As a young student pursuing his undergraduate studies in Delhi, traversing the lanes of Jama Masjid, Chandni Chowk and places alike, which comprise the food havens of India, is always a dream. Alas, what is far from amusing is the grand display of economic and social disparity in the country. While visuals of people relishing and gratifying their taste buds over mouth-watering delicacies is highly marketed (especially in the urban cities), it stands as a vivid contrast to the number of people (encompassing within itself a rather copious percentage of children) begging for food and sustenance. This reality is truly appalling. The visuals that fail to leave the conscious heart of a human being is the reality of seeing people picking up food from bins and heaps of garbage in the diluted will to keep themselves alive.
The inadequacies of food security throughout the globe have been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected people across borders. However, that apart, the goal of zero hunger in terms of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, already seemed far from realisation prior to the pandemic due to a lethal blend of conflict, climate change, natural disasters, and structural poverty and inequality.
There is little doubt about the fact that food in its nutritious balance is the answer to solving hunger. As Nobel laureate Amartya Sen holistically characterises the issue, food security ought to be “well thought out in terms of delivery and food choice”. Through the course of this article, I explore how the facets explored by Dr Sen can be realised.
In regards to food choice, it is advisable to take note of the good work of Dr Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize from Bangladesh. Dr Yunus partnered with Danone, the multinational food company, in a joint venture to produce yogurt enriched with micronutrients at an affordable price. He came up with a small bowl of yoghurt that could supplement all the essential nutrients required by the human body, at a very minimum cost, so that it could be made available even at the ground level. This example of Dr Yunus’ work highlights how food choice is not merely about choosing a combination of foodtypes alone, but of deploying science and technology to produce foodstuffs that deliver optimum nutrition without having to procure and distribute tons of grain, meat, fruit and vegetables.
But of course, optimal nutrition is one thing, while delivery of the same is another. India, on paper, does have a brilliant food security programme, which aims to provide food grains to two-thirds of its 1.3 billion strong population. It has a massive Midday Meal Scheme which seeks to provide nutrition-rich meals to children in public schools. But the reality is that India ranked 94 out of 107 countries in the Global Hunger Index. More than 14% of the world's undernourished children under the age of five are found in India, and 34.7% of the world's stunted children under that age are also found in this country. Clearly, the delivery of food security in the country has been totally bungled up.
However, where the government’s are failing, it would seem the private sector gives a glimmer of hope. At a time when most governments were in an impotent situation with the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, private actors and various NGOs made an attempt to bridge the gap. With many families at the mercy of the authorities and rations for their sustenance, with schools closed and no access to mid-day meals, these stakeholders came to their rescue. A project named ‘Shakti Annadanam’ (Strength through food donations) launched by Indian actor Sonu Sood fed more than 45,000 people on a daily basis in Mumbai and its adjoining areas. A District and Sessions Judge B Papi Reddy had started free food distribution for the needy at the Government Hospital in his district. White Globe NGO's 'Food for All' drive started after they received a large number of queries from needy people post the lockdown extension in India in 2020. The NGO`s campaign had been successful in helping a lot of families in Srinagar, Kashmir. These are just a few out of many such initiatives.
What these instances exemplify for us is that the State and its organs alone cannot be responsible for ensuring 100% realisation of food security in the country or across the globe. It is time for private actors and corporations to step in with an initiative. Considering private wealth is seldom transferred with the goal of enhancing food security, it is quintessential to focus activities of different actors in the private sector in order to assess the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) approach's efficacy in furtherance of food and social security.
Private initiative must continue to be a source of support for government action. In every case, it demonstrates the need for legal food security control. Both the public and commercial sectors must adjust their mentality in order to actively engage in enhancing the food security chain. Accountability is required of decision-makers, including private actors which affect the society in ways innumerable. On a global scale, inspiration should be drawn from initiatives like The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition that fosters public–private partnership and provides financial and technical support for large-scale food security and nutrition projects. Malnutrition can be actively reduced via such novel methods.
Actions in the direction of strengthening agricultural value chains and assisting farmers in improving their livelihoods, like the programme initiated by Nestle is a welcome change. The result is securing access to land, better financial services, technology for market access and improving yields – all of which would help the farmers earn more money. The community also benefits from a steady and local supply. To combat logistical issues due to the vastness of the population, a key strategy is to ensure that supply systems are in place to get food to people who need it most. Apart from focusing CSR activities on food security, companies must also ensure to support the local community in providing food that comes from excess. Initiating employee incentive schemes to make sure every single stakeholder in the company contributes his/her/zer bit at the smallest level, can go a long way. Shareholders of the companies must also play an active role in making sure to support companies who espouse such initiatives and reforms at various levels.
Lastly, while the situation is grim, progress has definitely been made. It is time for greater cooperation and implementation among stakeholders. Much like the definition of food security, the implementation of the same as to be holistic as well.
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