India's challenge to fight malnutrition

The latest World Bank Report on India, “Undernourished children - a call for reform and action,” finds the number of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world. The report says approximately 60 million children are underweight in India.

According to the NSSO report one out of three women in India are underweight. The RBI Annual Report 2006-07, finds the per capita availability of food grains in India has fallen to the levels prevailing during 1970s. As per World Bank report 50 per cent of Indians still live on less than $ 1.25 a day.

The question is why hunger is prevalent when the nature has blessed India with 20 agro ecological regions and 60 sub-regions to produce the widest variety of food grains, fruits and vegetables in the world? Besides, the country has the largest diversities of livestocks in the world with 26 breeds of cattle, 40 of sheep, 20 of goats and 18 of poultry. All the world’s eight buffalo breeds are found in India. India produces 11 per cent of the world’s vegetables and 15 per cent of fruits. Nearly 10.78 per cent of flora of the world are found in India.

Political will

With so much of food back up India can easily fight malnutrition and hunger. The point is whether we have the political will to do so. In spite of Supreme Court’s ruling disallowing conversion of fertile agriculture land into non agriculture purposes, thousands of hactares of productive land with forward and backward linkage has been converted into concrete jungle.

State governments earn 40 per cent of their revenue from the stamp duty used for the sale of land. Interestingly the farmers’ agitation in UP is not to protect the agriculture land but to give higher compensation to farmers. This will lure farmers to sall their agriculture land. In the last 10 years the cost of farmland near urban centres has increased 30 to 40 times.

Unprecedented weather due to climate change, growing input cost, growing influence of middlemen in the supply chain, lack of basic amenities in villages, erosion of ethnic culture and societal behaviour change for urban life etc are mainly responsible for villagers shifting to urban centres. According to NSSO report 40 per cent farmers want to give up farming provided they have other option.

Twenty years back there were miles long green paddy fields on both sides of the National high way No 5 connecting Bhubaneswar to Balesore district of Orissa. Today more than 70 per cent of those fertile land has been converted into concrete structures.

It has happened to thousands of hectares of productive land near Pune, New Delhi, Lucknow, Chandigarh and to many other Indian cities. From time to time state governments double or triple the price of those land for easy revenue gain.

In the past, green revolution in Punjab though had increased the productivity it had overlooked agriculture sustainability. Today its underground water resources are depleted due to overuse of pumps. Central Ground Water Board survey finds India is overusing ground water reserves by 30 per cent. Use of weedicide and unrestricted use of spurious seeds and pesticides has destroyed hundreds of edible herbs and shrubs across the country.

Lack of original thinking in agriculture sector is a big drawback. There has been no district-wise authentic biodiversity map in the country. Over the years India has lost huge genetic knowledge on plants and animal species which have been smuggled out to western labs for research. The basumati rice of Orissa was once famous for its exotic taste and aroma. Today gin corruption due to shortsighted biotech innovation has seriously affected the quality of many indigenous foodgrains.

In Kashmir the nomadic Gujjar and Bakriwala communities have lost at least a dozen rare indigenous species of sheep, goats and horses.The research and planning process with mono sectoral focus is the main reason why many indigenous species have disappeared. The National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) has identified a number of exotic pests and diseases which have entered the country and seriously threaten India’s bio safety.

Bio experts suggest there is a need for a law on the lines of US Bio terrorism law which will ensure a strict quarantine check on imported plant species and seeds. According to NBPGR report, the incidents of pests like peronospore manchuria of soyabean from USA was not known to India. This is high time for India to clearly distinguish global traps for its own survival.

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