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Assessing the Deepening Problem

A.R. Vasavi

By Amitava Mukherjee
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 393, Rs. 895.00


If there is any one specific condition that belies the hype of the success of the new economy in India, then it is that of the state of food security. As data and several reports indicate, there are now extant and deepening forms of malnutrition, starvation, and deprivation indicating that there are gross problems in the most essential aspects of the national economy and society. While assessments of the levels of poverty and of the promulgation of the National Food Security Act have become prey to our complex politics, Amitava Mukherjee’s comprehensive study provides data and details highlighting the persistence of problems and the growth of new forms of food insecurity that emanate from layered structures of inequities.   The book is rich in details from all the Asian countries, including that from Kazakhstan, and provides an insightful overview of the conditions, policies, and trends in these countries with additional details and case studies from India. All of these combine to make us understand why food insecurity in the South Asian countries of India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal, and Pakistan account for the largest proportion of malnourished persons in the world. Although reproduced in several documents and reports, the data from the FAO on undernourishment continues to shock: ‘At the end of 2002, there were 583 million people in Asia who did not meet the nutritional requirement and about 545 million people still undernourished, comprising 65 percent of the world’s underfed’ (p. 10). Mukherjee takes such data and unpacks it to show us where, how and why such problems in the adequate provisioning of food are produced and reproduced.   Going beyond our simplistic popular understanding of food insecurity, Mukherjee details how definitions of food security itself have changed—shifting from that of assessing only quantity to that of quality and the overall contexts of food deprivation including that from macro contexts to that of micro conditions and structures. Although his definitions and differences between the concepts of food security from that of the rights based approach to food are inadequate, Mukherjee provides a comparative perspective of a range of economic and food provisioning policies in the Asian countries that seek to address food security. In a comprehensive overview, Mukherjee identifies and details the varied causative factors that are responsible for food insecurity in various South Asian countries. These include: penurious household conditions, land degradation and declining productivity, disasters, violence and war, racism, risks and ...

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