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We Need To Look Into Safety Nets In A Holistic Manner To Gain Traction

In an interview with BW Businessworld, Dr. Hameed Nuru, Representative and Country Director, United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) – India, discusses the current state of food and nutrition programmes of India and its challenges

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Considering the current scenario, how do you find India’s National Food Security Act and National Nutrition Mission (Poshan Abhiyaan) addressing the requirements of the country?
Both, the NFSA as well as the Poshan Abhiyaan are substantial steps taken by India to put the Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2) firmly on the map. The NFSA streamlines the focus on food security by bringing India’s three social safety nets – Integrated Child Development Services, reaching over 100 million women and children monthly Mid-Day Meal Scheme reaching over 120 million children daily and Targeted Public Distribution System reaching over 800 million beneficiaries monthly- that is also the largest in the world, under its ambit. The Poshan Abhiyaan brings a convergence of various stakeholders together. Both of these policy level steps have sharpened the focus on SDG 2 – Zero Hunger -  deliverables, targeting hunger, malnutrition, anaemia, stunting and micronutrient deficiencies, addressing the need to look at the issues in a holistic manner to gain traction.

The focus is now to see an effective roll out of the policies in place and ensure traction through the convergence of activities and deliverables to achieve the targets. 

What are the major bottlenecks in general for implementation of food security and nutrition programmes globally and what may be India specific issues?
The world continues to face the pressing problem of hunger and malnutrition.  Undernourishment and severe food insecurity appear to be increasing in almost all sub-regions of Africa, as well as in South America, whereas the undernourishment situation is stable in most regions of Asia. Globally, there are macro and micro challenges in addressing these issues. 

As the world population continues to grow, it leads to new and more complex issues such as urbanisation and climate change that in turn significantly impact food production. Building climate resilience and disaster risk reduction initiatives must be seen in line with efforts being made towards reduction of hunger and malnutrition.  In addition to this, conflict and violence in many parts of the world make the implementation of food security initiatives more difficult.  WFP, for example, is working in areas facing conflict and emergency situation such as Syria, Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and North Eastern Nigeria, where millions are deprived of basic resources and reaching the most vulnerable becomes even more challenging.

At the micro level, it is about comprehensive strategies, enabling political will, laws and legislation that back these policies. It is important to note that simple approaches usually work the best. One of the biggest bottlenecks is creating the buy-in from the beneficiaries towards these initiatives.

Coming to India, we already have the political will, government’s push, mechanisms, schemes and policies in place. We need to focus on the appropriateness and acceptability of the initiatives. Having said that, India has a big advantage – the existing three food safety nets under the NFSA and their pan-India coverage. Added to this, the fact that there is a dual responsibility of the state as well as the central government is something unique to India and works to its advantage. With the schemes in place and efforts to constantly reform and address gaps to improve efficiency and effectiveness are stepping in the direction of enhancing the role that the beneficiaries can play in accessing these schemes.

Irrespective of all the programmes and private intervention, the hunger rate of the country is growing every year. Your comments
India is on a growth trajectory both socially and economically. As already stated the country has what are arguably the world’s largest food safety nets in place with the ratification of the NFSA 2013 making the right to food a constitutional right for more than 67 percent of the population. The governments, both central and states, are now focusing on strengthening the implementation of the NFSA which has a pan India coverage.

For a country with the size of the population that it has, this is a major achievement. Challenges remain, and the need of the hour is to focus on addressing the challenges while ensuring no one is left behind. We are seeing this as part of the reforms the central government and states are bringing in to improve the efficiencies and effectiveness of the food safety nets. The most recent policy announcements on fortification of staples in the food safety nets, especially rice fortification – the major consumable in all three safety nets which was preceded by the establishment of the fortification standards are important indicators of the change being brought in. The critical need to look at the gaps and low hanging fruit areas to concentrate upon. Fortification is one such incentive. Others include the convergence of data collection and sharing, targeting children within 1000 days of life – where stunting occurs, etc.

Do you find the budget allocation of these programmes apt? What practices should be done to reach the grassroots?
The Government of India is taking several measures that are cross-cutting. This includes investments in infrastructure, education, storage facilities, procurement, digitisation and technology. This brings in investment to address an issue from a holistic perspective with different ministries contributing to address the issues. Additionally, large investments made in schemes such as the POSHAN Abhiyan are new efforts which are appreciable. Now the common and aligned goals of the SDGs are helping governments world over align better budgets and investments achieving multiple objectives. In India, this lead has been taken by the NITI Aayog and with the identification of aspirational districts to make more focused investments the opportunity to reach the grassroots is further strengthened.

What are your suggestions and strategies that should be implemented to get the maximum output from the food security programmes prevailing in the country? 
As mentioned before, India already has all the right ingredients in place to address the issue of food security and malnutrition.  The Government of India is taking several steps to effectively implementation NFSA and increase the output of its food security initiatives. The WFP has been supporting the Government to implement some of these initiatives including:

Improved access to food safety nets by optimisation of the food distribution system’s supply chain. This is done through improved logistics and transportation, End to End computerisation and better storage and warehousing; Fortification of staple foods in the food safety nets is another area of collaboration between WFP and Government of India. Notably mainstreaming rice fortification into the safety nets to address malnutrition and anaemia; Working on awareness and sensitization to better equip beneficiaries of entitlements as well as services available for better nutrition. Needless to say, holistic awareness and sensitization also play a crucial role. 

How are such programmes implemented across the world? Please cite a few examples.
There are excellent examples of countries across the world that have effectively implemented such programmes and moved closer towards achieving the 2030 agenda. Countries like Brazil and China have been sharing their rich experience in fighting hunger with other developing countries through a systemic approach and establishing Centres for Food Security and Nutrition. WFP has been facilitating South-South and Triangular Cooperation and sharing of these country-led efforts to improve food security and nutrition through such centres which serve as institutional arrangements through which developing countries can tap into the expertise of a pioneering country that provides a structured approach and methodology towards addressing zero hunger and malnutrition. By encouraging South-South knowledge-sharing through these centres, a country’s access to specialized technical expertise that may not be readily available directly is also expanded. While India can explore many examples of effective implementation of food safety programmes, it also has a lot to offer to other countries given its experience of implementing three of the world’s largest food safety nets. 


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Dr Hameed Nuru United Nations World Food Programme
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