Child Underweight, Land Productivity and Public Services: A District-Level Analysis for India

Child Underweight, Land Productivity and Public Services: A District-Level Analysis for India

Though India’s rank has improved in the Global Hunger Index, contributed largely by the fall in the underweight rates for children, concerns of high level of undernutrition in predominantly agricultural pockets remain. This study aims at linking child underweight rates to agricultural land productivity, a proxy for agricultural prosperity, and to the provisioning of public services, using district-level data..

The study estimates a three-stage least squares (3SLS) model with a log-linear specification. Unlike many earlier studies, the results indicate a possible positive relationship between agricultural land productivity and child underweight rates. It appears that the district-level analysis is able to capture aspects of agro-climatic conditions, agricultural development and its spillover effects, and public services delivery more effectively when compared to several studies based on household-level survey data.

The results clearly show the importance of public health provisioning in terms of vaccination, administration of oral rehydration salts when there is incidence of diarrhoea, government health facilities in rural areas, public provisioning of food, as also maternal health and women’s education. Though their elasticity was small, the variables were significant and it is clear that they may have a bigger impact on the deprived sections of the population.  For example, a 1 per cent increase in land productivity increases the percentage of nourished children below six years by about .08 per cent. Similarly, use of oral rehydration salts in diarrhoea incidence improves the underweight rate by about 0.08 per cent at the overall district level. In the parts of the country where underweight rates are high, the impact will be more and the overall magnitude of reduction would be high even if the elasticity is low. The study also shows, in an indirect way, the need for a convergence of agricultural development efforts that create on-farm and off-farm employment with public service delivery of health, sanitation and food. The policy implication is that the state governments should strive to achieve administrative convergence of both agricultural development and public provisioning, paying special attention to safe water supply.

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