“Ensuring food security requires political commitment”: MSSRF Chairperson at World Food Prize 2020 roundtable


A global panel on “Safe, Affordable, Nutritious Food Year-Round: Global Aspirations to Local Application for Nutrition” featured expert speakers who debated on the way in which food systems must deliver on multiple fronts to address nutrition gaps. Held on October 14, 2020 as part of the World Food Prize Annual Borlaug Dialogue, speakers at this roundtable included Mr Shawn Baker, USAID, Prof Jessica Fanzo, Johns Hopkins University, Dr Lawrence Haddad, GAIN, Prof Mario Herrero, CSIRO, Prof Prabhu Pingali, Cornell University, Dr Salma Sultana, Model Livestock Advancement Foundation and 2020 Borlaug Field Award Winner and Dr Madhura Swaminathan, Chairperson MSSRF.

The round-table emphasized that delivery of nutrition was non-negotiable and global needs must focus on national and subnational efforts to deliver local-level nutrition, with the most vulnerable at the core of policies to reduce under-nutrition. Panelists also looked at trade-offs between diets that must address these issues to fill significant and diverse nutrition gaps.

In her talk, Dr Madhura Swaminathan spoke of how we have to make choices. “The problems are global but the priorities for action on food security and nutrition differ depending on your location in the world. A disaggregated view is essential in setting priorities and the picture is different when viewed from the North and the South”, she said.  

She dwelt on the Indian and south Asian context where one in three adult women are malnourished while one in seven are over nourished. Among children below 24 months of age, less than 10 per cent are adequately fed. Also, the scale of food insecurity has become more visible during the pandemic. Narrating the response of the state of Kerala, the declaration of “No one would go hungry during the pandemic” was achieved through a combination of policies including:

  • delivery of rice and wheat rations to almost 98 per cent of the population
  • a grocery kit with 16 items including lentils, oil, spices to 95 per cent of households
  • rice plus 9 grocery items in lieu of school meals to all eligible school-going children
  • take-home supplementary food for young children with ICDS centres closed
  • cooked meals for migrant workers, and others stranded in the State


“We can ensure food security if there is political commitment”, she concluded emphasizing on affordability and the importance of cash and kind transfers for all to afford a healthy diet.

On the panel, Dr Fanzo said while governments have been off the hook when it comes to food systems they need to step up, and hold accountable those who misbehave in the food system “It has to happen now, or it will be never,” said Prof Herrero, while Dr Sultana called for structural changes. Dr Haddad said food systems transformation was going to require innovation, determination, communication and data. The 2020 World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue focused on four major vulnerabilities or “cracks” in food systems: Climate Change, Finance & Investment, Nutrition, and Equity & Access and threats and opportunities in strengthening food systems resilience.