Population, Food And Health Of India


The shortage in food has necessitated rationing on a large scale, and the rations are not plentiful. As a result, malnutrition is common. Poor physique consequent on malnutrition is handicapped by yet inadequate sanitary and medical care, although the record of the two latter services has been considerable in reducing mortality. But the birth rate is not so easily amenable to control. India is now in what demographers call the swarming stage.


One of the urgent problems facing mankind to-day is the increasing population and the limited food resources of the world. It is said that the population is increasing at the rate of twenty million a year, and it is predicted that by the end of the century, the population which was a little over two thousand million before World War II will be about half as much again in the course of the next fifty years. We can readily appreciate that the world does not grow enough to feed its population adequately. Even such food as is grown is badly distributed: some areas grow in plenty and some badly, there is surplus in some places and chronic deficit in others.

It is estimated that even before World War Ii a good two-thirds of the worlds families did not have enough food during the day. To-day conditions must be much worse. It is no coincidence that it is in the East that most hungry families live. Speaking of India, her population has increased from 313,766,380 to 356,829,485 between 1941 and 1951, registering a mean rate of growth of 12.5 per cent. With so many more mouths to feed every year there has hardly been any corresponding increase in food production. Consequently the country has come to depend more and more on imported food because there is never enough to go round. Apart from food in the form of cereals and other grains it is unfortunate that India is being compelled to import even an article like milk.

The shortage in food has necessitated rationing on a large scale, and the rations are not plentiful. As a result, malnutrition is common. Poor physique consequent on malnutrition is handicapped by yet inadequate sanitary and medical care, although the record of the two latter services has been considerable in reducing mortality. But the birth rate is not so easily amenable to control. India is now in what demographers call the swarming stage.

FOOD RESOURCES.

It has been estimated that the more fortunate peoples of the world who constitute about a fifth of its population receive about 2,875 or more calories per person per day. Another 30 per cent. live at intermediate levels between 2,500 and 2,875 calories per adult, while the remaining 50 pr cent, or about a thousand million people, mostly in Asia and Africa receives less than 2,500 calories. A recent investigation carried out by the Nutrition Division of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations estimates that between 1938 and 1943 the worlds population has gone up by 8.3. per cent. but the figures for agricultural production (excepting Africa and the U.S.S.R., for which suitable data are not available) show in terms of nutrients a corresponding increase in available calories of only 0.7 per cent. and proteins of 1.4 per cent.

The aggregate daily supply of available calories has fallen from 2,390 per capita before World War Ii to 2,220 in 1948. The distribution of this output has gone more lop sided. Countries like the U.S.A. and Canada consume more calories per head now than before, while in other parts of the world, especially in the East, the increased population gets less calories a day than ten years ago. The last decade of course was abnormal. But it seems beyond resonable doubt that there has been a considerable decrease in the average amount of food available throughout the world. An all-India investigation of the average caloric intake in different economic levels would be very interesting; every thinking man now wonders how many calories a poor Indian would be getting to-day.

This brings up the questions of the potentiality of food resources in the world to-day. 150 years ago Malthus wrote that while agricultural production would at best increase in arithmetical progression, soon there would be a time when population would far outpace food production, with the result that population would be periodically decimated by natural calamities and war. He was a great pessimist and did not believe in keeping people healthy, and preferred to let people die. But death was a fairly quiet matter in the 18th century, but can be very noisy now when people are not willing to starve to death in quietness.

Malthuss theory was staved off during the next 150 years by the opening up of three new continents; the two Americas and Australia, which enormously improved food production, and advancements in science. But to-day we have explored the world rather thoroughly and practically all the space that there is to produce food. There is, of course, one channel still left open and whose potentialities we have not yet fully discovered, and that is the scientific field. During the last Science Congress in Calcutta, Professor J.B.S. Haldane said that the world might decide to augment its food resources by the production of synthetic food, the idea of which may be revolting to-day but can be acceptable tomorrow.

R N Chaudhuri