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Transforming India’s Food Systems

  • 10 Sep 2021
  • 5 min read

Why in News

Sustainability of Food Systems is going to be crucial in the years to come due to climate change.

  • India also has to transform its food systems, which have to be inclusive and sustainable for higher farm incomes and nutrition security.
  • Earlier, the United Nation's report on the Food System, suggested that today's food systems are heavily afflicted by power imbalances and inequality, and do not work for most women.

Key Points

  • Food Systems:
    • According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), food systems encompass the entire range of actors involved in:
      • 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.
  • Challenges in India’s Food Systems:
    • Effect of Green Revolution:
      • Although there has been significant progress in the country’s agricultural development due to the Green Revolution, It has also led to water-logging, soil erosion, groundwater depletion and the unsustainability of agriculture.
    • Current Policies:
      • Current policies are still based on the deficit mindset of the 1960s. The procurement, subsidies and water policies are biased towards rice and wheat.
        • Three crops (rice, wheat and sugarcane) corner 75 to 80% of irrigated water.
    • Malnutrition:
      • The NFHS-5 shows that under-nutrition has not declined in many states even in 2019-20. Similarly, obesity is also rising.
      • The cost of the EAT-Lancet dietary recommendations for rural India ranges between USD 3 and USD 5 per person per day. In contrast, actual dietary intake is around USD 1 per person per day.
  • Steps Needed to Transform India’s Food Systems:
    • Crop Diversification:
      • Diversification of cropping patterns towards millets, pulses, oilseeds, horticulture is needed for more equal distribution of water, sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture.
    • Institutional Changes in Agri-Sector:
      • Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) should help get better prices for inputs and outputs for small holders.
        • E-Choupal is an example of technology benefiting small farmers.
      • Women’s empowerment is important particularly for raising incomes and nutrition.
        • Women’s cooperatives and groups like Kudumbashree in Kerala would be helpful.
    • Sustainable Food Systems:
      • Estimates show that the food sector emits around 30% of the world’s greenhouse gases.
      • Sustainability has to be achieved in production, value chains and consumption.
    • Health Infrastructure & Social Protection:
    • Non-Agriculture Sector:
      • The role of non-agriculture is equally important for sustainable food systems. Labour-intensive manufacturing and services can reduce pressure on agriculture as income from agriculture is not sufficient for small holders and informal workers.
      • Therefore strengthening rural Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) and food processing is part of the solution.

Way Forward

  • The UN Secretary-General will convene the Food Systems Summit in September 2021, which aims for a transformation of global food systems in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. It is a great opportunity to boost policies for achieving SDGs.
  • Science and technology are important drivers to achieve these goals. India should also aim for a food systems transformation, which can be inclusive and sustainable, ensure growing farm incomes and nutrition security.

Source: IE

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