Can’t relax against hunger -Tajamul Haque

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published Published on Sep 8, 2015   modified Modified on Sep 8, 2015
-The Hindu Business Line

A valuable account of how holistic, small-farmer based agriculture can show the way

MS Swaminathan is well known as the key architect of India’s Green Revolution in the mid-1960s and an all-time crusader against hunger and food insecurity. His latest book, entitled Combating Hunger and Achieving Food Security, broadly shows the road map for a hunger-free and food-secure India. The book has 30 chapters, each suggesting some sweet nutri-pills, the use of which can effectively eliminate hunger and food insecurity.

The book beautifully analyses India’s journey from the Bengal Famine which resulted in the death of 1.5 to 3 million people during 1942-43 to present-day food self-sufficiency and right to food. The book also traces the genesis and growth of the yield revolution in wheat in the mid-1960s and explains how the Green Revolution became possible because of synergy between technology, public policy and farmers’ efforts.

Our agricultural heritage system also provided an opportunity to integrate traditional ecological prudence with modern technology. The food grain production in the country increased from about 51 million tonnes in 1950-51 to 89 million tonnes in 1964-65and 265 million tonnes in 2013-14.

Key challenges

However, there is no time to relax in the fight against hunger. About 269 million people in the country continue to be poor and food insecure. The rural landless households, marginal and small farmers, and urban slum dwellers are largely poor, food insecure and vulnerable. In addition, every fourth child born in India suffers from maternal and foetal under-nutrition. About 48 per cent of children below 5 are stunted and 43 per cent are underweight. These challenges can be met by way of evergreen revolution and improvement in productivity and incomes of marginal holdings, as well as the nutri-farm movement, nutrition-sensitive agriculture and effective social protection.

The book mentions several areas for farm revival which require urgent attention. First, we should ensure that soil health is not only conserved but improved continuously. Second, irrigation water security will have to be ensured through integrated attention to harnessing rainwater, river and other forms of surface water, ground water, treated waste water and sea water. Third, technology and inputs need to be tailored to the agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions under which farmers work. Fourth, farmers should receive appropriate credit and insurance support. Fifth, assured and remunerative marketing holds the key for economically viable agriculture. Finally, there is need to give the power and economy of scale to small holders by encouraging cooperatives, producer companies and other forms of group farming. Family farmers, if provided with appropriate technology, services and assured and remunerative markets can help achieve the zero hunger challenges.

Pressures of weather

In addition, due to global warming, extreme weather events like drought and floods are becoming more unpredictable and more frequent. Aside from providing immediate relief, there is need for building community seed banks where seeds of crops suitable to varying weather conditions, may be stored and used. Without such a monsoon or climate management strategy, it will be difficult to implement the right to food commitment on a sustained basis.

Moreover, ecological conservation, anticipatory research and action for checkmating the adverse impact of climate change, conservation of bio-diversity, overcoming hidden hunger through aquaculture and livestock revolution, improvement in farmers’ income, harnessing youth and women power, food price stabilisation and strengthening public good research through the establishment of translational research centres, green houses and growth chambers, would hold the key.

Swaminathan in this book also underlines the importance of the nutri-farm movement and nutrition-sensitive agriculture quite elaborately.

We need to deal with three kinds of hunger, if we are to achieve food and nutrition security for all. These are (i) under-nutrition due to calorie deprivation, (ii) protein hunger, and (iii) hidden hunger, caused by deficiency of micro nutrients such as iron, iodine, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin B12, etc in the diet. For ensuring the success of the nutria-farm programme, a nutrition literacy movement needs to be launched. Besides, a nutrition-sensitive farming system would involve the design and adoption of cropping and farming systems which can provide agricultural remedies to the prevailing nutritional maladies.

Social protection for farmers

The book clearly mentions that international food as well as prices remain volatile and hence a legal right to food in India can be sustained only with the help of homegrown food.

This implies that farmers in India would need more attention and assistance as well as effective social protection. An effective social protection will help rescue small and marginal farmers from poverty and hunger traps.

On the whole, the book will make interesting and useful reading for all those concerned with India’s food security, including our planners, policymakers, scientists, students and farm leaders. This is an excellent piece of work by an eminent scientist, based on his scientific knowledge, vision and social concerns.

The reviewer is a well known agricultural economist and a specialist in agricultural development and policy. He is currently the director of the Council for Social Development, New Delhi

The Hindu Business Line, 6 September, 2015,

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