India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Addressing poverty and hunger is one of the country’s India’s biggest challenges. India accounts for the largest number of people living below the international poverty line of USD 1.90 a day, 224 million, and the largest number of people below the food poverty line, 195 million. The incidence of child poverty is also high, with 30% of the world’s poorest children living in the country.India also has high rates of malnutrition among children under five, with 38.7% stunted, 15.1% wasted, and 29.4% underweight.
Food security and poverty in India are complex but interconnected issues having social, economic, gender, cultural and geographical dimensions. While it is understood that poverty breeds hunger and malnutrition, it is important to realise that hunger also induces poverty. India ranks 97 out of 118 in the Global Hunger Index 2016. According to FAO, the cost to the global economy caused by malnutrition, as a result of lost productivity and direct health care costs, could account for as much as 5% of global GDP, equivalent to USD 3.5 trillion per year or USD 500 per person. The incidence of poverty coupled with hunger is a peculiar challenge facing India, especially in light of the country’s solid economic performance over the years.
Since the 1970s, the government has launched several initiatives to catalyse the rate of poverty reduction, including the world’s largest employment guarantee scheme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. Over the past two decades, the government has taken several steps to address hunger, such as through the introduction of mid-day meals at schools, anganwadi systems to provide rations to pregnant and lactating mothers, and subsidised grain for those living below the poverty line through a public distribution system. The National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, aims to ensure food and nutrition security for the most vulnerable through its associated schemes and programmes, making food a legal right.
The country’s previous Five Year Plans, aligned with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), were committed to poverty alleviation efforts. These have now been reinforced through the Sustainable Development Goals: End Poverty in all its Forms Everywhere (SDG-1) and End Hunger, Achieve Food Security and Improved Nutrition and Promote Sustainable Agriculture (SDG-2).
In India, the priority area group on ‘No Hunger and Rural Poverty’ is convened by the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). These agencies are extensively supporting initiatives towards achieveing zero hunger through state- level reforms for NFSA implementation, food fortification and measuring the status and progress through food security analysis.
WFP has produced and disseminated a report on enhancing the nutritive value of the food basket under the public distribution system with a focus on the first 1,000 days of life.
- The World Health Organization (WHO), in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, held a national consultation on wheat flour fortification in coordination with WFP and UNICEF.
- The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India organised a workshop in collaboration with WFP to advocate for a national food fortification policy in India on World Food Day 2016.
In partnership with the government, the priority area group aims to forge ahead with new projects to address poverty and hunger in India and achieve the global sustainable development targets by 2030.
 World Bank’s “Taking on Inequality”; Poverty and Shared Prosperity (2016).
 FAO’s report on the “State of Food Insecurity in the World” (2015).
 Ministry of Women and Child Development (GOI) and UNICEF: Report on the State of Children in India (2013).
 FAO’s report on the “State of Food Insecurity in the World” (2013).
 TPDS Nutritional Effectiveness, WFP, 2014