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"Free" but no freedom


( August 15, 2014, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) Today, August 15th, India and Pakistan marks their 68th anniversary of independence from Britain yet there is for the vast majority no freedom from poverty. According to the Global Hunger Index for 2013, India ranks 63, out of the 78 worst countries in terms of hunger. Pakistan 57th and Bangladesh 58th.

©iStockphoto.com/Anantha Vardhan
The Food and Agricultural Organisation indicate that 17% of the Indian population is undernourished to lead a productive life. In fact, India alone accounts for 25% of undernourished people of the world, more than in entire Sub-Saharan Africa. Child malnutrition is even worse. One in every three malnourished children of the world lives in India. According to Unicef, 47% of Indian children are underweight, 46% below the age of three are too small for their age and nearly 50% of all childhood deaths could be attributed to malnutrition.

This, despite, farm outputs in India in recent years have been setting new records. It has gone up from 208 million tonnes (mt) in 2005-06 to an estimated 263 mt in 2013-14. Even accounting for population growth during this period, the country would need probably around 225 to 230 mt to feed its people. Thus, food production is not a real issue to reduce India’s hunger problem. India is producing enough food to feed its people.

40% of total production is lost by waste. India wastes more food than China. It is estimated that each year around 21 mt of wheat, equivalent to the entire production of Australia, rots or is eaten by insects because of inappropriate storage and inadequate management practices of the government-run Food Corporation of India. The FCI was set up primarily to facilitate price support systems, distribution of food grains over the country and maintain buffer stocks. Mismanagement, poor oversight and rampant corruption have made this institution a part of the problem rather than a solution.

For perishable food, the major reasons for wastage have been the absence of modern supply chains that can efficiently take the food grown by farmers to consumers, lack of cold storages and refrigerated trucks, poor transportation facilities, erratic electricity supply. The Indian Institute of Management in Kolkata has estimated that cold storage facilities are available only for about 10% perishable food products. The country needs cold storage facilities for another 370 mt of perishable products.

In contrast to the low priority of food production, India has emerged as the world’s largest arms buyer in recent years, but hopes to reverse this by strengthening its domestic defense industry. The United States was India’s largest arms supplier in recent years, dislodging Russia as New Delhi’s principal source of weapons. India bought arms worth nearly $5.5 billion from the United States in the last three years, surpassing purchases from Russia worth about $4 billion during the same period. The government last week raised foreign investment in the defense sector from 26 percent to 49 percent, hoping to woo foreign arms manufacturers.