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Congress, BJP agree to fight hunger: Swaminathan

By Our Special Correspondent

CHENNAI, FEB. 28. The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party have agreed to include in their election manifestos a firm commitment for ending poverty-induced nutritional deprivation in the country by August 15, 2007, M.S. Swaminathan, Chairman of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), said here today.

Addressing a media workshop on ``Science and Sustainable end to Hunger'' organised by the MSSRF and The Hindu Media Resource Centre on the occasion of National Science Day, he said a national food security summit earlier this month came out with a statement pointing to the need for concerted action for achieving a `hunger-free India' during the 60th anniversary of the Independence. An action plan designated `Agenda 2007 - Hunger Free India' was also evolved.

Prof. Swaminathan said India had the political commitment and economic and technological capaibility to achieve the goal. What it needed was political action to convert the commitment into concrete achievement. ``We wrote to the political parties asking them to do so. The Congress Party's leader, Dr. Manmohan Singh, and the BJP's president, Venkaiah Naidu, have replied agreeing to include the agenda in their manifestos for the forthcoming general elections.''

Hunger had a high political, social and economic cost for the nation, including loss of productivity. Achievement of food security, for all and forever, had three aspects: increasing farm production, improving access to food and ensuring that the food intake was absorbed in the body (by focussing on providing safe drinking water, sanitation and nutritious food for all). The summit statement called for introduction of a National Food Guarantee scheme to promote human capital development, and nutrition especially for pregnant women, children, the old, the infirm and the sick. Also every one should be able to get sustainable employment and livelihood opportunities, Prof. Swaminathan said.

N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu, said the magnitude of the problem of hunger stood out in India, as more than one-tenth of the population suffered food insecurity. A significant number in the population also consumed far less micronutrients than required, he added.

Scientists at the Foundation, Swarna S. Vepa and R. Rukmani, highlighted the focus on science and technology to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, including halving extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, reducing infant and maternal mortality and ensuring environmental sustainability.

They said the Foundation and the World Food Programme had together released Food Insecurity Atlases in respect of rural and urban India, and an atlas of the sustainability of food security in the country. It called for specific policy initiatives including formation of a Coalition for Sustainable Food Security in every State, to review concurrently issues relating to environmental, social and economic sustainability of the freedom from hunger movement.

Ms. Rukmani referred to specific initiatives taken by the MSSRF to improve food production and access to food, make farming operations sustainable and preserve biodiversity of specific regions using science, technology as well as traditional means.

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