India’s transformation of its food system from a highly deficit one to a self-reliant and marginally surplus one is a story of success and holds lessons for many smallholder economies of the world. Having lived in a hand-to-mouth situation, India has emerged as the largest producer of milk, spices, cotton and pulses; second-largest producer of wheat, rice, fruits and vegetables; third largest producer of eggs; and the fifth largest producer of poultry meat. It is also the largest exporter of rice, spices and meat. All this became possible with the infusion of new technologies, innovative institutional engineering, and the right incentives.
Despite this progress, as per reports by various international organizations, including the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report, India retained the dubious distinction of being the country with the largest population of food-insecure people even before the onset of Covid-19 in early 2020. In fact, as per the estimates of several United Nations organizations, the prevalence of food insecurity had increased by 3.8% points in India during the five years just before the onset of Covid-19, and 62 million more people were living with food insecurity than they were five years back.
No data is available of the havoc created by the two waves of Covid-19, which swept India. What is certain, though, is millions of mouths that were getting fed began starving for food as food supply chains were disrupted, jobs were lost and economies collapsed the world over.
In the recently held Food Systems Summit in New York, which the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres convened, ways and means to empower all people to leverage the power of food systems to drive our recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and get us back on track to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 were discussed. The Summit was banking on five action tracks to achieve the desired objectives. These include ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all; Shift to sustainable consumption patterns; Boost nature-positive production; Advance equitable livelihoods; and Build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stress.
Unfortunately, though India retained the dubious distinction of being the country with the largest population of food-insecure people, this prevalence of food insecurity has only increased during the five years before the onset of Covid-19, serious talk of sustainable agriculture and food security is yet to begin.
Sustainable Agriculture and India towards Total Food Security
Considering the dire necessity of the times and need to set the ball rolling not just for serious discussions but moving towards taking concrete measures, the World Food Trust is organizing a seminar on the most important topic for the nation - ‘Sustainable Agriculture and India towards Total Food Security’ in New Delhi, where serious discussions will be carried out by representatives of the various relevant departments connected with the Central and some State Governments as well as academicians and representatives from the private sector.
Speaking of the seminar, Aziz Haider, head of Communications at the World Food Trust, informs, “Prevalence of undernourishment and moderate and severe food insecurity are globally-accepted indicators of progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Serious conversation on this most important subject is arguably yet to begin in India. Covid-19 has thrashed all the calculations and targets that we might have made before it. The need of the hour today is not just to assess the problem areas but to move towards finding a result-oriented approach towards crisis mitigation post-Covid and to lead India towards achieving SDGs before 2030. Through the seminar ‘Sustainable Agriculture and India towards Total Food Security’, we hope to arrive at a concrete approach towards achieving the desired targets.”
As India looks towards 2030 and beyond to achieve “zero hunger”, its food system faces many challenges ranging from increasing pressure on natural resources (soil, water, air, forests) to climate change, to fragmented landholdings, increasing urbanization and high rates of malnutrition amongst children. To meet these challenges successfully, India needs the right mix of policies – from subsidy-driven to investment-driven, and from price policy to income policy approach, promoting agricultural diversification towards more nutritious food. It also needs to incentivize its private sector to build efficient and inclusive value chains, giving importance to environmental sustainability. More innovative technologies, increasing digitalization, and artificial intelligence would be needed to ‘produce more from less’ to feed the would-be most populous nation on this planet.
During the day-long seminar, the Department of Agriculture of the States of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka and the Meghalaya Basin Development Authority will share their own experiences and steps taken towards the development of Sustainable Agriculture reducing food insecurity. According to the organizers, senior representatives of institutions like FSSAI, NAFED, NABARD, NIFTEM, BIS, IRCTC, National RainFed Area Authority, ICAR-Indian Institute of Horticultural Research, INDCOSERVE, industry experts, academicians, and representatives from the private and public sectors are likely to join heads to discuss and culminate on a result-oriented approach to lead India towards achieving SDGs and total food security before 2030.
Haider adds, “The objective is also to generate significant action and progress towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainability in rural areas. The seminar hopes to succeed in identifying solutions, people and issuing a call for action at all levels of the agriculture, tourism, food system, including central and state governments, companies and citizens.”
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