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FOOD FOR SECURITY

by Manish Gautam

According to Food and Agriculture Organisation on its report "The state of food insecurity in the world 2000" in Nepal the kilocalorie per person per day is 260 and in Germany it is only 130. And the depth of hunger is measured by the average dietary energy deficit of undernourished people, not of the population as a whole, expressed in kilocalorie per person per day. The higher the number, the deeper the hunger.

Where the average kilocalorie deficit is very high many people's diets are deficient in everything. The state of food insecurity in the world regularly reports on the latest estimates of the number and prevalence of chronically hungry people and the number of hungry people live in developing countries like Nepal. This clearly shows the difference between 'have' and 'have not'. When governments talk about security, it means defence against an external force. But the food deficient or its security has other meaning that has not been in the priority list of the governments of developing countries. Food security is an ability of a household to get access of enough food, either by producing or by earning enough to buy it. In the case of Nepal, sadly both are not happening.

Lack of cash income is one of the most important factors hindering both urban and rural people from obtaining the diverse foods needed for an adequate diet. Food insecurity, poor nutritional status and absolute poverty are closely associated in Nepal, but they are not identical. During the last ten years Nepal has changed from a net exporter to net importer of food. The FAO food balance sheet for Nepal reveals that since 1991/92, there has been deficient and that deficit is increasing every year.

In 2000, 33 of Nepal's 75 districts had food deficient while only seven achieved food surplus. Food insecurity was a serious problem when there were unfavourable climatic conditions in 1972 and again during the drought of 1980. Food had to be imported on a large scale to meet the deficit. Although agriculture sector has received the highest priority in most of the development plans, its performance has been dismal. The first national plan (1956-61) had allocated 27 percent of the budget to agricultural and rural development. The aim of the investment was to increase agriculture out put and productivity.

Since the beginning of the 1990s the proportion of population experiencing the food deficit is especially critical in the hills of the Nepal where 47 percent of the population are under supplied. The respective figures for the Lowlands and for the Mountains are 23 percent and 31 percent. The main reasons for the adverse food availability situation in the hills are the high population density and degradation of land and forest resources. Land productivity in Nepal has stagnated inspite of the increasing use of fertilisers indicating land degradation and excessive utilisation of natural resources.

It is argued that poverty has been a problem in Nepal Since about the 18th century because of slavery and a feudal system of land ownership and labour arrangements. But the problem of food insecurity has grown tremendously only in recent years. In the past, traditional safety-net mechanisms had helped poor people to secure a food supply to a certain extent. But now, this system has eroded. Landlords who used to employ labourers on the basis of patron-client relationships now prefer to pay wages and do not want to carry any other obligation. Moreover, the abundant availability of other resources such as the forest and wasteland meant that landless and marginal people could afford to keep animals and derive forest products for their livelihoods. Access to land has been declining for a large proportion of households because of increasing population pressure and skewed distribution of land.

The top five percent of the population controlled 40 percent of the cultivated land while the bottom sixty percent controlled only about 20 percent. On the other hand, population growth rate in the last three decades has remained well above 2.0 percent. All these figures lead to conditions that make vulnerability to food shortage. The decline in food security in Nepal is also evident from the decreasing per capita food production. The per capita food grain production decreased from 376kg in 1974/75 to 277 kg in 1991/92. A USAID report published in 1979 revealed 85 percent of hill households and 50 percent of terrestial households had been unable to produce sufficient food. Another sign of lack of food security is malnutrition, a result of inadequate consumption. It is reported that 65 percent of the children from six month to six years of age are malnourished.

Poverty and malnutrition remain endemic in Nepal, an overwhelmingly agrarian country where most rural households do not own land and few other opportunities to earn an income exist. This sort 0f food security problems clearly indicates that sustainable.

Manish Gautam is a Reporter at Kantipur in Kathmandu, Nepal.