Manifestos & nutrition security

Most political parties have st­arted pr­eparing for the 2019 general election. Telangana has gone one step furt­her and has dissolved the assembly to facilitate elections. I would like to stress that the manifestos of parties for the 2019 election should contain a commitment for moving from food security to nutriti­on security. The Food Security Act of 2013 already makes a commitment in this regard. To those in charge of prepari­ng poll manifestos, I would like to explain how to achieve the transition from food to nutrition security. It is obvious that any promises made should be capable of implementation and should be affordable in terms of financial requirement.

Nutrition security involv­es three major components. First, is the consumption of adequate calories, which has been assured by the existing Food Security Act. Second, overcoming protein hunger by supplying pulses through the public distribution system. Fortunately, production of pulses has gone up and we can provide to all those who have been supported under the Food Security Act, pulses also. Third, we should overcome micronutrient defici­e­n­cies caused by the inadequ­ate provision in the diet of nutrients like iron, iodine, zi­nc, vitamin A and vitamin B12. A cost-effective manner of overcoming hidden hun­g­er is the establishment of genetic gardens of bio-fortified crops. By integrating agriculture, nutrition and health, we should be able to provide the needed nutrients in diet.

Today, micronutrient ma­l­n­utrition is a major cause of hunger. There are three met­h­ods of attacking this problem. First, is the production and consumption of bio-fortified crops like vitamin A rich sweet potato, moringa and amla. The second appr­o­a­ch is genetic modification of varieties grown to ensure that they are rich in micr­o­n­u­trients. A good examp­le is bajra (pearl millet varieties that are rich in iron) and rice varieties (rich in iron and vit­amin A). The third approach is chemical fortification. For example, good rice varieties are now being developed, wh­ich have been enriched with lysine, vitamin A, vitamin B12, iron, folic acid and zinc by K Ramu and his colleagues at Sundar Chemicals. More work of this kind is in progress in the country.

The Food Security Act if implemented effectively will help solve the problem of un­der-nutrition. Pulses produ­c­tion as well as other protein rich commodities like milk, vegetables and fruits, fish and meat can help overcome the challenge on protein ma­lnutrition. Hidden hunger can be solved by integrating agriculture and nutrition th­r­o­ugh a farming system for nutrition programme. Thus, we have an opportunity tod­ay to move from food to nutrition security at an affordable cost and at an early date.

The benefits of nutrition security are many. First, un­d­er-nutrition or malnutrition affects the cognitive abilities of child. There is also opportunity for producing the required micronutrient rich crops through a peri-urban horticulture revolution.

Urbanisation in India is gr­owing and the problem of food inflation largely rises fr­om the demand-supply gaps in urban areas. One way of stabilising vegetables and fr­u­its prices in urban areas is to promote peri-urban horticulture by providing the necessary technical and marketing support. Decentralised pr­oduction, as for example in Israel, could be supported by cooperative marketing. Urban and peri-urban ‘horticulture revolution’ could pa­ve the way for more stable pr­i­ces to consumer. At the sa­me time, we should ensure that the quality of food rem­a­ins high and free of pesticide residues and other unsafe ch­emicals. Organic far­m­ing should be promoted. Th­us, we can ensure stability of su­pply coupled with high quality and safe food, while also contributing to price stability.

Horticulture for nutrition security: Horticulture prod­u­ction has reached 307 million tonnes during this year thereby making us one of the largest producers of fruits, vegetables and flowers. A major problem in horticulture has been the deterioration in quality caused by inadequate cold storage and pr­ocessing facilities. The pr­ime minister’s goal of doubling farm income can easily be achieved by integrating ho­rticulture crops in the far­m­ing system. Also, we can aim to produce 500 million tonnes of fruits, vegetables and flowers in another 10 years if we can promote peri-urban horticulture.

In 1982, I had recomme­n­ded establishment of a Nat­i­onal Horticulture Board (NHB) on the model of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB). NHB is fu­n­c­tioning although not on the same lines as NDDB. Eno­ugh investment in post-harvest management and technology are lacking.

What is important is integrated attention to production, storage, processing and marketing on the one hand and improved consumption on the other. Our country is known for its problems of ma­lnutrition and hidden hu­nger caused by a lack of micronutrients in diet. The ho­r­ticulture revolution can he­lp us overcome this problem and convert the goal of moving away from food security to nutrition security. Conservation, cultivation using organic farming methods; consumption and commerce are all integral parts of the movement ‘horticulture for nutrition security’.

The advantage of followi­ng an agriculture pathway for ending malnutrition is al­so the opportunity for incre­a­sing farmers’ income. Thus, we have multiple advantages from enabling farmers to ma­instream nutritional crit­e­ria in their farming and cr­o­pping systems. I do hope that all political parties will make a commitment to include in their manifestos provision for nutrition security. Without such a commitment, it will be difficult to provide every child, woman and man an opportunity for a product­i­ve and healthy life. We sh­ould also encourage more research on the development of nutri-enriched crops. Ch­emical fortification need not be used unless there is no other way of making the grain rich in micronutrients.

Finally, we should pay attention to non-food factors of nutrition security like clean drinking water, sanitation & primary healthcare. India can be a world leader in ensuring malnutrition-free ch­i­l­dren, women and men by taking to the agricultural pa­thway of nutrition security.

 (The writer is founder chairman of the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation)

M S Swaminathan