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The poor spend more of their income, but eat less

By Sachin Kumar Jain

The top 10% in rural areas spend Rs 913 per capita per month on food -- just 38.1% of their total expenditure per month -- to get 2,617 calories, 73.8 gm of protein and 65.5 gm of fat daily. The bottom 10% spend 66.5% of their total expenditure per month on food -- just Rs 251 per capita per month -- for a mere 1,545 calories, 40.7 gm of protein and 19.5 gm of fat daily

The following key figures from the report of the latest National Sample Survey Organisation’s 66th Round (NSS Report No 540 Nutritional Intake in India) give us an idea of the trends in nutrition in India.

Average daily per capita calorie consumption in the rural population has dropped to 2,020 calories from 2,266 in 1972-3; in urban areas the average daily per capita calorie intake has declined to 1,946 calories from 2,107 in the same period. The official calorie norms (on which the official poverty estimates are anchored) are 2,400 calories per capita per day in rural areas and 2,100 in urban areas. Average daily protein intake has fallen from 60.2 gm in rural areas (57.2 urban) in 1993-4 to 55 gm in rural areas (53.5 urban) in 2009-10. The average monthly consumption of dal in 2009-10 was 622 gm in rural areas and 751 gm in urban areas. The poorest 10% of the population got only 407 gm in rural areas and 469 gm in urban areas. Per capita net daily availability of pulses was 47 gm in 1972; it fell to 31.6 gm by 2010.

The official calorie norms are the basis for determining a ‘poverty line’. People spending less than the amount at which minimum calorie norms can be met, with some provision for non-food consumption needs, are deemed to be below the poverty line. There has been much debate about these figures and the calculations behind them, partly because they are used to determine who should qualify for subsidised rations under the public distribution system and other welfare schemes. The Planning Commission, in an affidavit submitted in the Supreme Court in September 2011, arrived at a poverty line of (daily per capita expenditure) Rs 26 in rural areas and Rs 32 in urban areas as in June 2011. Different committees have used different calculations to conclude that between 30% and 77% of India’s population live at a subsistence level, or below the poverty line.

The Jagriti Adivasi Dalit Sangathana (JADS), a people’s organisation active in Badwani district of Madhya Pradesh, conducted a rapid assessment of food consumption patterns in Pati block of the district to find out how much people actually spend to fulfil their daily food consumption requirements. JADS, which works with tribals in the region, asked people what they ate and how much they spent on food. They found that people spent Rs 19 daily on food alone. The tribal community spends more than half of total food expenditure on cereals; a very small amount is spent on expensive meat, dairy products, fruits and pulses. A person’s minimum requirement of calories and protein cannot be met with cereals alone.

People’s food intake depends on how much they spend on food. The NSSO found that the poorest spend the least amount -- but also the maximum proportion of their monthly expenditure -- on food. They have to do the most physical labour to earn their daily livelihood but they cannot afford to purchase food containing the energy and protein they need.

According to the NSS report on consumer expenditure in 2009-10, the average per capita monthly expenditure in rural areas is Rs 928, of which Rs 497 (53.6%) is spent on food; the numbers in the urban population are 1,759 of which Rs 727 (40.7%) is spent on food.  

There are variations according to income. The top 10% in the rural areas spend Rs 913 per capita per month on food -- just 38.1% of their total expenditure per month -- to get 2,617 calories, 73.8 gm of protein and 65.5 gm of fat daily. The bottom 10% of the population in rural areas spend 66.5% of their total expenditure per month on food --  just Rs 251 per capita per month -- for a mere 1,545 calories, 40.7 gm of protein and 19.5 gm of fat daily.

The top 10% in urban areas spend Rs 1,443 per capita per month on food -- just 25.4% of their total expenditure per month -- to get 2,425 calories, 66.9 gm of protein and 73.8 gm of fat daily. The bottom 10% of the population in urban areas spend Rs 326 per capita per month on food -- 62.5% of their total expenditure -- to get 1,549 calories, 42.5 gm of protein, and 25.4 gm of fat daily. 

It is easy to understand how multi-dimensional inequality affects nutritional requirements.

(Sachin Kumar Jain is a freelance development journalist based in Madhya Pradesh, working on issues of poverty and hunger. He also heads Vikas Samvad Human Development Resource Organisation in Madhya Pradesh)

Infochange News & Features, July 2012