While India has seen impressive economic growth in recent years, the country still struggles with widespread poverty and hunger. India’s poor population amounts to more than 300 million people, with almost 30 percent of India’s rural population living in poverty. The good news is, poverty has been on the decline in recent years. According to official government of India estimates, poverty declined from 37.2% in 2004-05 to 29.8% in 2009-10. Rural poverty declined by 8 percentage points from 41.8% to 33.8% and urban poverty by 4.8 percentage points from 25.7% to 20.9% over the same period (World Bank 2012).
India is home to 25 percent of the world’s hungry population. An estimated 43 per cent of children under the age of five years are malnourished (WFP 2012). India remains an important global agricultural player, despite the fact that agriculture’s share in the country’s economy is declining. It has the world’s largest area under cultivation for wheat, rice, and cotton, and is the world’s largest producer of milk, pulses, and spices (World Bank 2012). Nearly three-quarters of India’s households are dependent on rural incomes. Agricultural productivity in the country’s semi-arid tropical region is impeded by water shortages and recurrent drought, while environmental degradation and vulnerability to weather-related disasters pose challenges to the country as a whole.
Poor populations also face a lack of access to productive assets, financial resources, education, health care, and basic social services. The government has recently begun to focus on microenterprise development as a way to address these challenges, as well as initiatives to bring basic services to the rural poor. With the country’s population and economy continuing to grow, huge demands will be placed on critical infrastructure in the coming years. It is estimated that US$1 trillion will be needed to meet India’s infrastructure needs in the next five years (World Bank 2012).