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Food security

Undernourishment by country (% of population undernourished)

Vulnerability to hunger is reflected in this map of the global state of undernourishment. Undernourished people are unable to obtain the food they need from production or imports, either because it is not available or because they cannot afford it

Source: FAO 2000

There is only a fine line between harnessing environmental resources to provide goods and services to meet people's needs, and misusing, damaging or overexploiting those resources to the point where people's lives, health or well-being are put at risk and they become vulnerable.

Food security means being able to obtain a nutritionally adequate, culturally acceptable diet at all times through local non-emergency sources. This requires both adequate food production or imports, and economic access to food at the household level, at all times, to ensure a healthy active life (Vyas 2000). This idea goes well beyond the traditional concept of hunger: it embraces a systematic view of the causes of hunger and poor nutrition within a community (Umrani and Shah 1999), recognizing both physical and economic vulnerability.

Projections of production increases suggest that the global availability of food should be adequate in coming decades. Aggregate statistics, however, are often misleading, and can hide the real situation on the ground. For example, per capita food production in Africa has declined slightly over the past 30 years and decreased significantly in the former Soviet Union since 1990 (UNDP, UNEP, World Bank and WRI 1998).

Agricultural growth as a consequence of the Green Revolution has also had an adverse impact on the environment in terms of nutrient mining, increase in soil salinity, waterlogging, depletion of underground water and the release of nitrogen into watercourses (see box).

Food security: is the green revolution losing momentum?

From independence until the mid-1970s, India faced problems of food scarcity. The green revolution that began the mid-1960s combined new seed and fertilizer technology, substantial increases in irrigated land, infrastructure development and rural extension to all regions. The result was an unprecedented increase in the yield of major cereals such as wheat and rice, decreased production costs and consequent fall in prices that enabled poor people to buy wheat and rice. The production of foodgrains increased from 50.8 million tonnes in 1950-51 to 199.3 million tonnes 1996-97. By the mid-1970s, India was self-sufficient in food grains.

Despite the impressive results of the 1980s, recent trends in aggregate production growth have been a matter for serious concern. Foodgrain production grew by 3.43 per cent on average during the period 1991-92 to 1996-97 but the foodgrain production target of 210 million tonnes was not met. In 1996-97, the production of rice stood at 81.3 million tonnes, about 9 per cent less than the targeted 88 million. These figures must be viewed against a significant jump in the use of fertilizer and pesticides. The consumption of fertilizers (NPK) that had been stagnant at around 12 million tonnes between 1990-91 and 1993-94, increased to reach the level of 14.3 million tonnes in 1996-97.

Source : Planning Commission of India 2001