The Food Paradox of India and China

Based on common sense, one would expect hunger to decline as a country’s wealth increases. However, in emerging countries like China and India, hunger and income appear to be positively correlated. According to UNICEF, East India’s malnourished people are mostly comprised of low-income children. Of these children under the age of five, 19% are moderately to severely underweight, 6% is moderately to severely wasting, and 24% are severely stunted.

China is a very disproportionate example; half of the population is overweight in areas such as Beijing, and on the other hand, 39% of all infants are underweight in areas such as the province of Hainan. Consequently, the paradox is driving a new strategy among international agencies that once encouraged countries to solve starvation by producing more food. Nowadays, policies are more oriented towards the fundamental problem of rural poverty. A new mantra, “create more jobs, provide income to buy more food,” is replacing the old developmental one, “produce more food, feed more people.”

A few points drive this new strategy. First, there is an unequal distribution of wealth, which is widening the gap between rich and poor; this results in a shrinking middle class. Similarly, there are indifferent governments and agencies that prevent aid and resources from being efficiently allocated. Added to this, the unprecedented food price increase worsen the situation, making the poor even poorer.

This does not benefit the poor and vulnerable; it is harder for these households to catch up with the rich and converge to better living standards. Moreover, in countries like India and China, there is an inadequate infrastructure, high levels of corruption, and high levels of rural poverty that prevent the hungry from gaining access to increased levels of production matched up with higher demand.

Even though India’s farmers were introduced to better fertilization and irrigation methods resulting in an increased crop, inefficiencies and local mismanagement prevent food distribution to reach the poorest households. With the cost of storing surpluses increasing, the government opened the door to grain export in 2001. Finally, according to Jensen and Miller, we might be simply measuring hunger incorrectly, especially when taste and choice are two significant factors that play an important role in allocating the amount of necessary calories.

Consequently, the food paradox is becoming a more lucrative business to corrupted governments and private companies rather than a human rights issue. The food insecurity hypothesis of hunger can be addressed through the legislative system via the execution of food product labeling, regulatory actions, and nutritional literacy initiatives; it can also be addressed through social policy. Countries like China and India need to tackle this paradox to combat food insecurity issues.

Food security should be imposed throughout the fundamentals of quality and quantity. Government intervention can be useful in prohibiting the use of “trans-fats” and raising public awareness among civil society. Education is a central constituent; constructing awareness and educating on nutrition and dietary intake is crucial at an early stage. Indeed, the WFP in one strategy shift is emphasizing schools with a classroom-based feeding program: “An ill-educated, unhealthy population can’t take advantage of an open economy,” said John Powell, a WFP deputy executive director.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Olga Jbeili

I hold an MSc in Development Economics and a Graduate Diploma in Economics from the University of Sussex. Most recently I was working as a research officer at Sussex uni. I previously worked at the Carnegie Endowment in Beirut where I assisted scholars in researches related to food security and land acquisitions, peak-oil and rentier economies, sovereign wealth funds, labour markets among other topics... I am also particularly interested in the political economic situation in the developing and emerging economies and how this relationship might affect growth and long-run development.

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