Not having enough to eat is a reality for half of India’s 1.1 billion people. But with a sharp surge in food prices, more could join the ranks, undoing the gains from the country’s rapid economic expansion, experts warned on the eve of World Food Day. Three reports, being released through this week, paint a grim picture of food security in India.
Hunger stalks every Indian state and the percentage of malnourished, about 50 per cent is worse than some sub-Saharan countries, the reports said. And if food prices continue to rise, more could be pushed back to poverty.
“We don’t yet have a specific estimation on the impact of rising food prices in the past one year or so on net buyers of food. But the continued spike in prices may push more Indians into poverty,” said Gavin Wall, India representative of UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.
India has more hungry people than any other country and this (price rise) could punch holes in its growth story, said Purnima Menon of the International Food Policy Research Institute, which released a state-wide hunger index on Tuesday.
Between 1993-94 and 2004-05, the percentage of people living below poverty line fell from 36 per cent to 27.5 per cent, according to government data. But a large of chunk of people who live just above the poverty line face the risk of sliding back to their earlier status. This is similar to what World Bank said: that “seven years worth of poverty alleviation” could be reversed by rising prices. Globally, the price rise could push 150 million people into poverty, it said. The Asian Development Bank said economic progress achieved by many Asian countries could take an about-turn because of high food prices.
“If India does not invest more in agriculture, it could be potentially exposed such a reversal of development,” said Nisha Agrawal, CEO of Oxfam India.
While the broader economy has averaged close to 9 per cent growth annually over the past four years, agriculture has been growing just over 2 per cent a year.