The steady pace of economic growth in India has made it the second fastest-growing economy in the world. Two thirds of the rural labour force is involved in agriculture and famine is now a rarity. However, unlike other rapidly growing economies, India seems not to have made a connection between improved agriculture and falling rates of malnutrition.
At the latest event in the Agriculture and Health Research in Action Seminar Series, Dr. Suneetha Kadiyala from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) presented some of the findings of the Tackling the Agriculture-Nutrition Disconnect in India (TANDI) initiative, an IFPRI project which aims to explore the reasons for the Agriculture-Nutrition Disconnect in India.
As well as struggling with undernutrition, India has a low ranking on the Human Development Index (HDI), particularly those criteria relating to gender inequality and maternal and child health. Based on current statistics from the National Family Health Survey, the prevalence of stunting, wasting and low weight among children has declined only slightly since 1992, while undernutrition and anaemia among women have increased. There are also large regional disparities between nutrition levels and energy deficiency in different parts of the country.
Explaining that the role of TANDI is to facilitate dialogue and identify knowledge gaps between various stakeholders in India’s nutrition policy and programmes, Kadiyala examined presented the multiple pathways to improving nutrition. Though the Green Revolution of the mid-twentieth century improved seeds, increased diversity of crops and reduced poverty levels, the economic reforms of the 1990s have seen a decline in investment in agriculture in India. There has also been an increase in farmer suicides, indicating high levels of agrarian distress and stagnation. The data show that as food production per capita slowed down in India, so did gains in weight. They also show that women are most likely to bear the burden of agricultural labour, as well as being the group most likely to suffer from chronic energy deficiency.
In general, Indian diets have become more diverse since economic liberalisation, and people consume more non-cereal foods. However, there is a strong connection between household income and mother’s education level on diet diversity.
Kadiyala pointed out that in a country with a poor ratio of girls to boys, and where there is a high likelihood of inter-generational transmission of undernutrition from mother to children, it is critical to take the gender dimensions of food production and distribution into account when making agricultural policy. With this in mind, she encouraged a thorough examination of the political economy of India to reveal the areas where disconnects exist between agricultural policy and nutrition.
Emphasising that agricultural policy must not be gender-neutral and must be sensitive to different geographical regions, she highlighted the importance of a commitment to the needs of neglected socioeconomic groups for targeted improvements in nutrition.
The Agriculture and Health Research in Action Seminar Series aims to foster discussion around the links between agricultural production, food consumption, and the generation of health.
The next seminar in the series will take place in September.
The Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH) is a new initiative established under a five-year £3.5m grant from The Leverhulme Trust to build a new inter-sectoral and interdisciplinary platform for integrating research in agriculture and health, with a focus on international development goals. This Centre is enabling researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, School of Oriental and African Studies, School of Pharmacy, Royal Veterinary College and their partners, to work together to develop unifying research approaches and methodologies that integrate agricultural and health research. LCIRAH is hosted and supported by LIDC.