Food and Nutrition Problems – UPSC (Economic Geography)

In this article, You will read Food and Nutrition Problems – for UPSC (Economic Geography – Geography Optional).

Food and Nutrition Problems

  • The issue pertaining to population explosion and food security was raised by T.R. Malthus for 1st time in 1798. Population increase occurs by Geometric Mean and food production by Arithmetic Mean.
  • Food and nutrition are an interrelated issues. Food shortage leads to nutritional deficiency.
  • Under-nourishment refers to the lack of enough calories to meet basic energy requirements, while malnourishment refers to the lack of nutrients leading to the diseases like Kwashiorkor, Marasmus, and Beriberi.
  • According to Broek present world has no food shortage because the global output approximately provides 450 gm/head/day. If the distribution is rational, it cannot bring starvation. But it is not enough for a healthy livelihood. It does not provide adequate calories. It only provides 2100-2200 calories. Food is adequate but nutrition is deficient. So at the present world has the problem of hidden hunger. Grains are available, nutritious food is not.
  • According to UNO board on Food and Nutrition, any country which has average availability of 2900 calorie, means that the country has no food and nutrition problem. India has 2385 calories per capita daily consumption. So, India is a country with a hidden hunger problem. This is a general problem of developing countries. So, the most important problem is of “hidden hunger”. This is the problem of long-range effect because instead of an under-nourished society, it will create a malnourished society.
  • Another problem is of distribution of food. It is both international and intra-national. In USA and Canada there is enough food but sub Saharan countries are facing famine and starvation (South Sudan, Ethiopia, Chad, etc.). Since 1984, Sub Saharan countries are not getting enough rainfall. They have become famine state. They are largely dependent on imported food, USA being the primary exporter.
  • But in the world market distribution of the food is determined by various factors such as purchasing power, political power, trade norms, etc. wheat is called a political commodity. According to WHO, shortage of these countries is only 60MT/year. China alone imports 60MT. A lot of political bargaining goes into the process and disadvantaged countries have to compromise on the issue such as nuclear waste, dumping etc.
  • In 1966-67, India imported food from the USA under PLA-480 under which the USA could cancel the supply at any time. At the same time there are countries like Belgium whose own production is only for three months, Luxemburg (1 month), Netherlands and UK (4 to 6 months), Germany (6 months). Only France, Italy, Norway, and Sweden have sufficient food.
  • Other depends on import – these countries have sufficient economic and political prowess to import- hence there is no food insecurity.


  • Thus, we can identify important determinants of food availability and nutritional supply to the population of a country.
    • Agricultural productivity: It shares a positive correlation with food and nutrition. More the productivity less is the dependency on other factors. Agriculture productivity in turn is contingent upon various other factors such as climate, agriculture inputs, quality of land resource (soil), etc.
    • Political and economic conditions: It is easier for OPEC countries to import food, although their agricultural productivity is poor, as they enjoy a greater say in world politics and have the purchasing power. At the same time the areas which are war struck or politically unstable (e.g. Central African countries), face difficulty in ensuring proper supply of food to its people <Try to correlate it with the purchasing power of people>
    • Population pressure: If the population density is high, even those areas with high agricultural productivity might have to rely on imports to suffice the nutritional requirements.
    • Natural Hazards: a region might be agriculturally productive, endowed with natural resources, and have an optimum population, but still natural hazard may pose interruptions into the required supply of food. E.g. droughts and floods in Haiti, Bolivia, Western African countries.

Regions of food insecurity

  • FAO has divided the world countries into three categories on the basis of availability of calories and proteins (based on 1995 information):
    • Low calories (<2500) and Low Protein (<60) – South Asian countries, most of African countries (except Egypt, South Africa, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritius ). Most of SE Asia countries (except Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei), China’s calorie intake is high but protein intake is low, Peru, Bolivia, Suriname, Central American countries.
    • Medium calories (2500-2900) and Medium Protein (60-80)– includes east European countries, Russia, South Africa, Egypt, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Central Asian countries.
    • High calories (>2900) and High Protein (>80): it includes all developed countries, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Israel, Brunei, etc.
  • It can hence be inferred the problem of food and nutrition is principally the problem of developing countries. According to World Bank, even all the social groups of developing countries are not facing the problem; those who have an income of $1 per day are the real victims.
Poverty head count ratio at 1.25$ per day (PPP)% of population
Sub Saharan Africa50.9
South Asia40.3
East Asia and Pacific16.8
Latin America and the Caribbean8.2
Europe and Central Asia3.7
Middle East and North Africa3.6
  • These countries are facing the problem of malnutrition and food shortage. They are mainly in developing countries as shown in the above statistics.
  • Food surplus regions: USA, Canada, Argentina, Ukraine, and Australia are among the major exporters. In countries like China, India, Brazil, though the production is high, domestic consumption is also high- therefore, there is no surplus of food.

Causes of the Problem

  • The World Development Report 1995 presented an article entitled ‘Overcoming global hunger ‘written by the World Bank president. He mentioned 3 major causes:
    • Political: Suppliers do not attach ethics or humanitarian values to the food supply. For example, suppliers are not concerned with the humanitarian crisis in countries like Syria, Iraq, etc. They are concerned about their economy and political power.
    • Social: depressed groups have no accessibility of food (intra-regional disparity).
    • Economic: disparity in economic development and disparity in agriculture development are the problems. E.g. Ethiopia is trying to use HYV Maize, its environmental conditions are similar to the Utah state of USA. But the USA refused to support on technology on various grounds.
  • But geographically there are some other factors:
    • Rapid growth of both rising and conscious population who wants better and nutritious food.
    • Limited growth of food production
    • Lack of diversification in food production-particularly fish, milk, meat, and mutton. Also fruit, vegetable, forest food products need to be supported.
    • Agricultural productivity of most developing countries is low, mainly due to lack of capital and technology.
    • Transit problem: In the process of collection, transportation, and storing, huge losses occur.
    • Epidemics like crop disease, natural hazards like floods, cyclones, droughts- all have bearing on crops.
    • Inability to invest in agriculture (especially in developing countries)
    • Low purchasing capacity of people- e.g. in India, every family spends 33% of income on food articles, and inspite of that they are undernourished (hidden hunger problem). On the other hand, the British and Japanese spend 10% of their income on food and are over-nourished. In the USA people spend 12% of their income on food, while in Indonesia and Turkey people spend 28% and 25% on food respectively.


  • European countries were facing an almost similar problem in the 18th century. Problem continued up to 19th century but they have solved the problem by having control on population growth, industrial growth, and technological growth. Developing countries also needs similar approach.
  • So, the foremost need is to bring control on population growth. Most of the African countries have population growth rate greater than 3% (population growth rate greater than 2% is considered as population explosion)
  • Second most important need is to bring phenomenal increase in agricultural productivity. Per hectare yield needs to be multiplied.
  • Diversification of agriculture is equally important. (In case of India, diversification is good but food habit is not changing). Diversification takes care of providing the required nutrition in the food.
  • Improvement in transit system, control of natural hazards, control on epidemics and crop diseases is also needed.
  • There is also need of international cooperation. Developing some transparent norm to provide food to starving countries. Technology cooperation, nutritional cooperation and clinical cooperation are also needed. NGOs may play a good role in supply of nutritious meals.
  • WHO has organised World Nutritional Conference in Rome in 1992, where it was decided to support food and nutrition to infants and children (Condensed milk from Australia and New Zealand to India under this agreement)
  • There is need to develop an alternate economy like an industrial economy so per capita income is raised.

Scenario in India

  • India is one of the largest growing countries in terms of population and economics. India is food secure, but many areas face food problems (sporadic)-malnutrition is a major concern.
  • In fact, the combination of people living in poverty and the recent economic growth of India has led to the co-emergence of two types of malnutrition- undernutrition and over nutrition.
  • According to the World Food Program and M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), over the past decade there has been a decrease in stunting among children in rural India, but inadequate calorie intake and chronic energy deficiency levels remains steady.
  • Today child malnutrition is prevalent in 7% of children under the age of 5 in China and 28% in sub Saharan Africa compared to 43% in India.
  • Starvation deaths are reported. According to some economist, the per capita food grain absorption in some part is worse even than the Bengal famine. This is closely linked with agrarian crisis in many parts due to structural defects.
  • Food is a problem in terms of (4As)
    • Availability
    • Affordability
    • Accessibility
    • Absorption
  • Some hope:
    • In recent years, the problem is widely recognised. Supreme Court is actively pursuing the hunger problem.
    • Indexes such as Global Hunger Index are also highlighting the problem of hunger in various regions of the world.
    • The hunger problem is also one of the major focus areas in the elections. Consecutive governments have duly emphasised on economic growth with equity and justice.
    • Campaigns are being pursued for right to freedom from hunger, public hearings are pressurising the governments.

(Students are advised to update data for the year in which they are appearing for mains)

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Thanks a lot sir.

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