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)