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Government Of India Special Service and Features
(17-July, 2014 13:39 IST )
MILLETS: The nutrient rich counterparts of wheat and rice
Dr Santosh Jain Passi, Ms Akanksha Jain




Solving food challenges with more research -M.S. SWAMINATHAN

Solving Food Challenges with More Research

Linking agricultural and nutritional outcomes is crucial

The world’s population is booming. According to estimates, the global population is likely to exceed 9 billion by 2050, with 5 billion people in Asia alone. The capacity to produce enough quality food is falling behind human numbers. Food production in the region must keep pace, even as environment sustainability and economic development are ensured. The answer to these challenges lies in research for sustainable development. As the second goal of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals says: “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.”
Investing in research
India’s fivefold increase in grain production over the past 50 years is largely the result of strong scientific research that has focussed on high-yielding crop varieties, better agronomic practices, and pro-farmer policies. However, India continues to face challenges such as food insecurity and malnutrition, particularly in rural areas.
Providing the world’s growing urban population with safe and healthy food requires both a rural and a peri-urban agricultural movement — a huge challenge, but also an opportunity for ingenuity. Integrating agricultural production, nutrition, and health is emerging as a key focal point throughout Asia, with policymakers shifting their attention to the role of biodiversity and the power of local farming systems to improve nutritional status.
There is considerable potential in targeting underused crops such as millets, pulses, and vegetables as a sustainable means of increasing agricultural production and improving nutrition and health in high-need areas. In one project, researchers tested the sustainable use of traditional crops, vegetables, and fruit trees, as well as greater livestock diversity, to increase income and improve food and nutrition security in rural India. This project demonstrated that in three Indian “agro-biodiversity hotspots”, home gardens could provide households with up to 135 kg of legumes, vegetables, tubers, leafy greens, and gourds per year — more than double the amount of vegetables they were buying in local markets. These crops add value to existing farming systems by providing an additional source of income and/or more nutritious food for the family. The Food Security Act of 2013 was welcome, as was the inclusion of millets in the Public Distribution System as millets are superior to common grains in many ways and are also climate-resilient. Bio-fortification is also important in overcoming hidden hunger caused by micronutrient deficiencies such as iron, iodine, zinc, vitamin A, and vitamin B12.
Empowering women
Studies show that women make up nearly half of agricultural labourers, yet they carry out approximately 70% of all farm work. Women are among the most disadvantaged because they are typically employed as marginal workers, occupying low-skilled jobs such as sowing and weeding. Our research shows that empowering women is one of the best ways to improve nutrition. Research needs to continue focussing on the needs of women farmers to ensure that they are the direct recipients of development impacts, such as access to markets and income, to improve theirs and their children’s access to adequate and diversified diets.
Most importantly, it is crucial to continue to identify issues and seek evidence-based solutions through research. Building on the momentum of recent efforts by the government to improve understanding of India’s nutritional situation, there is considerable potential in building partnerships to extend the reach of research for development and to improve the connections between agricultural and nutritional research with extension services and policy. Taking a multisectoral approach that links agricultural and nutritional outcomes will help India sustainably grow, feed its people, and maintain the agricultural sector over the coming decades.
India’s research community is poised to be a leader in meeting new food challenges by increasing food quantity and quality to improve food security and nutrition. The world needs to tap into India’s research excellence to experiment, innovate, share knowledge, and scale up effective solutions.
M.S. Swaminathan is the founder of the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, and Jean Lebel is the President of Canada’s International Development Research Centre




Green ministry reissues GM mustard FAQs 

Anti-GM groups argue conflict of interest in Harsh Vardhan's appointment as he holds S&T portfolio

After withdrawing it for a few days, the ministry of environment and forests has brought back its ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ (and Answers) list on genetically modified (GM) mustard. These say that safety of should be assessed case by case, and that those in the international markets have passed all safety tests. 

These FAQs were withdrawn hours after it was issued, days after the (GEAC) under the ministry recommended approval be given for commercial cultivation. The reason given was spelling and grammatical mistakes (the name of the main applicant for was mispelt).

The FAQs were brought back as a new environment minister, Harsh Vardhan, till now only minister for science & technology and earth sciences, took charge on Monday, following the demise of Anil Madhav Dave. Vardhan has to now decide on the GEAC recommendation.

Anti-GM crop activists asked that Vardhan exercise "supreme objectivity" on decisions regarding the matter, claiming it was "unacceptable conflict of interest" that he also held the science and technology portfolio.

In a letter to Vardhan, they claimed that according to some who were close to Dave, the latter was not in favour of approving and was in fact considering resigning as an alternative. They asked Vardhan to reject GM mustard, claiming it was a "hazardous scientific fraud being perpetuated on the nation, with taxpayer funds. This is simply unacceptable". 

The letter was from a 'Sarson Satyagraha', describing itself as a broad platform of hundreds of organisations representing farmers, scientists and others.

The body said that it would like to see "lasting, farmer-controlled, farmer-friendly solutions", rather than "hazardous, irreversible and uncontrollable" technologies, deployed in an "unscientific and unaccountable" manner.

Their letter hoped that as a medical doctor, Vardhan would understand the risks involved in a herbicide tolerant Genetically Modified Organism entering the food and farming systems.

"Over the past several months, we have meticulously analysed and showed scientific evidence on the falsehoods related to claims, both of its benefits and safety," added the letter.

23 MAY 2017


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