June 9, 2015
Biraj Swain, co-director of Global Call to Action against Poverty, set the ball rolling by acquainting us with ‘Chatham House rules’, which essentially encourages a free discussion among the participants, minus the fear of attribution. The state of Indian agriculture is in dire straits, while agricultural production has stagnated, the population has increased, which has led to a decrease in per capita availability of food grains. We have more hungry people than the whole of Sub Sahara put together.
The South Asian dilemma of malnutrition despite economic growth has puzzled experts for years. With more than 1/3 of its citizens living on less than $1.25 a day, India must improve productivity, enhance livelihoods, provide education towards improving food utilization, diversification of agriculture, recognition of women’s role and universal access to sanitation and clean drinking water. The idea is to head for a triple win, increasing production while adapting agriculture to meet the challenge of climate change.
Possible solutions include expanding the Public Distribution System to include high value commodities like pulses and oil with higher nutrient content. The lack of micro nutrients in the diet can be partially addressed by biofortification, for example the government of India is planning to import bananas fortified with iron and potassium.
Ms. Swain also touched upon the lack of concern by the government over its construction workers dying in the oil rich state of Qatar, which is practically building its infrastructure from the scratch to host the Football world cup in 2022. Finally, towards the end of the lecture, the class was divided into three groups, which made presentations on few aspects of Indian agriculture of their choosing.
The post lunch session was a talk with veteran journalist, Latha Jishnu, who talked about food sovereignty. The grim reality of modern life is that we are increasingly becoming ignorant about what we eat and drink. The fact that MNC’s like Monsanto control large share of the seed and fertilizer market means loss of traditional seeds and sustainable agriculture. The government is yet to learn from its mistakes from the first green revolution as it continues to blatantly promote intensive farming methods that require large doses of pesticides and other chemicals, which degrade the soil in the long run.
The day ended with a talk by Amit Khurana from Food Safety & Toxins Department CSE. With the recent controversy about Maggi noodles, everyone was eager to understand the root of the problem. The Indian food safety programme is only a few years old, and as such depends largely upon voluntary compliance on part of the manufacturers. While Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) does conduct tests occasionally but due to severe shortage of manpower, it cannot perform its job optimally. Mr. Khurana also highlighted the need to establish food safety norms for Indian street food, which is lacking at the moment.
– Gawa Norboo