The Interconnection Between Agriculture and Nutrition

India is an agronomic country. A large variety of crops are grown here, and each year we export a lot of crops worldwide. Even though there is a massive production of large crops, there is a lack of planned agricultural practices. India currently faces the triple burden of malnutrition, which includes an undernourished population deficient in several crucial micronutrients and obesity.

The Food and Agriculture Organization [1] (FAO), states that “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”.  There is an urgent need to transform the global food systems [2] to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targeted to be accomplished by 2030.

It is also important we connect back to the roots of   crops growing in the country to combat these problems. Agriculture and nutrition security are connected [3] in several ways. Agriculture shapes the food intake, the availability, accessibility, affordability, stability and acceptability of any food. 

When we look at nutrition security, it is important that the population has access to food that is nutritious and sufficient in calories as well as micronutrients. Thus, it is essential we work to create a healthy population. The majority of schemes related to food distribution in India have always focused on meeting the caloric requirement and fulfilling the needs of food security. After food security[4] is met, it is essential there is a critical focus on nutrition security. This means planning reformed agricultural practices growing foods that are nutritionally dense, are sustainable to grow and benefit the population consuming it. 

Capitalisation and urbanization have caused a shift in dietary practices all around the world. India now is growing several crops that are less nutritionally dense as compared to the crops grown two decades ago. 

Because of marked demands in agriculture and requirements of certain popular crops, there has been a rapid decline in the growth of nutritious food. A lot of indigenous crop varieties which are very nutritious have been stopped cultivating because of less consumer awareness and selection. 

THE AFTERMATH OF THE GREEN REVOLUTION

The green revolution in India was a major step towards the agricultural development of the country, which converted India from being a food-deficit country to a self-sufficient country in terms of food production. Green revolution majorly focused on hybrid rice production, which was high yielding and would increase food production. The system technology was improved for better agricultural outputs, but it has not been managed well. Green revolution has led to overuse of fertilizers, groundwater depletion, soil-erosion, water-logging and use of unsustainable methods in agriculture like cessation of crop rotation practice and following monoculture [5] in crop production which has also led to the loss of many of our native varieties of rice and wheat. Hence, it can be said that although the green revolution has led to monetary gains and food production for availability to all, but it has also rendered the soil infertile which can cause major issues related to food and nutrition security in future if these practices remain the same.   

CROP DIVERSIFICATION FOR DIETARY DIVERSITY

With climate favouring the diversification in crop production, promotion of diversity with importance given to millets, pulses, fruits, vegetables and oilseeds other than the staples are required to ensure sustainable and climate-resistant agriculture.

Diversity [6] in the production of crops will take care of the nutritional insufficiencies and also will promote sustainable agriculture. But all said about the diversification of crops it should be noted that awareness and marketing of the diverse crops among people are also very important to ensure high-value for production and improved farm returns because people are conditioned towards the staples like rice and wheat hence communicating to them the importance and benefits of crop diversification is important. 

MILLETS TO THE RESCUE

Recently, the UN general assembly has decided that the year 2023 will be declared as the International Year of Millets [7]. Millets are extremely rich in micronutrients and environment friendly crops having the capacity to manage the long-standing problem of climate change, poverty and food-nutrition insecurity. They are hardy crops capable of withstanding extreme climate variations. They have a low carbon footprint thus helping in managing the climate crisis. The Indian government has been showing an increasing interest in millet production and promotion since the launch of the Millet mission in 2018 under the Nation Food Security Mission. But still millets do face several economic and market demand barriers, unjust pricing. There is a need to prioritize the production and promotion of millets given its potential in boosting food and nutritional security and restoring natural ecosystems in India. Millets could play a vital role in achieving India’s sustainable development goals if policies supporting the production, promotion of millets and incentivizing the farmers are initiated and implemented. 

THE NEED FOR REFORMS

There is a need for a proper link in agriculture and nutrition in India to grow better yielding varieties sustainably which help in combating the problem of malnutrition and increase the nutrition security of the nation.

India also needs to reframe its food systems and transform them into a more sustainable and inclusive system, with a special focus on nutrition security. This would mean reworking the existing policies [8] and programmes across the food systems and converting them into more efficient ones.

The existing policies still follow the monoculture crop production method with a major focus on rice and wheat production to ensure food security in India. There is a need for strengthening our food system and collaboration of different sectors. This means engaging the health, environment, energy, sanitation and education sectors to produce higher-yielding varieties while subsequently supporting the labour work of farmers involved.

There is also a need to improve the livelihoods of those involved. This means protecting vulnerable farmers and encouraging sustainable ways of farming. It also needs reforms for empowering women so that income generation opportunities can be created while allowing them to grow crops for feeding themselves and their family better. There is a need to increase incentives to increase the availability and access to different resources for growing nutritious and safe foods through sustainable farming methods. Here, law strengthening means ensuring the protection for farmers and working to support their livelihood is essential. This means providing them minimum support price (MSP), access to irrigation facilities, a better high yielding variety of seeds, an improved distribution chain and better reforms for loans. The distribution chain needs to be severely regulated so that these farmers are not ruthlessly exploited by middlemen and farmers do not fall into debt. 

Thus, emphasis on capacity development, improved marketing of indigenous nutritious crops, emphasis on laws that encourage consumption of high nutritious varieties, better incentives and ensuring availability of resources to farmers, a fairly regulated distribution chain and collaboration between different structures sectors is essential. 

Thus, the agricultural nutrition link needs to be worked upon. Investment should also be made on the research and development of new products using these crops, which encourage a larger customer base to include them in their daily diet. This will increase diverse dietary diversity and subsequently promote nutrition security, which is essential for fighting the triple burden of malnutrition that India is currently facing. 

Therefore, policies and programmes focusing on and combining both nutrition and food and agricultural production are necessary. 

REFERENCES

  1. http://www.fao.org/nutrition/en/
  2. https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/how-indias-food-systems-must-respond-to-the-climate-crisis-7497410/
  3. https://www.echocommunity.org/en/resources/25b74a7d-d8c8-460f-922d-2b13ed68cb43
  4. https://www.usda.gov/topics/food-and-nutrition
  5. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fsufs.2021.644559/full
  6. https://www.croptrust.org/our-mission/crop-diversity-why-it-matters/
  7. https://www.livemint.com/opinion/online-views/millets-could-help-india-mitigate-malnutrition-and-climate-change-11630861353572.html
  8. https://archive.unu.edu/unupress/food/UNU01/cap_23.htm
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The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

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