Last Week, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize to the UN agency World Food Programme (WFP) for its efforts to combat hunger. WFP has been working in India since 1963. WFP Representative and the Country Director in India Bishow Parajuli speaks to The Indian Express on challenges in food and nutrition security in India in wake of the pandemic. Excerpts:
On the 2020 Global Hunger Index, India has been ranked 94th out of the 107 countries. What is the reason for such a dismal performance?
I think progress needs to be seen from the trend. India is a country with 1.3 billion people… If you see past trends, there has been good improvement. So, it is not fair to say that India has not progressed. There are lots of efforts being made…
Sadly, because of Covid… a lot of challenges… people lost jobs etc, but then they were all supported with these extra resources… What is more needed is also looking at the NITI Aayog Index on SDG. You go to their website and you see that there are states which are lagging behind in various areas… Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and parts of UP etc…
It has been 7 years since India enacted National Food Security Act, 2013, entitling 67 per cent of the population to subsidised foodgrains — wheat and rice. Do you think it is the right time to universalise PDS in wake of the pandemic?
Universalising is not a solution… It must be targeted. But probably what is important is there should be no one left behind. That’s why I was saying that there should be an assessment to check if there is anyone missing and should include them….
Do you think such assessment should be conducted at national level?
…. It should be done at state level, not at national level, where there is risk (of food insecurity)…
The focus of PDS has been on distribution of wheat and rice. Do you think it is time to focus more on nutrition?
It is practically difficult to include many food items… There is this staple food — rice and wheat or pulses — and then there is a programme like mid-day meal to provide hot cooked meals to children at schools. And there is this special intervention of ICDS. In principle, these three should cover the needs of the people, but what might be also useful to think going forward is to provide money to mothers so they can buy vegetables, fresh food. So that it also helps expand local production. If you provide cash then anyone can buy milk or fish etc.
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