How India’s food systems must respond to the climate crisis

Synopsis: India’s food system requires reforms, to make more sustainable and inclusive.


UN Secretary-General will soon convene the Food Systems Summit with an aim to transform the global food systems. The objective will be to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

There are five action tracks to achieve the objectives.

What are food systems?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), “food systems encompass the entire range of actors involved in the production, aggregation, processing, distribution, consumption and disposal of food products that originate from agriculture, forestry or fisheries, and parts of the broader economic, societal and natural environments in which they are embedded”.

What are the issues in food system in India?

After green revolution, India became a country self-sufficient in food, from the food deficit country. However, it resulted in the problems like water-logging, soil erosion, groundwater depletion and the unsustainability of agriculture.

India’s present policies have not changed much, focused primarily on 3 crops (rice, wheat and sugarcane). These crops are using 75 to 80 per cent of irrigated water.

Diversification of cropping patterns towards millets, pulses, oilseeds, horticulture is required for sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture.

At present India’s food system need improvements to make it inclusive and sustainable for higher farm incomes and nutrition security.

What are the suggestions to make food system inclusive?

Small Farmers: Small farmers require support like technological and institutional innovations. Farmer producer organizations (FPOs) can help small farmers to get better prices for inputs and outputs. Further technological innovation like ITC’s E-Choupal is an example of technology benefiting small farmers.

Women: Women’s cooperatives and groups like Kudumbashree in Kerala would be helpful. One of the successful examples of a value chain that helped small holders, women and consumers is Amul (Anand Milk Union Ltd) created by Verghese Kurien. Such innovations are needed in other activities of food systems.

Social protection: Inclusive food systems need strong social protection programs. India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, public distribution system (PDS), nutrition programs like ICDS, mid-day meal programs should be further strengthened. Non-staples like pulses and oils, and bio fortified cereals for better nutrition needs to be included in PDS.

What are the suggestions to make food system sustainable?

Climate resilient cropping: As present, food sector emits around 30 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. This questions the sustainability of the food system at a time, when world is trying to contain the impact of climate change.

Climate-resilient cropping patterns have to be promoted. Instead of giving input subsidies, cash transfers can be given for farmers for sustainable agriculture.

Non-agriculture solutions: Income from agriculture is not sufficient for smallholders and informal workers. Thus, Strengthening rural MSMEs and food processing can reduce pressure on agriculture.

Source: This post is based on the article “How India’s food systems must respond to the climate crisis”, published in Indian Express on 9th September 2021.

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