Sowing better to eat better

Synopsis: Understanding the new challenges plaguing the agricultural system and remedies needed. 

Introduction 

The health of a country’s agri-food systems determine the health of its people.

Findings from the first round of the 5th “National Family Health Survey” suggest that nutrition related indicators have worsened in most States. The survey covers 17 States and five Union Territories, which comprise 54% of India’s population. 

On the similar issue “Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey” (2016-18) has also highlighted the role of micro-nutrient malnutrition. 

Addressing the complex problem of malnutrition means India shall need a resilient agri-food system.

What is the current scenario of agriculture in India? 

India produces sufficient food, feed and fibre to sustain about 18% of the world’s population (as of 2020). 

Agriculture contributes about 16.5% to India’s GDP and employs 42.3% of the workforce (2019-20). 

What are the new challenges that have emerged in the agri-food system? 

COVID-19- This has increased hunger and nutrition deficiency problem in India owing to loss of jobs and logistical issues. 

Climate change- India’s bio-security remains vulnerable to disasters and extreme events. 

Agricultural technologies- the outdated and obsolete technology needs a change in order to improve productivity and minimise agri-losses. 

What is the way forward?/What kind of agri-systems we need?

In light of the ongoing hunger and malnutrition challenges and the added impact of climate events on agri-food system, we need a “sustainable agri-food system”. 

A sustainable agri-food system is one in which a variety of sufficient, nutritious and safe foods are made available at an affordable price to everyone, and nobody remains hungry or suffers from malnutrition. Under such a system, less food is wasted, and the food supply chain is more resilient to shocks. 

The agri-food system should not only enhance farm incomes but also ensure dietary diversity by sowing safe and nutritious food crop. 

It needs to be reoriented to minimise cost on the environment and the climate.

Different combinations of integrated crop-livestock- forestry-fishery systems can help farmers produce a variety of products in the same area, at the same time or in rotation. 

Post-harvest losses needs to be minimized. 

Safety net programmes should be more nutrition sensitive. Women’s empowerment, enforcement of standards and regulations,  

Awareness regarding water, sanitation and hygiene, nutrition education. 

Effective use of digital technology. 

What steps have been taken in this regard? 

FAO in collaboration with NITI Aayog and the Ministry of Agriculture convened a national Dialogue for the transition to a more sustainable agri-food systems by 2030 and thereby enhancing farmers’ income and achieving nutritional security. 

Additionally, FAO has been engaged with the Indian government for mainstreaming agrobiodiversity, greening agriculture, promoting nutrition-sensitive agriculture and strengthening national food security. 

Source: This post is based on the article “Sowing better to eat better” published in The Hindu on 14th October 2021. 

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