- Politics and Social Issues
Why is India Hungry?
Farm Life in the south of Pondicherry (Puducherry).
The Millennium Development Goals are eight international goals that all United Nations member states and 23 international organizations agreed to achieve by the year 2015 in the field of development and poverty eradication. Besides the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, the achievement of universal primary education, the promotion of gender equality, the reduction of child mortality rates, the improvement of maternal health, the combat of HIC and other fatal diseases, the guarantee of environmental sustainability and the development of a global partnership for development was targeted. We have 3 years to go and we are able to say that the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger and the provision of food security will not be reached by 2015 in most countries concerned.
Indian family, Madhya Pradesh
In the second largest state of India, Madhya Pradesh, hunger and malnutrition has the highest concentration in India. In 1993-94, 44.6% of the people were living below the poverty line. According to the Millennium Development Goal regarding poverty eradication, this number was supposed to go down to 22.3% by 2015. However, it actually increased to 48.6%. 83% of the children in this state are undernourished, despite India’s breathtaking growth of 8%. A third of India’s babies born already have a low birth weight. Some of the factors that contribute to child malnutrition are a lack of access to food and clean drinking water as well as a lack of sanitation facilities and inequality between men and women.
1.2 billion people have to be nourished in India but millions of people are suffering from hunger. In fact, in no country in the world, there are so many people suffering from hunger than in India. Over 200 million people, particularly in the countryside, are suffering from chronic malnutrition. Many young people have to leave the countryside to look for work in the cities as continuous droughts in the last few years led to the failure of crops. In addition, India’s population is rising very rapidly and very soon there will be more people living in this country than in any other country in the world. It is one of India’s biggest challenges to fight against hunger.
One of the biggest problems is rising food prices. It is hard for many families to manage their expenses. In 2011, the inflation rate was 10%. The market prices for raw material are rising overnight and it is difficult for many companies to keep their prices stable. Many cannot make their products more expensive every month which is why they have to exercise downward pressure on the prices of their suppliers. This again affects the suppliers and the families they have to feed.
More than half of India’s population works in agriculture. India’s land is very fertile and harvests take place all year long. Almost everything is harvested by hand, even peas. The Indian agriculture is extremely weather-dependent. Above and beyond, there is a lack of modern technology and expertise. Farmers do not have access to high-potential seeds and fertilizer. A poor infrastructure is slowing down the economy. Often, an appropriate packaging essential for preserving food is missing and there is a lack of refrigeration systems. The goods are often exposed to the sun for hours and 40% of India’s food is spoiled before it reaches the consumer.
The state has established a food distribution system for the poor through which the poorest with a monthly income of under 50 Euros are provided with rice, flour and sugar for half the price. This group makes up 1/4 of the population. After a short time everything is sold out, provided the delivery even arrives.
Walmart in India
In India, there are still very few modern supermarkets but retail giants have discovered the potential of the Indian market and its rising population, which is why Walmart has decided to expand in the Indian market. Some lucky farmers in the state of Punjab work together with Walmart. In Punjab, farmers are using more modern technology than in other Indian states and yields could be raised in the course of the years. Besides, many farmers in Punjab possess a better education than in other states and they know how to use fertilizers and plant protection systems. Walmart is further educating farmers in Punjab and in courses they learn the handling of pesticides and agricultural management. Yields are to be increased. Walmart wants to build up a reliable supply chain in India. And the farmers need to make sure they can guarantee higher yields in order to satisfy the growing demand. Not everyone, however, is happy about the presence of Walmart in the Indian market. Small food stores that have been established and successful for decades are suffering from the big markets close by as they cannot compete with their prices. Indian activists and policy makers detest large-scale retailing and fear that it will drive millions of shopkeepers in India out of business. Regardless of this fact, Walmart wants to open more stores. Doubtlessly, the one that makes the biggest profits is Walmart. The warehouse chain demands the double of the purchasing price, providing itself with a huge margin.
Walmart’s presence in India is linked to the warehouse’s global growth strategy. It is suffering from saturated markets in the US and other industrialized countries, like many others, and depends on establishing itself in India. Farmers in Punjab that work with Walmart seem to be happy. Walmart pays them 5-7% more than the local wholesale markets and in addition they do not have to pay transportation costs as Walmart sends its own vehicles to the fields to pick up the goods. Some farmers have witnessed a rise of 25% of their yields since they are applying the farming knowledge they gained thanks to Walmart. Farmers have also found that Walmart is more reliable when it comes to payments than their local competitors. Walmart’s quality standards are high though. The farmers are left with the vegetables that are rejected by Walmart which they have to transport to wholesale markets.
Corruption eats up money destined for the poor
In India, welfare schemes and work programs have been put into place but the money usually doesn’t get to the poorest people due to corruption. According to the World Bank, 60% of the country subsidies for food do not reach the poorest. India is in need of reforms and a modernization of its infrastructure to be able to meet the nutritional demands of the rising population. Without capital from abroad this can be difficult.
India must make the correct political decisions to stop malnutrition and hunger. However, the investments of the Indian government leave much to be desired. While the expenditure in agriculture, which is the sector on which the majority of the population depends, went down by 4.3%, a sum of US$112bn went to the industrial and corporate sector last year, which only constitutes 22% of the employment sector.
India needs to invest in its infrastructure, the modernization of agricultural techniques, reduce food wastage and improve the refrigeration and storage systems to make a huge step into ensuring food security for its people.