Hunger and undernourishment may become more acute during a pandemic: VP

The Vice President of India, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu today highlighted the need to constantly review our food, agriculture and trade policies according to the times. He also called for reorienting agricultural priorities towards more nutrition-sensitive food.

Inaugurating the virtual consultation ‘Science for Resilient Food, Nutrition and Livelihoods’ organized by the M.S Swaminathan Foundation (MSSRF), the Vice President drew attention towards impacts associated with poor diet quality and said that both undernutrition and obesity are significant risk factors for Non-Communicable Diseases.

We must step up investments in improved storage, processing and preservation to retain the nutritional value of food products, rather than investing in highly processed foods, he opined.

Lauding Prof. M.S Swaminathan as a visionary scientist and the architect of India’s Green Revolution, the Vice president expressed happiness that MSSRF aims to accelerate use of modern science and technology for agricultural and rural development.

He especially commended MSSRF for its pro-poor, pro-women and pro-nature approach and exuded confidence that this virtual consultation will help in evolving new strategies and practices to promote food security and nutrition.

Expressing his respect and gratitude to Dr Swaminathan for helping farmers through technology, the Vice President said that he closely follows Dr Swaminathan’s suggestions and would pursue them at all levels including the Parliament.

Shri Naidu also endorsed Dr Swaminathan’s suggestion to provide land rights to the women. “Land rights, pattas and all other property should be jointly in the name of man and woman ”, he said.

Talking about SDG goals, the Vice President said that it is time to take stock of the progress made so far. Where are we in terms of achieving the ‘zero hunger’ and ‘good health and wellbeing’ goals, he asked.

Citing a UN report which states the number of people suffering from hunger in the world has been slowly increasing in recent years, Shri Naidu said that nearly 750 million people were exposed to severe levels of food insecurity in the world in 2019.

Drawing attention to these worrisome hunger indicators in the world, the Vice President emphasised the need to do things differently and more quickly.

We need urgent, focussed and concerted action at national, regional and global levels, he said.

Maintaining that India has made significant strides in reducing hunger, undernourishment, infant mortality, Shri Naidu expressed satisfaction that the Government of India has accorded the highest priority to combating health and nutrition problems in the country.

Enumerating various government programs for this, the Vice President expressed happiness over provision to provide nutritious breakfast to school children in recently announced Education Policy.

Highlighting the impact of Covid pandemic on the lives and livelihood, Shri Naidu said that the problem of hunger and undernourishment may become more acute with the corona induced global economic slowdown.

Shri Naidu lauded Indian farmers for record food grain production despite so many challenges and limitations during the lockdown period. “They could do so because of their commitment, hard work and native knowledge”, he said.

Opining that healthy, socially connected and prepared people are better able to cope with the disasters, The Vice President called for an urgent need to invest in building resilient communities. He also said that policy makers and politicians should also focus on population planning.

Stressing the need to use advances in scientific knowledge for human welfare and reduction of hunger, Shri Naidu called for blending it with traditional knowledge of indigenous communities.

The Vice President called for concerted action by the public, civil society, Panchayati raj institutions and governments to accelerate progress and in achieving lasting success in this area.

In order to ensure food and nutrition security for all, Shri Naidu called for making agriculture more resilient and profitable. He also emphasised the need to minimise pre-harvest and post-harvest losses and improve market infrastructure. Farmers should be able to get their produce from the farm gates to markets at reasonable cost, he said.

He wanted the policy makers to promote investment in irrigation infrastructure and focus on R&D to raise productivity of nutritious foods and help reduce their cost.

Highlighting the importance of anticipatory research, the Vice President said that anticipatory warning benefitted the farmers during recent locust attacks. He called for similar anticipatory warnings to be made for natural hazards such as floods.

Calling for seamless technology transfer and farmer education, Shri Naidu said our laboratories must be firmly linked to our farms and fields.

Shri Naidu also wanted the scientist to make the optimum use of ICT to remain connected with the farmers and provide them timely advice and inputs crucial to the success of their crop.

Stating that India is a treasure trove of traditional wisdom in agriculture, Shri called for making every attempt to integrate the best of these techniques into agriculture along with modern technology.

Listing a number of initiatives taken by the government for doubling the farmers’ income, the Vice President hoped that this conference will help make the national policies more robust by providing the necessary impetus to the process of policy implementation.

Dr M S Swaminathan, Prof. K Vijayaraghavan and scientists and researchers from India and abroad joined in the online consultation.

The following is the full text of the speech:

I am delighted to join all of you today to inaugurate the virtual consultation ‘Science for Resilient Food, Nutrition and Livelihoods’ being organized by the M.S Swaminathan Foundation.

I am happy that Professor M.S Swaminathan, the visionary scientist, geneticist, international administrator and the architect of India’s Green Revolution, who I hold in the highest regard, is with us today.

It is heartening to note that MSSRF founded by Professor M S Swaminathan aims to accelerate use of modern science and technology for agricultural and rural development to improve lives and livelihoods of communities.

I especially commend MSSRF for dedicatedly following a pro-poor, pro-women and pro-nature approach.

I am confident that the virtual consultation ‘Science for Resilient Food, Nutrition and Livelihoods’ will  go a long way in evolving new strategies and practices to promote food security and nutrition.

My dear sisters and brothers,

In 2015, the world adopted the visionary framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The global community  took a solemn pledge to leave no one behind.

With ten years to go until 2030, it is time to stock of the progress made so far. Where are we in terms of achieving the ‘zero hunger’ and ‘good health and wellbeing’ goals?

The United Nations report titled ‘The state of food security and nutrition in the world-2020’ states that the number of people suffering from hunger in the world has been slowly increasing since 2014.

The latest estimates suggest that 9.7 percent of the world population, or nearly 750 million people were exposed to severe levels of food insecurity in 2019.

The report also says that around 690 million people in the world are estimated to have been undernourished in 2019.

Globally, 6.9 percent of children under 5 or 47 million were affected by wasting in 2019 and more than 9 out of 10 stunted children lived in Africa or Asia.

This is clearly not good news.

Obviously, we are not on track. We need to do more.

We need to do things differently and more quickly.

We need urgent, focussed and concerted action at national, regional and global levels.

India has made significant strides in reducing hunger, undernourishment, infant mortality and stunting and wasting among children in the recent years.

The Government of India has accorded the highest priority to combating health and nutrition problems in the country. Some of the recent initiatives underway include the launch of Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) which has benefited more than 98.16 lakhs of women, the POSHAN Abhiyan, real-time, Aadhar linked beneficiary level monitoring and performance based joint incentives for frontline workers. Pan India launch of Rota Virus vaccination to prevent diarrhoea is also another initiative. The recently announced Education Policy includes a provision to provide  a nutritious breakfast to school children.

But much more needs to be done.

Especially in the context of the pandemic, the problem of hunger and undernourishment may become more acute because of the loss of livelihoods and global economic slowdown.

We must also realize that much of the recent increase in food insecurity can be attributed to the greater number of conflicts, often exacerbated by climate-related shocks, degradation of natural resources and water scarcity. Even in some peaceful settings, food security has deteriorated as a result of economic slowdowns threatening access to food for the poor.

The need to invest in resilient communities, equipped to face these challenges has never been more urgent than today.

We must build  resilient individuals, households as well as communities.Healthy, socially connected, prepared people are better able to withstand, manage, and recover from disasters.

Human society has made major advances in science over the last few years. This knowledge has to be proactively adapted and blended with traditional knowledge of indigenous communities. We must use this scientific knowledge for human welfare, for resilience and reduction of hunger and nutritional deficiencies.

What is required is a  concerted action by the public, civil society, Panchayati raj institutions and states and central governments. International cooperation will help to accelerate progress and in achieving lasting success.

My dear sisters and brothers,

If we are to ensure food and nutrition security to millions, there is an imminent need to make agriculture more efficient, resilient, profitable and productive.

Pre-harvest and post-harvest losses have to be minimized.

Market infrastructure and the national road and transportation network  must be improved. Farmers should be able to get their produce from the farm gates to markets at reasonable cost.

We must step up investments in improved storage, processing and preservation to retain the nutritional value of food products, rather than investing in highly processed foods.

Food, agriculture and trade policies have to be constantly reviewed and updated to suit the times.

We must also reorient our agricultural priorities towards more nutrition-sensitive food.

The health impacts associated with poor diet quality are significant.

Diets of poor quality are a principal contributor to the multiple burdens of malnutrition – stunting, wasting, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity. Both undernutrition early in life and overweight and obesity are significant risk factors for NCDs.

Our policies should promote investment in irrigation infrastructure. Likewise, national food and agricultural strategies and programmes should step up investment in research and development (R&D) to raise productivity of nutritious foods and help reduce their cost.

There is much to achieve in terms of anticipatory research where we can take proactive action. Farmers in villages are benefitted from anticipatory warning as we see from the current experience with locust attacks. Similar anticipatory warnings are being done in natural hazards such as floods through informing individual farmers.

Anticipatory research, participatory research and translational research (converting theoretical know how into field level do how) are all important. Our laboratories must be firmly linked to our farms and fields and technology transfer and farmer education must happen seamlessly.

We must also make the best possible use of Information and Communication Technology to remain connected with the farmers so that they may receive timely advice and inputs crucial to the success of their crop.

India is a treasure trove of traditional wisdom when it comes to agriculture. Instead of rejecting this wisdom as archaic, we must make every attempt to integrate the best of these techniques into agriculture along with modern technology.

The Government has set a target of doubling of farmers’ income by the year 2022. It has recently announced a number of measures that will help us achieve this ambitious goal.

Encouraging contract farming through the State Governments by promulgating of Model Contract Farming Act, Up-gradation of Gramin Haats, e-NAM, distribution of Soil health Cards to farmers, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY)-“ Per drop more crop”, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY), Kisan Credit Card (KCC) are among the several effective interventions made by the government to improve the lives of our farmers.


This conference will undoubtedly help make the national policies more robust and provide valuable insights that will accelerate the pace. I am hopeful that this will provide the necessary impetus to the process of policy  implementation.

I am confident that this timely conference will guide each one of us in leadership positions to creatively shape the future of our nation and ensure not only food security but also nutrition security and stable, rewarding livelihoods.