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Introduction: Increasing food insecurity in South Asia

By Jayati Ghosh

South Asian nations have transformed from food-deficit countries in the 1960s and '70s to food-surplus countries in the 1980s and '90s. And yet, food insecurity and under-nutrition remain huge problems. How is this paradox to be explained?


All you who sleep hungry tonight

By Harsh Mander

Persistent food insecurity is not just related to economic barriers to access food, but also to social barriers. A silent daily tragedy plays out in many homes and streets in our country, where millions go to sleep hungry. Women are likely to eat less in many families, and dalits face discrimination even in schemes like mid-day meals and the PDS. The discourse on starvation must shift from people dying of starvation to the socially-marginalised groups that are living with it


Why Karmeena Musahar died

By Anosh Malekar

Five children have died of hunger-related causes in the Musahar community of eastern UP since May 2006. Entire families in this and other communities in the state are starving. In addition to extreme poverty, the Musahars' low status in the caste hierarchy keeps them out of government food and employment schemes. As India claims to join the league of globalised nations, it cannot ignore these everyday realities of millions of its citizens


The poverty line is a starvation line

By Mohan Guruswamy And Ronald Joseph Abraham

The poverty line in India measures only the most basic calorie intake, recording not nutrition but only the satiation of hunger. At present the poverty line stands at Rs 368 and Rs 559 per person per month for rural and urban areas, just about enough to buy 650 grams of foodgrains every day. A nutritious diet itself would cost around Rs 573 per capita per month, let alone the cost of securing other basic needs. When such an inclusive measure of poverty is used, as many as 68-84% of Indians would qualify as poor


Consumed by calories

By Alpana Sagar

A realistic measure of poverty would recognise that mere intake of calories does not indicate nutritional status. It would move away from an emphasis on minimal energy requirements and consumption expenditures and recognise that the balance of nutrients in a diet, absorptive capacity of the body, quality of living environment, nature of a person's work, and gender, among other factors, determine the body's food and energy requirements. A poverty line that ignores such complexities is missing a large part of the picture of deprivation


'All we want is to live'

By Anosh Malekar

Deaths related to malnutrition have been in the news in Melghat, Amravati district, Maharashtra, since the 1990s. Despite an interim order of the Bombay High Court and several welfare schemes, 670 infants died of malnutrition in Melghat between April 2005 and March 2006. What is going wrong?


How famine was created

By Mike Davis

The British insisted that they had rescued India from "timeless hunger". In fact, there were 31 serious famines in 120 years of British rule against only 17 recorded famines in the previous two millennia. It was the process of incorporating India into the world market to serve colonial interests that caused incalculable damage to Indian peasants, the agrarian economy, and food security


Along the famished road

By Jaideep Hardikar

Vidarbha has been ripped apart by an onslaught of devastating policies. Thousands of desperate farmers have committed suicide. Indebtedness, hunger and ill health are common. The government has announced empty packages but refuses to address the real issues such as declining support prices, an influx of imports, a shift to cash crops, rising input costs and cutbacks on credit. In this complex spiral, the food security of food producers themselves has been compromised


Pitfalls of the second green revolution

By Devinder Sharma

A wide range of policies-and the second 'Green Revolution'-that the government is introducing in conjunction with Indian corporate houses, American agribusinesses and food multinationals, will have a catastrophic impact on Indian farmers, on sustainability and on food security. The effects are already evident in states like Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh


Signing the wrong contract

By Dr Sudhirendar Sharma

Many states in India are promoting contract farming, ostensibly to allow "technology transfer, capital inflow and an assured market" for crops. This means letting retailers and global corporations enter into profitable agreements that are detrimental to the farmer. By ignoring the better option of cooperative farming, which has proved beneficial to farmers, the government is placing Indian agriculture and food production at great risk


No wheat to eat

By Rahul Goswami

India is importing an unprecedented amount of wheat this year-often sub-standard grain bought at high rates. Domestic stocks are low and the price of wheat is increasing. These are the effects of changes in policy dictated by big agribusinesses and global cartels, which lower procurement by the government, discourage buffer stocks, debilitate the Food Corporation of India, tear apart the PDS, and facilitate hoarding and then private trading. Caught in the global grain market, India's self-sufficiency in food is at great risk


Food at stake

By Brinda Karat

Ten years after the dismantling of the universal public distribution system (PDS), the statistical jugglery of the targeted food distribution system actually excludes millions of poor in both the BPL and APL categories. Targeting is linked to neoliberal policies that seek to limit, if not eliminate, the government's welfare responsibilities


The right to food

By Biraj Patnaik

The Right to Food Campaign has succeeded in placing hunger at the centre of development discourse in India. The campaign hopes that this long-running case will culminate in the right to food becoming a fundamental right that can be made justiciable in any court of law in the country. The case and the accompanying campaign have established the importance of the law as facilitator, but the right to food also requires political means and people's participation


'Legal action has its limits'

By Jean Dreze

Biraj Patnaik in conversation with Jean Dreze

Legal action is an integral part of democratic politics, and the Right to Food Campaign is about supplementing legal action with other forms of public action, says development economist Jean Dreze


Guarantee against hunger?

By Tanushree Sood

If effectively implemented, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act will go a long way towards ensuring food security and protecting rural households from hunger


Insecure in the gathering dusk

By Vandana Bhatia

Being old and poor in India often means being hungry and helpless. The decade-old National Old Age Pension Scheme is a buffer for this section of the population, but it is not universal and leaves out many vulnerable people


Disintegrated services

By Nandini Nayak

There are large gaps between the intentions and implementation of the ICDS, the only government programme aimed at providing nutrition, health and education-related services to children, adolescent girls and mothers


Women eat least, and last

By Dipa Sinha

Women are more vulnerable to malnutrition. But the targeted food programmes for women, including the National Maternity Benefit Scheme, focus only - and inadequately -- on the reproductive function of women. Ensuring that women secure their right to food is not seen as a desirable goal in itself, even though women are nutritionally deprived at all other stages of their life


The empty belly of Bhandup

By Anosh Malekar

Eleven chronically malnourished children from a slum in Mumbai were admitted to hospital in June. A survey found that 63% of the children in the slums of Bhandup were malnourished


Nine myths about hunger

Only by freeing ourselves from the grip of widely held myths can we grasp the roots of hunger and see what we can do to end it


Neglecting hunger, bypassing health

By Mohan Rao

Studies show that a decline in the death rate in some countries that accompanied a decline in infectious diseases, had little to do with medical technology and more to do with increasing resistance to diseases because of improved nutrition. A study of malaria deaths in India in the early-20th century similarly links starvation and immunity. But despite the prevalence of acute and chronic hunger in India, hunger has fallen off the public health map


Increasing hunger amongst relative plenty

By Utsa Patnaik

In 2000-01, the average Indian family of four was absorbing 93 kg less foodgrain than just four years earlier. This massive drop has little to do with a shortfall in food supply. It is the result of an unprecedented decline in purchasing power in rural areas, thanks to deflationary policies and trade liberalisation