The problem -- under-nutrition among a sizeable section of the country's population -- is invisible. Yet it takes a heavy toll---an estimated loss of 2.0 to 3.0 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) -- on its economy despite all the improvements made in food security situation and resultant decline in child-stunting and child-mortality rates since 1991.
A draft report of the Compact 2025, an initiative taken by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IPFRI) to end hunger and under-nourishment by the year 2015, that was presented at a function in Dhaka late last week, estimated the loss in terms of productivity due to under-nutrition.
The productivity loss to such an extent, despite nearly 50 per cent drop in the rate of under-nourishment and the decline in the number of hungry people by about 10 million over a period of two and a half decades, highlights the inherent weaknesses in relevant policies and their execution by the government. The under-nourished section of the population does still need to consume more cereals and proteins.
For reasons of poverty these people are unable to buy the nutritious foods in minimum required quantities. Moreover, they are not aware of the need for consuming a balanced-diet for proper physical and mental growth.
The government has been expanding the safety net programmes, primarily, to help the hardcore poor. But the impact of these programmes, being short-lived and limited in nature, is yet to make any notable contribution to the efforts for raising the nutritional level.
The factors that are essential for elevating the nutritional status of the poor are augmentation of their income and increased knowledge on nutrition. Only creation of sufficient number of employment opportunities at the grassroots could help raise the income level of the poor. And to make that happen, there has to be investment of both private and public capital in sufficient volume.
The government does make direct investment in rural areas but on a very modest scale. The private investment also continues to be meagre for a host of factors, including very unattractive rate of return.
Ensuring sufficient employment opportunities at the grassroots would require enough time and large investments. However, the task of building knowledge on nutrition among the poorer section of the population can be accomplished with least cost and time.
According to an estimate made by the IFPRI, it could cost the state US$30 to 40 per year to impart training to every household on nutrition. The job of building knowledge on nutrition among the poorer section of society would be even easier if women are economically empowered.
Such empowerment would help their families increase the level of consumption of cereals, proteins and other foods. The state-level programme to impart knowledge on nutrition would help raise the nutritional status of all members of poor families, including children.
The government should prepare a programme to disseminate knowledge on nutrition among the poorer section of the population. There, as the reports indicate, would be no dearth of external financial help for such a programme.