India has suffered for a long time from significant levels of malnutrition and hunger. It is very important to give high priority to rducing this. Unfortunately, some fiercely propagated solutions such as mandatory fortification of staple food products and promotion of GM crops are motivated more by promotion of big business interests than by actual reduction of malnutrition. In fact heavy lobbying by big business interests for such dubious policies can cause immense damage and misguide the nutrition effort so badly that even after spending a lot of money on such distorted policies problems will not be resolved or reduced, and can even be aggravated badly. To avoid such costly mistakes, a 15-point program which can contribute to reducing in a big way, in fact almost ending malnutrition in a sustainable way is presented below.
- Land reforms should try to make available at least some land to rural landless households as availability of even small plots of land can contribute significantly to reducing hunger and malnutrition.
- Kitchen gardens should be spread as widely as possible among rural and even urban poor households, particularly to grow vegetables, as this is known by experience to contribute significantly to reducing malnutrition.
- Programs aimed specially to reduce poverty should be scaled up and improved in both rural and urban areas.
- Forests should be protected, as also pastures . Planting of indigenous trees which provide various kinds of food and fodder as well as provide soil and water conservation should be propagated.
- Public distribution system of providing subsidized food to all needy sections should be promoted in such a way that there is no disincentive impact on farmers.
- Gender equality and justice should be promoted. Women have generally played an important role in promoting nutrition. Where women’s voice is better heard, chances of nutrition being promoted are higher.
- Policy should actively promote reduction in consumption of all forms of alcohol and all intoxicants, including tobacco and gutka. Public campaigns also have an important role in this.
- Breast feeding should be promoted in a strong and sustained way, with adequate and comfortable opportunities for this being provided to all mothers who need this, as a matter of right of both mother and child.
- Promotion and consumption of junk foods should be checked in numerous ways at policy level and by public campaigns.
- Nutrition education should be stepped up, with focus on how to increase/improve nutrition even in limited budgets.
- Wasteful processing of food at various levels, such as excessive polishing of rice and hydrogenaton of edible oils, should be curbed. Healthy small-scale processing should be encouraged.
- Natural and organic farming should be promoted, avoiding chemical fertilizers and pesticides, as this leads to better soil health and nutrition which in turn leads to better and balanced nutrition of crops and more healthy food, while avoiding health hazards at the same time.
- Policy should promote that priority should be given to growing diversity of nutritious local foods, including millets and legumes, respecting time-honored mixed systems and rotations which have proved good for nutrition and ecology.
- Give high priority to ensuring clean drinking water as well as sanitation and water conservation.
- The budget of existing nutrition schemes should be increased. Public funding should be available also at panchayat or village council level for meeting nutrition needs of any destitute households, or those undergoing severe temporary distress.
In addition of course it is important for any society to make overall improvements regarding important goals like reducing conflict as much as possible and climate change adaption and mitigation.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Protecting Earth For Children and When the Two Streams Met.