Poor Show over Food and Hunger

Arshad Shaikh analyses India’s dismal performance in the Global Hunger Index and the Global Food Security Index and examines the requirements to overcome our Achilles heel.

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Arshad Shaikh

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Arshad Shaikh analyses India’s dismal performance in the Global Hunger Index and the Global Food Security Index and examines the requirements to overcome our Achilles heel.

The ‘Aakhirah’ or Afterlife/Hereafter (eternal life after death) is one of the central tenets of Islam. It is a key article of faith without which the Muslim’s belief in Islam cannot be validated and endorsed. The characteristics of those who fail this litmus test of accepting the ‘Aakhirah’ are described in the Qur’ān. One of which is that these deniers of the Hereafter do not exhort the feeding of the poor and the indigent. (“And urges not the feeding of the needy.” – The Qur’ān 107/3)

The verse does not say that “he does not urge (others) to feed the poor”, rather, the words used are ‘ta’am-il-miskeen’ i.e. “he does not urge (others) to give away the food of the poor.” In other words, the food that is given to the poor man is not the food of the giver but that of the poor man himself; it is his right which is enjoined on the giver, and the giver is not doing him any favour but rendering him his right. Islam thus paves the way for food security to become a basic fundamental right and not a conditional outcome of the altruistic behaviour of a benevolent society or welfare economic policies of a welfare state.

India has a rich tradition of feeding the poor being a prized virtue in its religions and cultures, so the performance of India in the recently released Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2021 and the Global Food Security (GFS) Index 2021 is both contrary to our values and embarrassing to our economic stature.



The GFS (Global Food Security) Index is an annual finding published by the London based Economist Impact and American agriculture company Corteva Agriscience. It ranks a set of 113 countries over the issues of food affordability, availability, quality and safety, and natural resources and resilience. The index is a dynamic quantitative and qualitative benchmarking model constructed from 58 unique indicators that measure the drivers of food security across both developing and developed countries. It points out gaps and policy changes required to move towards the UN Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger by 2030. This year we were ranked 71 on the GFS index (China was ranked 34 and Pakistan 75). In the category of food affordability we were behind Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Another report that generated a fair deal of heat in the media was the Global Hunger Index (GHI), which is an annual report jointly published by the Irish Concern Worldwide and German Welthungerhilfe. The GHI score is calculated to assess the progress and setbacks in combating hunger. It is calculated based on 4 indicators:

  1. Undernourishment: the share of the population is calculated with insufficient caloric intake.
  2. Child Wasting: the share of children under the age of 5 who have low weight for their height is found out. It is indicative of acute under nourishment.
  3. Child Stunting: the share of children under the age of 5 is found who have low height for their age, again reflecting chronic undernutrition.
  4. Child Mortality: the mortality rate of children under 5 is calculated.

Based on the values of the four indicators, GHI calculates hunger on a 100 point scale where 0 is the best possible score (no hunger) and 100 is the worst. Every country’s GHI score is classified by severity, from low to extremely alarming.


GHI Severity Scale / India’s score is 27.5
<= 9.9


10.0 – 19.9


20.0 – 34.9


35.0 – 49.9


>= 50.0





India has been ranked 101 among 116 countries on the index, again trailing our neighbours Pakistan and Bangladesh. Last year, our ranking was 97 among 107 countries..



It is possibly for the first time that India has repudiated the Global Hunger Index report officially. The Women and Child Development Ministry, in a statement to the press, said: “It is shocking to find that the Global Hunger Report 2021 has lowered the rank of India on the basis of FAO estimate on proportion of undernourished population, which is found to be devoid of ground reality and facts and suffers from serious methodological issues. The publishing agencies of the Global Hunger Report, Concern Worldwide and Welt Hunger Hilfe, have not done their due diligence before releasing the report. The methodology used by FAO is unscientific. They have based their assessment on the results of a ‘four question’ opinion poll, which was conducted telephonically by Gallup.

“The scientific measurement of undernourishment would require measurement of weight and height, whereas the methodology involved here is based on Gallup poll based on pure telephonic estimate of the population. The report completely disregards Government’s massive effort to ensure food security of the entire population during the covid period, verifiable data on which are available. The opinion poll does not have a single question on whether the respondent received any food support from the Government or other sources.”

If we download and go through the GHI report

(https://www.globalhungerindex.org/pdf/en/2021.pdf), we can appreciate that the report is completely scientific, transparent and best in class. The report says that “data used in the calculation of GHI scores come from various UN and other multilateral agencies.

Undernourishment data are provided by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). Child mortality data are sourced from the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UN IGME). Child wasting and child stunting data are drawn from the joint database of UNICEF, the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the World Bank, as well as from WHO’s continually updated Global Database on Child Growth and Malnutrition, the most recent reports of the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), and statistical tables from UNICEF.



Experts say that the bulk of our agriculture output is from small and marginal holdings. This output is either constant or decreasing because of declining soil fertility and unstable market price of farm produce. Nearly 50 million households in India depend on such small and marginal holdings. Although we have a surplus in terms of aggregate food output, most of these small and marginal farming households are not able to produce enough food grains for their annual consumption. The poor could not purchase enough food for their children due to rampant inflation in food prices. Low wages and high unemployment dented their purchasing power. Our public distribution system (PDS) is inefficient and does not reach all potential beneficiaries.

Other experts point out unless there is overall improvement in the biggest states of India like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar that constitute a substantial proportion of the data from India, there is little hope of any increment in the national GHI score. The National Food Security Act was supposed to provide food security for 75% of the rural population and up to 50% of the urban population for receiving subsidised food grains under Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), thus covering about two-thirds of the population. Clearly, the Act is a let-down in terms of implementation.

Also, failure to provide a diverse diet that includes fat, protein and micronutrients along with numerous instances of children being provided food of sub-standard quality under the mid-day meal programmes at schools; all contribute to our fall in food security and hunger ratings. American agrieconomist, Norman Borlaug said: “You can’t build a peaceful world on empty stomachs and human misery.” Maybe food insecurity is feeding the growing violence in India.