India is a democratic republic with a federal structure consisting of 28 states and seven union territories. While the central government is responsible for policy formulation, the states are largely responsible for implementation of national policies, such as the various food security and nutrition programmes under the National Food Security Act (NFSA).
India is the second most populous country in the world with an estimated 1.2 billion people and the third largest economy by GDP. Thanks to steady economic growth over the past decade, India was classified as a (lower) middle-income country by the World Bank in 2012. However, despite economic growth and self-sufficiency in food grains production, high levels of poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition persist in India. An estimated 32.7 percent of the Indian population lives on less than US$ 1.25 per day. The country is home to a quarter of all undernourished people worldwide. Any global impact on hunger requires progress in food and nutrition security in India.
India ranks 135th out of 187 countries in the 2014 UNDP Human Development Index and 55th out of 76 countries in the Global Hunger Index. While per capita income in India has more than tripled in the last two decades, the minimum dietary intake reduced during the same period. Levels of inequality and social exclusion are very high. The bottom 10 percent of the population account for only 3.6 percent of the total consumption expenditure and the top 10 percent accounts for 31 percent; the gap between the rich and the poor has increased during the high economic growth phase.
Key priorities of the Government of India under the current Five-Year-Plan (2013 – 2017) are ensuring ‘Faster, more Inclusive and Sustainable Growth’. This includes improving the performance of agriculture and diversifying produce as well as reducing vulnerabilities of small and marginal farmers with special focus on women and other disadvantaged groups. It also includes improving targeting, cost efficiency and nutrition effectiveness of the nationwide food-based social safety nets, namely the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), the Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS), which is targeting mothers and young children and the Mid-Day-Meal Scheme (MDM).
In addition, the National Food Security Act (NFSA) passed in 2013 is a milestone in the history of India’s fight against hunger and malnutrition, as it empowers more than 800 million Indians (75 percent of the rural and 50 percent of the urban population living below and just above the national poverty line) to legally claim their right to highly subsidised staple foods.
WFP’s engagement in India is guided by the commitment to support the Government of India through capacity development and technical assistance in order to improve the efficiency and nutritional effectiveness of their food-based social safety nets. In close collaboration with government institutions, partner UN agencies and wider stakeholders, WFP develops models that address the shortcomings in existing food-based safety nets with a view to making successful pilot projects scalable and adaptable for replication across the diverse conditions found in different parts of India. The UN Secretary General’s Zero Hunger Challenge provides a meaningful framework for WFP and all stakeholders for the comprehensive and multi-sectoral approach needed to fight hunger and malnutrition in India.