1. Global Hunger Index is out, India in ‘serious’ category at rank 107
The country ranks below Sri Lanka (64), Nepal (81), Bangladesh (84) and Pakistan (99); Afghanistan is the only South Asian country that lags behind India in the listing
India ranks 107 out of 121 countries on the Global Hunger Index in which it fares worse than all countries in South Asia barring war-torn Afghanistan.
The Global Hunger Index (GHI) is a tool for comprehensively measuring and tracking hunger at global, regional, and national levels. GHI scores are based on the values of four component indicators – undernourishment, child stunting, child wasting and child mortality. Countries are divided into five categories of hunger on the basis of their score, which are ‘low’, ‘moderate’, ‘serious’, ‘alarming’ and ‘extremely alarming’.
Based on the values of the four indicators, a GHI score is calculated on a 100-point scale reflecting the severity of hunger, where zero is the best score (no hunger) and 100 is the worst. India’s score of 29.1 places it in the ‘serious’ category. India also ranks below Sri Lanka (64), Nepal (81), Bangladesh (84), and Pakistan (99). Afghanistan (109) is the only country in South Asia that performs worse than India on the index. China is among the countries collectively ranked between 1 and 17 having a score of less than five.
India’s child wasting rate (low weight for height), at 19.3%, is worse than the levels recorded in 2014 (15.1%) and even 2000 (17.15), and is the highest for any country in the world and drives up the region’s average owing to India’s large population.
Prevalence of undernourishment, which is a measure of the proportion of the population facing chronic deficiency of dietary energy intake, has also risen in the country from 14.6% in 2018-2020 to 16.3% in 2019-2021. This translates into 224.3 million people in India considered undernourished.
But India has shown improvement in child stunting, which has declined from 38.7% to 35.5% between 2014 and 2022, as well as child mortality which has also dropped from 4.6% to 3.3% in the same comparative period. On the whole, India has shown a slight worsening with its GHI score increasing from 28.2 in 2014 to 29.1 in 2022. Though the GHI is an annual report, the rankings are not comparable across different years. The GHI score for 2022 can only be compared with scores for 2000, 2007 and 2014.
2. Editorial-1: Do not ignore the role of the woman livestock farmer
The livestock sector is one of the most rapidly growing components of the rural economy of India, accounting for 5% of national income and 28% of agricultural GDP in 2018-19. In the last six years, the livestock sector grew at 7.9% (at constant prices) while crop farming grew by 2%. Our field studies show that in rural households that own livestock, women are invariably engaged in animal rearing. On the International Day of Rural Women (October 15), we need to recognise the role of women in livestock rearing, and to include women in all facets of livestock development, be it breeding, veterinary care, extension services, training or access to credit and markets.
It is widely recognised that the majority of women workers in rural areas (72%) are engaged in agricultural activities. However, with the exception of participation in dairy co-operatives, specifically in milk marketing, women’s role in the livestock economy is not as widely known or discussed. There were five million women members in dairy co-operatives in 2015-16, and this increased further to 5.4 million in 2020-21. Women accounted for 31% of all members of dairy producer cooperatives in 2020-21. In India, the number of women’s dairy cooperative societies rose from 18,954 in 2012 to 32,092 in 2015-16.
Issues with data collection
Conventional labour force surveys fail to accurately record women’s work in livestock-raising for many reasons. Among the many problems in data collection, two significant ones are the sporadic nature of work undertaken for short spells throughout the day and often carried out within the homestead, and women’ own responses. A time use survey in a village of Karnataka showed that a poor peasant woman started her day by collecting dung from the cow shed for 10 minutes (5.15 a.m. to 5.25 a.m.). She engaged in some preparatory cooking tasks for a while. A little later she milked the cow for 25 minutes, and swept and washed the shed for around 30 minutes. After completing other household tasks, she went to work on a construction site. She took two cows along and tied them to graze near the work site. When she returned home in the evening, she again milked the animals and fed them, which took around 40 minutes. After dinner, she fed the animals for the last time in the day. This woman spent around 3.5 hours on livestock-related tasks, which were all combined with household duties. Given this pattern of work, the woman herself may not report “livestock raising” as an economic activity.
One way to adjust official statistics for this error is by calculating an augmented work participation rate. In other words, in addition to women reporting themselves as engaged in economic activity, this estimate includes women who reported themselves as “engaged in domestic duty” or care work for the major part of the year but spent time on specific activities such as kitchen gardening, household dairy/poultry, paddy husking, etc.
To illustrate, 12 million rural women were workers in livestock-raising, an estimate based on the Employment and Unemployment Survey of 2011-12. However, with the augmented definition, we estimated that around 49 million rural women were engaged in livestock raising. In short, women actually engaged in the livestock economy were four times the official estimate and a sizeable section of the rural population. Statistics from India’s first national Time Use Survey in 2019 corroborate this finding. By recording all activities done in the past 24 hours (be it cooking or working in the fields), 11% of rural women or 48 million women were engaged in animal rearing.
Data from village surveys conducted by the Foundation for Agrarian Studies in Karnataka show that in every household that owned a milch animal, a woman spent at least two hours a day on animal rearing. This was as much as seven to eight hours in some cases depending on other factors such as number and type of animals, and season (in the lean season, when fodder was not easily available, more time was spent on grazing). Additionally, livestock rearing was an occupation of older, less educated, women in the village.
The National Livestock Policy (NLP) of 2013, aimed at increasing livestock production and productivity in a sustainable manner, rightly states that around 70% of the labour for the livestock sector comes from women. One of the goals of this policy was the empowerment of women. The National Livestock Mission (NLM) of 2014-15 was initiated for the development of the livestock sector with a focus on the availability of feed and fodder, providing extension services, and improved flow of credit to livestock farmers. However, the NLM does not propose any schemes or programmes specific to women livestock farmers. The policy proposes that the State government allocates 30% of funds from centrally-sponsored schemes for women. There is no logic for the 30% quota.
The problem clearly is that women livestock farmers are not visible to policymakers, and one reason is the lack of gender-disaggregated data, as illustrated here.
First, recent employment surveys such as the Periodic Labour Force Survey fail to collect data on specific activities of persons engaged primarily in domestic duties. So, the undercounting of women in the livestock economy continues.
Second, the reach of extension services to women livestock farmers remains scarce. According to official reports, 80,000 livestock farmers were trained across the country in 2021, but we have no idea how many were women farmers. In our village surveys, only a few women in each village reported receiving any information from extension workers. Women wanted information but wanted it nearer home and at times when they were free.
Third, in our village surveys, women in poor households, without collateral to offer to banks, found it difficult to avail loans to purchase livestock. Around 15 lakh new Kisan Credit Cards (KCC) were provided to livestock farmers under the KCC scheme during 2020-22. There is no information on how many of them were women farmers.
Fourth, women livestock farmers lacked technical knowledge on choice of animals (breeding) and veterinary care. According to our village surveys, men invariably performed these specific tasks and took animals for artificial insemination.
Fifth, our village studies showed that women were not aware of the composition and functions of dairy boards and that men exercised decisions even in women-only dairy cooperatives. Further, the voice of women from landless or poor peasant Scheduled Caste households was rarely heard.
Women’s labour is critical to the livestock economy. It follows then that women should be included in every stage of decision-making and development of the livestock sector. Today, women livestock workers remain invisible on account of their absence in official statistics. This must be corrected.
3. Editorial-2: Indian Deep Tech and a case for a strategic fund
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is making a concerted push for self-reliance in military technology, semiconductors and science-based businesses. However, there is a market failure where typical venture capital will not invest in this asset class, and government money is not nearly enough or is not fast enough. In order to become a developed country in 25 years, India will need to build world-class deep tech capabilities in certain sectors.
To solve this market inefficiency, here is a case for an “India Strategic Fund”. Certain innovations in the existing corporate social responsibility (CSR) budgets and high net worth (HNI) tax breaks will incentivise capital flowing into strategic tech.
Our way of life, economic and national security are underpinned to certain general purpose technologies (GPTs). Today, four technology battlegrounds exist, i.e. semiconductors, 5G, revolutions in biology and autonomy. Each of these is vulnerable to military conflict, health emergencies and natural disasters. They are dual use and have steep entry barriers. They are also areas where India is still at the base of the ladder. Self reliance is not just a ‘feel good’ slogan. It is a survival imperative.
Crucial role of funding
A look at the booming start up ecosystem of Bengaluru is revelatory. There are 10-minute grocery delivery and new fintech unicorns popping up in every corner. But where is India’s answer to ARM, NVIDIA, or Hawkeye 360? The answer is plain and simple. It does not exist. And it will not till such time as there is a dedicated pool of funds to tap into.
In the United States, Israel and North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries, government is still the largest source of funds for Deep Tech — a cutting-edge, quantum jump in capability that creates an intellectual property moat. Billions of dollars of funding flow in through agencies such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Directorate of Defense Research and Development and the Defence and Security Accelerator, much of which becomes the oxygen that small businesses survive on.
This has allowed start ups to emerge as a bridge between the IEEE publications or bench top prototypes of academia and production-hungry large industry. In India, this bridge remains unbuilt.
The relevant question is why? The answer: it all boils down to money.
Globally, venture capital is cautious when it comes to Deep Tech. The Indian venture capital ecosystem is not even willing to discuss it. An Indian investor agreeing to fund a laser start up from an IIT Madras laboratory or a battery company out of IIT Mumbai still exists in the realm of the imagination. Not only do investors not understand Deep Tech but also investing in fundamental technology does not fit the 10-year fund return cycle because it takes much longer to mature.
Deep Technology is almost always dual use. For example, position navigation timing technology such as GPS is needed for Google Maps and Uber but is also an extremely important aspect for fighter jet navigation and missile systems.
While the western rhetoric is now beginning to shift towards increasing the military utility of commercially available technology, we need to be cognisant of the fact that strategic technology cannot become the burden of commercial industry alone.
Redirecting CSR and tax incentives
While the Government of India is changing with the launch of the Indian Semiconductor Mission and the Ministry of Defence’s flagship iDEX and TDF schemes, depending solely on an already stretched pool of funding is not the solution to galvanise the ecosystem.
There are two avenues to build a movement of patriotic capital.
CSR budgets: by some estimates, the annual CSR budget is ₹15,000 crore, of which a substantial portion goes unutilised. CSR has traditionally been utilised for the social sector. However, this growing corpus should also be used for the development of strategic technology. Large corporations can be incentivised to use some of this budget to serve the strategic needs of the nation. The Government should allow these funds to flow into certain strategic tech startups.
HNIs can also be offered tax incentives to make equity investment in the same critical technology startups which would otherwise be frowned upon as high-risk investments. This would help mitigate the pinch felt with lower short-term returns. The corpus of investment should be tax deductible and no more than a certain percentage of annual income.
To prevent a misuse of funds, it is important to create qualifying criteria. The pool of investable companies must be limited to Government of India-recognised start ups; startups should have funding or ‘acceptance of necessity’ granted from the Indian military/Ministry of Defence.
Staying the course
India will remain a net importer of critical technology in the foreseeable future. While the Prime Minister’s vision for an Atmanirbhar Bharat has created the right momentum, it will take close to a decade or more to fructify. If correctly aligned with the programmes launched by the Government, CSR funds and the right tax incentives to HNIs can create an almost self-fulfilling prophecy in the nascent Indian Deep Tech ecosystem.
The Prime Minister talks about his ambition for a developed India; an India that is a superpower. Investing in deep, critical technology is the first step for the country to awaken to that ambition.
4. Editorial-3: No time for placebo
India has to work harder on its image of having an independent drug regulator
India’s apex drug regulator, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), has barred Haryana-based Maiden Pharmaceuticals Limited from manufacturing medicinal drugs. This was after some of the cold-and-cough syrup it manufactured and exported to The Gambia were marked out by the World Health Organization (WHO) as being linked to the deaths of 66 children there. The concoctions were apparently contaminated with diethylene glycol (DEG) and ethylene glycol that may have caused acute kidney failure. The Indian government has said that a full report from WHO, establishing a clear, causal link is awaited. The Union Health Ministry has constituted a technical committee to advise the Government on its future course of action against the company. The provisions of India’s Drugs and Cosmetics Act, in theory, come down heavily on manufacturers for making adulterated drugs, and on gross violations of prescribed manufacturing practices with imprisonment up to 10 years and fines up to ₹10 lakh. These provisions have been rarely executed despite multiple instances of DEG poisoning in India. In 2020, cough syrup made by the Himachal Pradesh-based Digital Vision killed 13 children in Jammu and Himachal Pradesh; tests showed the presence of DEG. Other inspections by regulatory bodies found that Digital Vision had violated mandatory manufacturing practices that would have ensured drugs were not contaminated with DEG. However, there have been no successful prosecutions, because, as in other instances of adulteration, there is little sustained follow-up to prove to the courts that the products were directly responsible for the deaths.
Given that the deaths in The Gambia have evoked an international outcry — it was highlighted by WHO and India has a reputation as a major global supplier of drugs and vaccines — there will likely be greater scrutiny of India’s actions. Early responses from India’s health establishment have not been encouraging, with assurances that the drugs were only cleared for export to The Gambia and not for sale in India. In any case, this is disingenuous as Maiden Pharmaceuticals, whose products were banned in Kerala earlier and flagged for substandard quality in Tamil Nadu, has marketed the same formulation under different names, and there is no reason to assume that their domestic wares undergo a higher standard of production. In the global market of pharmaceuticals, the pandemic burnished the credentials of India’s vaccine manufacturers as vital to ensuring that the whole world accessed medicine equitably. To rise up the value chain, whether it be vaccines or drugs, India has to work harder at its image of having an impartial and independent regulator that can be trusted internationally as well as domestically.
5. Editorial-4: Smash hit
NASA’s DART gives hope that science can ward off extra-terrestrial threats
For the very first time, NASA scientists have succeeded in slightly altering the trajectory of an asteroid by using a spacecraft to slam into it. On September 27, 4.44 a.m. IST, a small spacecraft DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) was aimed at a 160-metre-wide asteroid Dimorphos, which was orbiting a larger asteroid Didymos, both of which were circling the sun, 11.2 million kilometres from the earth. Since neither body would have come closer than about 6.4 million km of the earth in their lifetime, they did not pose any threat. However, DART was a test mission to see if this technique, known as kinetic impactor, would give the necessary ‘nudge’ to an asteroid and alter its course by a desired amount. After studying the two bodies for nearly 10 days, NASA announced that the course of the smaller asteroid has indeed been altered a little: initially, the orbit of Dimorphos around Didymos took 11 hours and 55 minutes. After the impact, a 32-minute alteration in its orbital period has taken place — it is now 11 hours and 23 minutes only. The reason for this test is to learn how to use the kinetic impactor technique to ‘nudge’ earth-bound asteroids out of the way, years before impact. This is not a last-minute effort. A word of caution: all asteroids are not similar, so more tests have to be done to perfect this technique.
The U.S. is not alone in attempting this. China has a plan to deflect a 40 m wide, earth-crossing asteroid named 2020PN1 by 2026. There is a need to develop this technique because an impact with even a small asteroid can have serious consequences. The Chicxulub crater is a reminder of the impact of a 10 km wide large asteroid that fell on the earth 66 million years ago and wiped out nearly 75% of plant and animal life. An impact with an asteroid even about 100 m wide can destroy a city the size of Chennai. The other question is whether this technique can be used to deflect asteroids bearing rich bounties of minerals and moving them to closer locations from where these can be harvested. No country has made this an explicit aim till now. This first move by NASA to alter the course of a celestial body is a perfect theme for fiction and film; most recently, the film “Don’t Look Up” dealt with this theme directly. However, there are many more threats to life on earth, climate change being the most imminent and definite. It is to be hoped that this demonstration of the power of engineering and science can be extrapolated to ‘kick-start’ a move to avoid the drastic impact of such disasters too.