of undernourished has risen, despite the benefit of slower population growth. Primary reasons for this includes increase in poverty, reduced investment in agriculture, reduced production and rise in prices.

Food inflation in India

India is in the grip of scary food inflation with prices of food products going up the roof. The food inflation rate is almost 20%. Failure of monsoons and floods in some States are thought to be the reason. Such high inflation rates will surely increase the number of undernourished in India.

How many are poor in India?

This question is very difficult to answer and we can only get an estimate of the extent of poverty in India. A new debate has started about the methodology of estimating poverty after the publishing of  report of Expert Group on Methodology for Estimation of Poverty, chaired By Prof. Suresh D. Tendulkar and appointed by the Planning Commission.

Using the new method suggested by the Committee, the new poverty lines for 2004-05 have been re-estimated to be as Rs. 446.68 for rural areas and Rs. 578.80 for urban areas (per capita per month). Further, the number of people below this line for 2004-05 is estimated as 41.8 per cent in rural areas and 25.7 per cent in urban areas. These new estimates represent a significant upward revision of poverty in the rural areas, and a small downward revision of poverty in the urban areas. As per the new method, the total number of poor people in India has risen from about 403 million in 1993-94 to about 407 million in 2004-05. In per capita daily terms one out of 4 in urban areas earn less than 19Rs per day while about 2 out of 5 in rural areas earn less than 15 Rs per day.

With so many poor and hungry people around and as the food prices go up and up, 2010 may remain another Hungry New Year to a large number [one Billion]of our fellow human beings.



  1. It is now accepted that meat consumption in general and Beef consumption in particular play a big role in the high carbon foot-print of the industrialized west. Fortunately, India scores much better on this score.

    Talking of food security, let us not forget Mao's disastrous Great Leap Forward that led to the largest famine in human history.

  2. a very thought provoking post.

    there is only one way of reducing the bpl figure. planners must imperatively reorder the priorities by investing heavily in the agricultural sector
    factoring in the human condition/development level of rural india. this would include breaking up the nexus between zamindar/upper caste and politicians, bringing education on a war footing to rural india and evolving a mode of rural development that'll keep the villagers in their village. today, all rural development is tuned to favour the corporates.

    foolish things to say, i know. but gandhiJi said the same thing and i'd rather be in his foolish league.

  3. A search on Kerala's food production gives a sorry picture. There must be some problems unique to Kerala that don't affect other states.

    * FOOD production is inadequate in Kerala, where the trend has been dwindling paddy cultivation and the extension of cultivated area under cash crops.
    * Why did a slump follow the land reforms in Kerala?
    * The agriculture sector in the State is facing near stagnation during this period of rapid economic growth.
    * And this paper is cited in many places.

  4. Phase Shift, thankyou for the links and comments.
    Mao's experiments did create huge setbacks to Chinese economy.
    Despite Mao's misadventure China is doing much better than India in regard to food security and hunger. Around 130 million are undernourished there,about 10% of the population.
    Decreased rice output in Kerala should be of concern.Several factors might have played a role including rise in labour costs,Gulf migration,change to cash crop cultivation etc etc

  5. KPJ,happy new year.
    Yes, whatever the Govt do it should improve the lot of the poorest sections of our society

  6. Yes, China drew the right lessons from Mao's disaster:

    In agrarian policy, the failures of food supply during the Great Leap were met by a gradual de-collectivization in the 1960s that foreshadowed further de-collectivization under Deng Xiaoping.

    Deng Xiaoping wanted his nation to learn and adapt - instead of blindly following Maoism or whatever "ism".

  7. A sad state of affairs.. nd more so since those in control of our policies refuses to see the truth...

    India will never leap forward if the poorest of the poor are not uplifed....the country needs to turn to Gandhiji and his insights if they have lost direction..

  8. Phase shift, True China was able to move beyond dogmas under Deng.

  9. Happy Kitten,
    Yes the situation of the poorest should reflect a Country's status and not just GDP figures.

  10. ഡാക്കിട്ടറേ

    റിച്ച്,പുവർ എന്നീ ക്ലാസ്സിഫിക്കേഷൻ ഒക്കെ തികച്ചും ആപേക്ഷികങ്ങളായ ചില ഗിമ്മിക്കുകളല്ലെ? ധനികരുടെ ഏണ്ണം ദരിദ്രരുടെ എണ്ണമെന്നപോൽ ദിനം പ്രതി വർദ്ധിക്കുന്നില്ലേ? അപ്പോൾ ദാരിദ്ര്യം മാത്രമല്ലല്ലൊ ധനവും വർദ്ധിക്കുന്നുണ്ടല്ലോ.
    ഉള്ളവനും ഇല്ലാത്തവനും തമ്മിൽ ഉള്ള അന്തരം വർദ്ധിക്കുന്നു എന്നത് ശരി തന്നെ.
    റിച്ച് ബികംസ് റിച്ചർ അന്റ് പുവർ ബെകംസ് പുവറർ

  11. ഈ ബ്ലോഗിലേക്ക് സ്വാഗതം തഥാഗതന്‍, ശരിയാണ് എല്ലാം ആപേക്ഷികം. എന്നാലും ഇന്ത്യയിലെ നാലില്‍ ഒരാള്‍ കൊടിയ ദാരിദ്ര്യം അനുഭവിക്കുമ്പോള്‍. . . .

  12. Looking forward to your comments on this:

    The ministries in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu did a good job in things like building roads and houses in rural areas. The ministry in Kerala put up performances bluntly described by the Central Statistical Organisation as 'poor'.

  13. Phase Shift, In almost all the parameters in that 20 points Kerala is much ahead than rest of rural India for several decades.So a comparison for a short period of few months is not worth discussing.Yes, recently the gap betwen Kerala and the rest is closing due to better develpment in other States and also due to less development in Kerala.
    I think the conclusion that the writer of the article came to is not correct abt ruling Parties winning elections. Studies of recent elections in India have indicated that ruling Parties get re elected because of the money power and not based on performance.I had posted about how important money power is in Indian elections now a days.

  14. Terribly sad facts... I agree with kochuthresiamma p .j ... the priority should be ensuring everybody is fed and clothed and has a shelter and an education.

    I can't imagine how those who can and are supposed to take care of this, ignore this most crucial need.


Comments are welcome especially if you do not think like me. But anonymous comments behind masks and those not relevant to the post are not encouraged.