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20th October 2023 (10 Topics)

An opportunity to recast India’s food system


Recently, the world has celebrated as World Food Day, 2023 has highlighted that the importance of Food System. In India, the immense population presents a dual challenge of both malnutrition and insufficient farm incomes, which are closely linked to environmental issues.

About Food System –

  • A food system encompasses all the processes, activities, and resources involved in the production, distribution, consumption, and disposal of food.
    • It includes the entire journey of food from farm to table and beyond, covering aspects such as farming, processing, transportation, marketing, and waste management.

Significance of Food system

  • Food Security: A well-functioning food system is essential for providing a stable and reliable food supply, ensuring that people have access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food.
  • Nutrition: It influences the availability and accessibility of diverse and healthy food options, which directly impacts the nutritional well-being of a population.
  • Economic Growth: The food system is a significant contributor to the economy, providing livelihoods for millions of people. Efficient food systems can stimulate economic growth and reduce poverty.
  • Environmental Impact: Food systems have a substantial environmental footprint. Their sustainability is crucial for mitigating the impact of agriculture on climate change, land use, and water resources.
  • Health Outcomes: A well-functioning food system can positively influence public health by making healthier food choices more accessible and affordable.
  • Social Equity: It plays a role in social equity by ensuring that all members of society have access to food, regardless of their economic status or geographic location.
  • Cultural and Traditional Values: Food systems are deeply linked to cultural and traditional values. Preserving and promoting these values is essential for maintaining cultural diversity.
  • Innovation and Technology: Food systems often drive innovation in agriculture, processing, and distribution, which can improve productivity and reduce waste.

Issues in India’s food System

  • Malnutrition: India faces a complex nutritional challenge characterized by two coexisting issues.
    • Despite significant progress, a substantial portion of the population still grapples with nutrient deficiencies.

According to the National Family Health Survey 2019-21, around 35% of children suffer from stunted growth, and 57% of women and 25% of men experience anemia.

    • In parallel, unbalanced diets and sedentary lifestyles have driven a surge in obesity, affecting 24% of adult women and 23% of adult men.
    • Initiatives, including a nationwide anti-malnutrition campaign led by the Prime Minister, have been launched to address this issue.
  • Farm Income: Farmers, particularly those with marginal and small-scale land holdings, face the challenge of insufficient incomes.
    • According to a report from the Transforming Rural India Foundation, more than 68% of marginal farmers rely on non-farm activities to supplement their earnings.
    • Excessive dependence on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and casual labor signifies restricted opportunities and a deficiency of skills for diversifying their income sources.
  • Environment Security: India's food production is becoming more susceptible to risk due to the depletion of natural resources and shifting climate patterns.
    • The 2023 soil health survey presents a worrisome scenario, highlighting that nearly 50% of India's arable land is experiencing a shortage of organic carbon, a crucial indicator of soil health.
    • Groundwater, the primary source of irrigation, is rapidly diminishing, especially in states like Punjab, where more than 75% of groundwater assessment areas are being excessively exploited. This situation poses a threat to the economic resilience of farmers.

Way Ahead

  • Changing Consumer Preferences for Healthier Diets:
    • The process begins with a shift in consumer preferences towards more nutritious and eco-friendly diets.
      • The private sector plays a critical role in influencing what people choose to eat. Lessons learned from promoting the consumption of imported food items can be applied to locally-grown millets.
  • Collaborative efforts involving civil society, health advocates, and social media influencers can encourage people to make healthier and sustainable dietary choices.
  • Additionally, government initiatives like the Public Distribution System and mid-day meal programs can significantly impact the dietary preferences of a significant part of the population.
  • Supporting Farmers' Transition to Sustainable Farming:
  • Ensuring that farmers have stable incomes requires supporting their shift to profitable and environmentally-friendly agricultural practices.
    • Programs like the National Mission on Natural Farming are steps in the right direction, but funding for sustainable agriculture remains insufficient, making up less than 1% of the agricultural budget.
  • Expanding and broadening such programs to include practices like agroforestry, conservation agriculture, and precision farming is essential.
  • Shifting from providing input subsidies to offering direct financial support per hectare of cultivated land can encourage efficient input use and create an equal footing for agroecological practices.
  • A portion of agricultural research and extension service budgets should be allocated to sustainable farming methods.
  • Promoting Sustainable and Inclusive Agricultural Value Chains:
    • Boosting rural incomes depends on increasing the value addition of agricultural products within rural areas.
      • Companies and intermediaries should focus on directly sourcing from farmers and encouraging the sustainable harvesting of crops.
      • Enterprises like DeHaat and Ninjacart, among others, facilitate direct connections between farmers and buyers.
      • Additionally, facilitating the trade of produce among Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) ensures that farmers receive a fair share of the value, as demonstrated by select FPOs in Odisha.

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