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Agri Politics Nutrition & Health

Better Agriculture and Better Nutrition are two sides of the same coin : Indian Nutritional security scenario

India has only 3% are world’s land resource and 5% of world’s water resource. Yet, India is second larger food producer in world and also second in production of fruits and vegetables. On the contrary, Indian Medical Council report 2015 said that 12 to 13% of population in India die due to non availability of nutritious food. And 25% of Indians go to bed without food. Why there is such discrepancy in India? Million tonnes of food is produced at one side and millions starve and die without food. The reasons might be clubbed under three broad classification, First, production of food crops that does not satisfy nutritional needs (nutrition non-availability), second, healthy foods are beyond purchasing power of poor (nutrition unaffordability) and the third, weak supply chain and failure of government interventions that still prevent disadvantaged section of their right to food and nutrition (nutritional inaccessibility).

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Optimal Infant & Young Child Feeding Practices: Better Child Health” is the Theme of National Nutritional Week 2017;  PC: Wikimedia commons


Diversifying Agriculture :

Our food production has reached the capacity to provide one third of our population with adequate food grains under National food security mission (NFSM). But to ensure nutritional security we have to focus on our existing agricultural methodologies. We have to shift in cropping pattern from cereal to nutrient based one. Like focusing on horticulture, coarse grains, pulses and millets.

National Horticulture Mission (NHM) is in place for integrated development of horticulture crops and farmers. Horticulture production has doubled over the years. The scale of NHM can be changed from production in tonnes to Kcal per capita consumption increase. Average Indian access is 2455 Kcal/day much below most of European countries, that is around 3000 Kcal/day. FAO and WHO recommends at least 400gm of fruits and vegetables per day for adults . Indians can’t even manage to get half of this daily target.

Government should focus on Horticulture. It should be promoted for domestic nutritional needs rather than sector of export importance. Ensuring availability of quality seeds, promotion of Integrated pest and disease management, Peri Urban vegetable farming, encouraging roof top gardens, community gardens to grow vegetables and utilizing school premises to raise vegetables and greens are small steps but have huge impact in nutritional security to ‘swelling’ population.

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Besides Horticulture, pulses so called as ‘treasure of nutrients’ and millets should also be included in cropping patterns. Recent increase of ‘Minimum Support Price’ for pulses and its inclusion in National Food Security Mission is a welcome note. Similarly, organic farming must be put forward as an alternative better farming practice reducing risk of chemical residues in food produce.

Path to Fortification :

So much concentration on food security has lead to nutrient insecurity. Food grains are available at affordable prices through public distribution systems (PDS). But people have to spend more money to purchase nutrient rich fruits and vegetables. So,affordability is an important factor in developing countries like India that keeps millions of poor out of nutrient security.

In this scenario, food fortification comes into the picture. Fortification simply means building up of nutrients. Bio-fortification is an interdisciplinary science that enriches breeding methods or genetic engineering. Well known example of fortification is ‘Iodized Salt’ which reduced magnanimity and severity of Goiter with minimum cost and benefited millions of people.

So, when fortified foods are distributed through state government through welfare systems, it can reach even the poorest of poor. Beta carotene rich sweet potato and cassava; Iron rich maize, rice, pearl millets are few bio-fortified crops available in India.

Besides, Department of Biotechnology, GoI through ‘Nutrition security of India’ project focus on bio-fortification of rice, wheat and maize along with ICAR Institutions and State Agriculture Universities. Institutions like M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) worked on high iron rich rice by extracting ferritin gene from mangrove. It does not stop with agriculture crops, protein rich transgenic potato varieties using AMAI gene from Amaranthus hypochondriacus is developed by NIPGR, New Delhi.

The main advantage of food fortification program is their cost effectiveness in delivery of nutrients (Affordability) and broad coverage (Availability). Focusing on challenges like bio-availability of fortified nutrients; safety checks; delay in clearances in release of fortified varieties for cultivation are also necessary.
Loss between farm to plate:

There is a certain quantity of food produce that is lost before reaching the consumer, it is termed as post harvest losses. This accounts for 20-30% of loss out of total production.

post harvest loss nutrition
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When 43% of Indian children under five years are underweight due to malnutrition, Post Harvest Management becomes a serious concern. Scientific supply chain management with increased government investment in cold storage and value addition technologies would narrow down the losses.

At the same time increased consumption preference over fat and sugar rich foods than recommended level is also a recent concern. CII reported in 2013 that Indians shifted from plant based protein to animal based protein and Indians are spending more on high value foods.This undesirable change in consumption pattern is also a serious threat to nutrient availability to well off sections of society.

The non availability of nutrition has direct link with poor quality of lives of people. It leads to loss in productivity of human resources. Indirectly, it leads to poor mental development, increase in health care cost, decreased schooling days. Despite 50% increase in GDP since 1991, more than one third of world’s malnourished live in India. The ‘demographic dividend’ is turning to ‘demographic liability’.

Article 47, of constitution of India provides that

Duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties“.

Various government schemes like Integrated Child Development Scheme; National food security mission; noon meal program; combating vitamin & Iron-folic acid deficiencies through tablets; awareness of about breastfeeding are set in right direction to improve the living standard through food and nutritional security.

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Despite that, India ranks 97 out of the world’s 118 hungriest countries  Global Hunger Index 2016 even behind some of its smaller South Asian counterparts like Nepal and Sri Lanka. Thus the efforts should be intensified with scientific intervention and public participation. For better human resources, better should be the food they eat. The better food should be nutritious, and it can be produced only through better agriculture.

Let’s pledge for better Agriculture, better Nutrition, and better Lives…