A nutrition-secure India should be government’s top priority

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Food security usually refers to the adequate consumption of calories. This is the purpose of the National Food Security Act 2013. However, what is needed by the human body is a balanced diet, clean drinking water and sanitation. This will call for greater efforts in the field of nutrition literacy. Since we just celebrated Children’s Day, I would first like to offer a comment on the need to attend to the educational needs of first-generation learners. On Children’s Day, we should remind ourselves that children are God’s gifts to the human family. It is important that attention is paid to their needs particularly in the areas of nutrition, health and education. The first thousand days in the child’s life are particularly important from the point of view of access to balanced diets. An area of concern is the lack of adequate attention to the education of first-generation learners. Such children do not have access to books and other educational tools in their home because their parents are poor. I hope after Children’s Day we will attend to bridging this gap in our educational system. There is ample evidence to show that first-generation learners suffer from cognitive difficulties. A common syllabus will, therefore, not do. We should pay special attention to education and nutritional needs of first-generation learners, without further loss of time so that the country can derive full benefits from its rich human resource. Let education for first-generation learners be the main area of concentration in the light of Children’s Day. For a malnutrition-free India, we need to pay concurrent attention to the following three areas: 1. Adequate consumption of calories which is possible today because of our progress in improving total food production, thanks to the green revolution. For example, our farmers were producing 7 million tonnes of wheat when we got our Independence in 1947. This year wheat production has exceeded 100 million tonnes. Such progress has been made possible through synergy between technology and public policy. 2. The second area which needs attention is overcoming protein hunger. Fortunately, our pulses production is going up and we should introduce pulses in the public distribution system. Milk production has also gone up and we occupy the first position in the world in milk production. However, prices are not remunerative and it is important to ensure that dairy farmers, often women, are able to receive adequate economic return. Also, we should sustain the progress we are making in poultry and fish production.  3. The third area which needs urgent attention is overcoming micronutrient deficiencies like vitamin A, iron, iodine, vitamin D etc. Unless these three aspects receive concurrent attention, we will not be able to move from food to nutrition security.  Apart from the above, there is need to ensure access to clean drinking water and sanitation. In the case of children, nutrition of mother and child, particularly children below 1000 days in age, need urgent attention. We have graduated from the days of the Bengal Famine and PL480 shipment to one of food self-sufficiency and conferring the right to food through legislation. It is time now to examine the nutrition security position starting at the panchayat level. We have the necessary know-how as well as resources to achieve a nutrition-secure India. What is needed is a group of community hunger fighters who will be able to assist the local population in ensuring that all children, women and men are nutrition secure. I hope the election manifestos now under preparation for the 2019 general election of major political parties will contain a commitment to ensure nutrition security for all.

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