India ranks at 102 among 117 economies as per the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2019. The socio-economic burden of malnutrition may get a lot heavier if we do not pay enough attention to this issue.
The first quarter of 2020 has ended, and we still are busy fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. But that does not mean we can afford to stop working towards the ambitious POSHAN Abhiyaan goal of a malnutrition free India by 2022.
One of the main factors which impacts nutrition is the lack of biodiversity in agriculture, which is blamed for homogeneous diets and limited access to food, leading to relentless malnutrition and hunger. We must therefore step up efforts to make agriculture more environmentally sustainable , and adapt various agricultural technologies which can result in positive, nutritional outcomes.However, this is not possible without adequate, appropriate resources to create more synergies in food technology, agriculture, biotechnology. This unification, particularly, in fostering Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) for improving the status of food security and nutrition, could improve the current situation. Despite the concerns of various environmental bodies, GMOs using genetic engineering not only contribute to the food and nutrition benefits, but also boost agricultural production besides reducing a post-harvest loss. Crop breeding is one of the most direct methods of enhancing nutrition through enhanced agricultural processes. Synchronized efforts must also should be made to promote conservation practices such as crop diversification, zero soil tillage and drip or sprinkler irrigation, which could prove immensely beneficial. In fact, growing more crops that rely less on nitrogen actually helps quick acclimatization, and thus helps resolve both malnutrition as well as hunger.
Livestock farming also advances nutrition both by raising production and consumption of high protein animal sources of food. Aquaculture farming could be an accessible, affordable option in someregions of the nation.
Improved productivity (along with good manufacturing practices) plays a significant role in the ability to feed growing population under erratic climatic conditions, generating more food and contributing to better household income. Improvement in production generally occurs through speedier growth in the yield with the assistance of some progressive technologies and accessibility of better input or diversification into high value agriculture (fisheries, livestock, fruits and vegetables). Therefore, upgrading agricultural operations regularly is a must if we are to eradicate under-nutrition and hunger.
Suitable agricultural methods not only help in increasing yields, but also safeguard and improve the environment while ensuring healthier food for all. Expansion in output helps in producing a variety of foods so that nutritional needs are met and maintained throughout the year, even as it supports increased family income.However, there is still a huge lack of Research & Development (R&D) to help connect agriculture with nutrition. We need to develop multiple interventions across agriculture and nutrition in order to create a food chain that reaches the needy and malnourished citizens of the country.
The first step is high level awareness across all levels. Health & Nutrition education should be made compulsory in schools across the country. We need to inform about the vital role of proper nutrition in our lives. They should be made aware of basic agricultural methods as well as what crops they can cultivate with respect to their land and geographical conditions. This is a gradualprocess and people may like to start with growing essentials of their choice for their regular use, which can easily be done in small kitchen gardens. It is high time the government addresses the issue of poverty and malnutrition by ensuring best agricultural practices across the country.
The author is a researcher in food technology at LPU. Views expressed here are personal.