300 million Indians go hungry everyday! : Rediff.com Business One piece of bread a day / Was all I had, Sometimes I would break it in half, Sometimes, I could make it toast, My children's bellies full / My stomach churning, I drank water / To calm the burning, I had more than most / Reminding myself of those, Who have a handful of rice / Once a week, They know fear / They know pain, They know hunger / Far better than I ever could. Alisha Rose's poem, Hunger, brings out the essence of a grave problem that plagues not only India, but the entire world. According to the Global Hunger Index, India ranks 65th out of 88 countries, with a hunger rate of 23.9. India, which was largely unaffected by the recent global economic slowdown, however, appears to have made little progress in tackling hunger and malnutrition. The situation remains 'alarming' in the country on this front. Countries like Uganda (38th); Mauritania (40th); Zimbabwe (58th) and many others have a better record than India on this front. Even war-torn nations have managed to combat the scourge of hunger quite well, while India -- even though it boasts of being the second fastest growing economy in the world -- languishes far behind and millions in the country go hungry. undernourished The report -- released on Wednesday by the International Food Policy Research Institute, German aid group Welthungerhilfe and Irish aid group Concern Worldwide -- said that the number of malnourished people was rising as a result of recent events. "The current situation of food crisis, financial crunch and global recession has further undermined the food security and the livelihoods of the poor," it said. The index ranks countries on under-nourishment, prevalence of child malnutrition and rates of child mortality. It said 21 per cent of the Indian population was undernourished (between 2003 and 2005), 43.5 per cent Indian children under the age of five were underweight (between 2002 and 2007) and the under five-years age infant mortality rate in 2007 was 7.2 per cent. 46% of Indian children below the age of 5 are underweight In September 2009, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh projected a food stock of 50 million tonne. Yet, close to 300 million Indians go without food every day! India continues to burnish its international image with initiatives like Brand India, a public-private campaign whose stated mission is to 'build positive perceptions of India globally'. But when the prime minister acknowledged the country's undernourished children as a 'national shame', the statement highlighted how India's economic success co-exists with its persistently high rates for hunger, malnutrition, and income poverty. According to the World Bank, 46 per cent of Indian children below the age of five are underweight, and the World Food Program says that close to 30 per cent of the world's hungry live in India. According to a recent report in The Hindu, biodiverse ecosystems contain naturally evolved genetic strengths and unique food technologies developed by traditional communities in different climates, soils and temperatures. Harnessing and sharing these capabilities equitably will help humanity adapt to rising temperatures and the poorest of the poor feed themselves in harsh climates. To that end, the Chennai Declaration set out a series of strategies that are the product of three days of intense discussion, at the M.S Swaminathan Research Foundation, of the senior representatives from organisations across the world such as the UN Environment Programme, UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, International Rice Research Institute, International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Food Prize Fund, and India's National Biodiversity Authority and Ministry of Environment and Forests. "The declaration makes a bridge of issues at global, national and local levels between the challenges for conservation and food security," said Angela Cropper, deputy executive director, UN Environment Programme. These include: according economic value to the services nature and agriculture rendered and setting up mechanisms for payment for such services; acknowledging that the custodians of biodiverse resources are farmers and fisherfolk; finding markets for neglected but nutritious crops; including rural communities in biodiversity strategies; refocussing research and development priorities and promoting biodiversity literacy through public education to build an ethic of conservation. Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests, present at the valedictory session, pledged to take forward the 'wonderful ideas' contained in the declaration. He said he would do his best to integrate climate change mitigation strategies with biodiversity conservation in both national policy and in international discussion in Mexico later this year. 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity. Despite its economic successes, India leads the world in hunger. According to the 2008 Global Hunger Index, which is calculated by the International Food Policy Research Institute, India has close to 350 million people who are food insecure -- in other words, who are not sure where their next meal will come from. To put that into context, that is the same as the entire populations of Germany, France and the United Kingdom all going hungry. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation believes that over 1 billion people will go hungry in 2009. Almost 100 million (10 per cent) of those have been made newly hungry by the Financial Crisis. By that grim calculus, India's hungry have grown to at least 300 million, with India providing 30 per cent of the world count. India is the second most populated country in the world. With a population of 1.173 billion, the hungry make up over 25 per cent or one in four in the country. The percentage is probably better than it was fifty years ago, but the absolute number is growing. Compare this to China, which has a larger population (1.334 billion) and which 50 years ago was arguably poorer. It has managed to bring over 500 people out of poverty, its hungry count is today less than 100 million, and that number is shrinking every year. EconomyWatch.com, Dwayne Ramakrishnan wrote, 'Endemic problems such as corruption, poor infrastructure and a lack of access to funds continue to be a problem in India.' The Congress government has been put a strong focus on this area, for example allocating funds to go directly to villages rather than through often corrupt local officials. It was one of the reasons that Congress won the elections with such a show of force - but more clearly needs to be done. 2009 has been a particularly disasterous year for Indian farmers. First there was there was the monsoon failure, he said. It is estimated that this knocked out 40-50 per cent of the Kharif monsoon harvest. Then at the end of the monsoon season, which is normally dry, there were torrential downpours. Although this solved the water crisis, it made the food crisis worse, as much of the crops that made it through the drought were destroyed. Ramakrishnan, the FAO believes that the supply of available arable land is running out. At the same time, farmers are either getting diminishing returns from their current land, or they are having to put ever more inputs to get the same yield. Much of the progress in feed the world since the 1970's has been thanks to the Green Revolution, pioneered by Norman Borlaug, who helped the Mexicans to vastly increase their crop yields. He then took this technology worldwide, with fantastic results in India and many other nations. Sadly, Mr Borlaug passed on the 12 September 2009. The Green Revolution relied on high-yielding crop varieties, together with fertilisers and other methods to more than double crop yields. Since that great productivity burst, however, technology has stagnated. There is a great deal that newer technology can offer. New crop varieties are being developed that require considerably less water and nitrogen. Lasers can be used to flatten fields, and sprinklers can greatly reduce water wastage. Governments in India and elsewhere need to focus on a second Green Revolution to create another quantum leap in productivity. We need to get back on the path of hunger reduction that we were -- until recently -- so successfully treading. Otherwise the food riots of last year and doubling of potato and lentil prices this year will seem like - pardon the pun - chicken feed.