Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] Nutrition and the Budget’s fine print

Nutrition goes beyond just food, with economic, health, water sanitation, gender perspectives and social norms contributing to better nutrition. So, implementation of multiple schemes can contribute to better nutrition.
By IASToppers
February 21, 2020

Contents

  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Impact of linkage schemes
  • Suggestions
  • Conclusion
  • Way Forward

Nutrition and the Budget’s fine print

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Introduction

  • India ranked 102 out of 117 countries in the Global Hunger Index. It states that just a tenth of children between six to 23 months are fed a minimum acceptable diet.
  • Union Finance Minister’s Budget speech reflected the urgency around nutrition. She refers the developments under the Prime Minister’s Overarching Scheme for Holistic Nutrition, or POSHAN Abhiyaan, the National Nutrition Mission with efforts to track the status of 10 crore households.

Background

  • An important approach to address nutrition is through agriculture.
  • The BharatiyaPoshan Krishi Kosh which was launched in 2019 by Minister for Women and Child Development and Microsoft founder Bill Gates is a recent attempt to bridge this gap.
  • In 2018-19, the Government of India launched a national millet mission which included renaming millets as “nutri-cereals” and also launched 2018-19 as a Year of Millets to promote nutritious cereals in a campaign mode across the country.

Plan and allocation

  • There are multiple dimensions of malnutrition that include calorific deficiency, protein hunger and micronutrient deficiency.
  • To address India’s malnutrition dilemma, budgetary allocation and the expenditure in the previous year was analyzed.

Calorific deficiency:

  • The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme provides a package of services including supplementary nutrition, nutrition and health education, health check-ups and referral services.
  • It addresses key groups to address community malnutrition(children, pregnant and lactating mothers and adolescent girls) and which also tackle calorific deficiency.
  • For 2019-20, the revised estimates were less than the allotment, which points to an underutilization of resources.
  • Another pathway to address hunger is the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, to enhance nutrition of schoolchildren.

Protein hunger:

  • Welfare schemes like Mid-Day Meal, Public Distribution System and ICDS aim to reach pulses as it is a major contributor to address protein hunger.
  • But it has revised estimates standing at just ₹370 crores against ₹800 crore allocation in the 2019-20 Budget.

Micronutrient deficiency:

  • Revised estimates for 2019-20 stand at ₹1,583.50 crores against an allocation of ₹2,225 crores.
  • This shows the low implementation of the Horticulture Mission which can be one of the ways to address micronutrient deficiency effectively.

POSHAN Abhiyaan:

  • It is the National Nutrition Mission which is a major initiative to address malnutrition. But the focus of the bulk of the funding of this mission has been on technology, whereas, actually, it is crucial to address nutrition.
  • It had 72% of total expenditure going into Information and Communication Technology enabled Real Time Monitoring for development and setting up Common Application Software and expenditure on components under behavioral change.
  • Only 34% of funds released by the Government of India were spent from FY 2017-18 to FY 2019-20 till November 30, 2019.

Impact of linkage schemes

  • Considering the underspending of the previous year’s allocations, subsequent years’ will also be affected.
  • It could limit the possibility of increasing budgets and the focus on nutrition schemes.

Agriculture-nutrition link

  • Three-fifths of rural households are agricultural in India and malnutrition rates, particularly in rural areas are high.
  • Thus, link between agriculture and nutrition was not explicit. Therefore, agriculture-nutrition linkage schemes have potential for greater impact and need greater emphasis.

Suggestions:

  • Focus on nutrition-related interventions, beyond digitization.
  • Intensify the convergence component of POSHAN Abhiyaan, using the platform to bring all departments in one place to address nutrition.
  • Direct the announcement to form farmer producer organizations with some financial allocation to nutrition-based activities.
  • Promotion of youth schemes to be directed to nutrition-agriculture link activities in rural areas.
  • Give explicit emphasis and fund allocation to agriculture-nutrition linked schemes.
  • Ensure early disbursement of funds and an optimum utilization of schemes linked to nutrition.

Conclusion:

  • Food is not just an end in itself but also an essential ingredient in the growth of human capital and therefore important for national wealth creation.
  • Nutrition goes beyond just food, with economic, health, water sanitation, gender perspectives and social norms contributing to better nutrition. So, implementation of multiple schemes can contribute to better nutrition.

Way Forward:

  • Malnutrition affects cognitive ability, workforce days and health, impacting as much as 16% of GDP (World Food Programme and World Bank).
  • In that sense, while Indialooks toward an ‘Aspirational India’, Budget 2020-21 should expect to make a difference not just to better nutrition but to build a wealthier nation too.

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