Growing Divergence Between Poverty and Hunger in India- The Calorie Consumption Puzzle

Updated November 24, 2022

The fact of Divergence Between Poverty and Hunger is synonymous with “Calorie Consumption Puzzle”. It is an economic study which reveals that there is a trend of growing divergence between Poverty and Hunger in India.

What this divergence or puzzle shows is that, although per-Capita consumption expenditure in India has increased over last 2-3 decades, the Calorie consumption and nutrition intake has declined instead going up. This Divergence in relationship can be attributed to many factors but the ‘food-budget squeeze’ theory is believed to explain it best.

Broadly speaking, ‘food-budget squeeze’ is the prevailing economic situation wherein, people are forced to spend more on non-food items. A group of welfare economist opine that ‘Calorie Consumption Puzzle’ is a serious issue and needs state’s attention to intervene.

The Divergence Between Poverty and Hunger- An Overview

Essentially, the decline in calorie consumption and nutrition intake despite increase in Per-capita expenditure suggests that growth in real expenditures (and underlying income) has not been large enough to support both increased expenditures on non-food essentials and sustain adequate nutrition. And because the underlying per capita income has not increased, the economist caution the govt against this false belief of increased well being of people.

Calorie Consumption Puzzle (CCP) is a state of hunger itself, wherein although we claim to have lifted people out of poverty but they are still nutrition-starved. In fact, food security alone would not suffice, nutritional security is the need of hour.

Behind this paradox of Poverty and Hunger, ‘food-budget squeeze‘ theory is followed by other factors like: loss of access to non-market sources of food and diversification of food expenditure.

Divergence Between Poverty and Hunger- How & Why

Poverty and hunger are the two major challenges for the government which needs to be tackled to meet the target of sustainable development. Poverty and hunger are two subjects which are interrelated to each other. But there is a growing divergence in the relationship between poverty and hunger in India.

This has been because of the shrinking social expenditure by the government, increasing displacement and disposition of farmers, loss of access to common property resources, rapid change of structure of occupation etc. Reduction in the social expenditure by the government results in forcing the poor to spend more on non-food essential items squeezing their food budgets. The divergence between poverty and hunger is termed as the “calorie Consumption Puzzle”.

So, it is the responsibility of the government to provide required access to the poor people for their well-being. Since India is a welfare state hence, it is mandated under the directive principles of state policy to provide the basic essential items like food, education, health etc, with optimum quality to every citizen.

No country could meet the targets of sustainable development goals if poverty and hunger continue to exist. Therefore, it is necessary for the country to reduce the divergence between poverty and hunger. In the past two decades, urban areas the headcount ratio (HCR) poverty fell from 32% in 1993-94 to 21% in 2009-10. The fall in poverty in the rural region has been even more surprising, where the HCR declined from 50% to 34% over the same period.

Despite a significant increase in the real income of the people over the last two-three decades, overall nutritional intake and calorie consumption has not commensurately increased. There are millions of children and adults suffering from “Hidden Hunger”. For Example, poverty as per official estimates is around 22% whereas India is ranked 102 out of 117 countries in the Global Hunger Index- 2019.

How did Spending on Non- Food essential Items Increase?

Quality Education

Poor people spend their major part of income in the education facilities for their children. Good facilities in the private schools coupled with poor infrastructure on government schools have tempted the poor to get enrol in the private institution. This has resulted in increasing expenditure on education by cutting down their food budget.

Health Expenditure

When it comes to healthcare, the poor are often haunted with 3As (Accessibility, Affordability and Availability). Often, they could not get the 3As which push them to shell out some extra money to access the services. Sometimes, even the primary health care needs put a financial burden on the well-being of the family forcing them to compromise their expenditure on the food budget.

Basic Amenities

Lack of basic amenities like drinking water, public transport is also an extra burden on the people. They are forced to shell out extra money to access these basic amenities which is adversely affecting the food budget.

There are several factors which have compounded the effects of the food budget squeeze, resulting in the growing divergence of poverty and hunger

Factors Influencing the Divergence of Poverty and Hunger in India  

(a) Increasing displacement and dispossession of farmers, destruction of rural livelihoods and loss of access to common property resources like forests, ponds, grazing lands and rivers play a major role in the growing divergence of hunger and poverty. Subsequently, on shrinking the access to common property resources have led to a sharp decline in access to non-market sources of food.

(b) There has been seen a rapid change in the structure of the occupation. You can see the chunk of rural working people is migrating to urban centres or other rural areas in search of work. Although most of such migration is temporary and seasonal, they travel large distances.

This circulation of labour has a large impact on their household’s expenditure. When they are away from home, they need to spend their income on non-food items such as costs of transportation, healthcare, fuel, fares and lighting. More or less, it plays a critical role in the growing divergence between Poverty and hunger.

(c) Shrinking social expenditures by the government are possibly the most important factor in the growing divergence between poverty and hunger in India. Cutting down social expenditure by the government is rendering the urban and rural poor dependent on market prices of non-food essential items, which are typically high.

The government spends only 1.3% of GDP on health which is far away from the world’s average of 10.2 %. Whereas in the education sector it is 3% against the world’s average of 4.8%. Increase in demand for quality education and the rise of private schools cumulatively has led to a decline in financial resources in the hands of the people. Being forced to procure these non-food essential services from the private sector has contributed to what we have termed the food budget squeeze.

(d) The decline in spending on public distribution scheme and related inefficiencies in it also contributes to this problem. As the PD is out of reach or absent, people spent more on less nutritious food available in the market at higher prices.

The poor are increasingly spending more on education, healthcare, transportation, fuel and lighting. The share of monthly expenditure devoted to these items has increased at such a pace that it has absorbed all the increase in real income over the past decades. This has led to a ‘Food Budget Squeeze’.

The government has ignored the enormous squeeze on food budgets arising from dispossession, rising migration and the forced turn to the private sector for social sector services that are more expensive than public sector provision. The squeeze on food budgets has led to a decline in calorie intake even as per-capita consumption expenditure has risen. It requires the attention of the government.

Final Words on Poverty and Hunger at Divergence

Yes, Hunger and Malnutrition Persists in India- this is the crux of study on growing divergence between Poverty and hunger. India may have addressed the challenge of food security through the green revolution but it is far from addressing the need for nutritional security. Many researches including this substantiates the fact.

The squeezed food budget due to increased spending on non-food essentials is adversely impacting the nutritional security. The government must prescribe for a target-based approach to increase the social expenditure to transform the human resource into human capital.

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