Expressing serious concern over the problem of malnutrition in India, the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh on Thursday said there is a need to address the issues of absorption of nutrition, health and hygiene, which in turn depend on many other factors such as the availability of clean drinking water, sanitation and also on the education and status of women in society.
Addressing the Conference on 'Leveraging agriculture for improving nutrition and health' here, Dr. Singh said: "Malnutrition remains a serious problem in India and many developing countries. Globally, nearly 1 billion people still go hungry. Nearly one in four children under age of five is underweight. The problem of hidden hunger-that is, deficiencies of essential vitamins and minerals, such as iron, Vitamin A and iodine - is also severe. Nutrition is therefore a serious challenge that has not received the attention it truly deserves."
"Malnutrition is not only a consequence of poverty, it is also a cause of poverty. A malnourished child is more vulnerable to disease and less able to earn a leaving. The complexity of causes that underlie malnutrition calls for a multi-sectoral strategy to address the three key issues of availability, access and absorption," he added.
Dr. Singh said the rapid growth in agriculture with particular emphasis on the subsectors growing food and on the poorer regions will help to address issues of availability and access in the country.
Dr. Singh further said: "Aware of this, our fight against malnutrition incorporates, as it must, all these areas. The Integrated Child Development Services is probably one of the oldest and largest programmes in the world to address the problem of child malnutrition. We have been looking at how to improve this programme and have recently added an element of direct cash transfers for pregnant and nursing mothers."
"We now have a Right to Education Act to back the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) which has already increased dramatically the proportion of our children who now go to school and reduced gender imbalances in this respect. This is supported by a countrywide Mid-Day Meal Scheme which not only addresses hunger but also promotes better learning," he added.
The Prime Minister further said that the first priority has been to ensure food security, which in turn requires a high order of self-sufficiency.
"Cereals and pulses are the staple food of the people of India. We have naturally focussed attention on ensuring adequate production of these products to meet the needs of our population. The 'National Food Security Mission' launched a few years ago was designed to promote the spread of best practices that would increase productivity of food grains in areas and states where there was scope for such increase and there indeed is scope for such increase," said Dr. Singh.
"We are also supporting additional location specific interventions like Eastern Region Development Programs to address underlying constraints to agricultural productivity and market opportunities. The constraints of infrastructure, various climatic stresses like moisture, salinity and floods are also being addressed," he added.