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To end hunger, we must make smarter use of land and sea

Homeless people gather at a feeding programme in Hyderabad. Credit: Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images

A recent issue of National Geographic (February 2018) raises the question of who will feed China. We have to ask a similar question about India. The answer lies in the integration of ecological principles, technological advancement and information sharing.

Nutrition security comes under the following categories.

Inadequate dietary calories

Wheat, rice, millet, and other food crops are available. The development and implementation of an effective distribution system is essential.

Protein hunger

Protein hunger can be overcome through the greater production and consumption of pulses. Indian farmers have shown that they can produce much larger quantities of pulses provided there is a certain and remunerative market. Poultry, milk, and fish also provide necessary protein. We are fortunate to be the world’s largest producer of milk. We have a large programme of inland and coastal fisheries, along with aquaculture infrastructure.

Micronutrient deficiency

A dietary shortage of micronutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin B12, iron, and iodine could be eased through growing biofortified crops like sweet potato and moringa. Genetic gardens should be established in order to introduce farmers to crops which are rich in badly needed micronutrients. A national grid of genetic gardens of biofortified crops will make a major contribution to overcoming hidden hunger.

The three forms of hunger can be addressed through appropriate farming systems. The Farming Systems for Nutrition (FSN) initiative involves agricultural solutions for nutritional problems. Agriculture, nutrition and health are currently being dealt with separately, and FSN helps to integrate the three.

Our aim should be to achieve the second of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development goals: ‘End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture”. To achieve this, we must pay attention both to sustainable agriculture and to farming systems for nutrition.

Sustainable agriculture involves increased productivity without ecological harm. To make the transition from a green to ever-green revolution, we need to attend to the following.

1 . Soil health, paying attention to the physics, chemistry and microbiology of soil.

2 . Better management of ground water, surface water, rain water, coastal water resources, and water recovered through waste recycling.

Price volatility

A farmer dries harvested rice from a paddy field at Burha Mayong village in Morigaon, Assam. Credit: Biju Boro/AFP/Getty Images

Instead of adhoc steps to appease consumers, we should find a permanent solution. One method is the promotion of peri-urban horticulture, making use of considerable areas of available land, within cities and on their fringes. A movement to encourage cultivation on rooftops and vacant land with essential food crops, such as tomato, onion, and chilli. This will confer a double advantage; price stability and nutrition security.

Seawater farming for coastal area prosperity

India’s 8,000 km coastline offers a great opportunity for seawater farming, as practiced in the Kuttanad region of Kerala. Both crops and fisheries can be included in a seawater agroforestry system. India should become a world leader in demonstrating how seawater can be used to cultivate crops. The M S Swaminathan Research Foundation is a hub for the technologies for seawater and below-sea level farming, and will undertake training and capacity building in this area. A genetic garden of halophytes, including mangroves, has been established for this purpose.

National year of millets

The Indian government has declared 2018 as the National Year of Millets. Tamil Nadu are leaders in the cultivation of millet crops like samai, thinai, kezhvaragu, panivaragu, kambu and several other minor millets. Kolli Hills has a rich germplasm of such grains. It would be useful to establish a millet biovalley for the conservation of varieties, along with small production industry for a wide range of processed millets, like breakfast cereals.

Empowerment of women in agriculture

I made proposals to the Rajya Sabha legislation regarding the technological empowerment of women in agriculture. Several features of this legislation could be incorporated in a Tamil Nadu Act for the empowerment of women in farming. Tamil Nadu will become a leader in promoting gender equity in agriculture.

Animal husbandry and fisheries

Kisan credit cards should be given not only to those cultivating crops, but also promoting the cultivation of poultry and marine and inland fisheries. Animal husbandry such as rearing of goat, sheep and poultry products can give substantial addition income to farmers. These can also augment the income of fisher families during seasons when catching fish is prohibited in order to promote regeneration.

Rice biopark

This will show farmers how to increase their income through biomass utilisation, creating value-added products from the rice straw, husk, brawn and grain. Similar bioparks can be organised for pulses. This will help the farmers to derive income and employment from every part of biomass.

Adaptation to climate change

It is important to set up many more climate risk management R&D centres. Such centres should be supported by trained Climate Risk Managers, a man and woman from each panchayat.

Climate change could lead to catastrophe, and there is need for immediate steps in the areas of mitigation and adaptation. Training manuals are available with MSSRF which can be used as a tool for an education programme.

Establishment of farm schools

Farmer-to-farmer learning through farm schools should be established in the fields of outstanding farmers, to spread agrciultural knowledge and skill.

Another urgent requirement is greater investment in research on these ‘orphan crops’, so that the yield potential is substantially enhanced. Both higher yield and assured marketing will increase the attractiveness of these crops to small farmers.

There is presently a mismatch between production and post-harvest technologies which leads to losses for both producers and consumers. In this part of the cycle, food processing industries are urgently needed. The 2018-19 budget provides substantial support to food safety and food processing. Value-added products will have to be prepared in order to promote greater investment in post-harvest technology. Cold storage and cold chains are needed. The recent potato crisis in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar could have been avoided had there been cold storage available in the Punjab’s Haryana region.

The author is the founder and chairman, M S Swaminathan Research Foundation.

[Nature India Special Issue: Grand Challenges]



  1. Swaminathan, M. S. From Green to Evergreen Revolution, Indian Agriculture : Performance and Challenges. Academic Foundation, New Delhi. 410 pp (2010)

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  2. Swaminathan, M. S. 50 years of Green Revolution : An Anthology of Research Papers. World Scientific, Singapore, 465 pp. (2017)

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