Feeding India’s hungry


India needs serious attention of policy makers, development officials, researchers and farmers in boosting land productivity and food production by using advanced technologies, and most importantly making nutritious food available and accessible to all, writes Prem Nath.

Agriculture was developed by human beings for their own benefit, in order to tame and utilise the natural resources for producing food. Although it started as a hit and miss process in its early stages, its success became a practice followed by tradition. With the passage of time the successful practices became more traditional and came to be defined as traditional farming. With the knowledge gained in biological and related sciences, agricultural sciences enhanced the quality and quantum of food production much needed by the growing human population.

Role of technology

While agriculture is the vehicle for food production, agriculture technology is the engine to propel and gear up the process and net result of production. The development and application of appropriate technology are essential for achieving higher production and quality. A view of the present scenario indicates that there has been unequal development and application of technology in the developing countries, and more so in developed countries, where these countries have developed superior and efficient agricultural technologies leading to higher production, many times more than what they can consume, leaving behind developing countries who are short of what they need for consumption. In developing countries, the lack of resources for investment in agriculture, and the gap in knowledge of efficient agricultural technologies are glaring. Application of improved technology will propel increased production thereby combating hunger and malnutrition among people. It is incumbent on each government to develop its national agriculture through efficient technology and feed its people.

At present we are discussing efficient and smart technology developed through advanced agricultural sciences for the benefit of farmers who can produce quality food in abundance. In order to harness the potential and refinement of agricultural sciences and to develop useful technology, certain essential ingredients are a must which embrace the area of education, research, technology development, application of technology, developmental steps in production and consumption.

In this context and process, two new dimensions have emerged because of socio-economic condition and migration. In the developing world, both the small and the large farmers have to be encouraged and their interests protected for better production and productivity. The unabated migration of people from rural to urban areas and their demand of livelihood is changing the face of rural and urban divide and forcing the traditional rural agriculture to accommodate new approaches of urban and peri-urban agriculture with its rising importance.

Emphasis on improving agricultural education

In the developing countries including India, there is tremendous scope for improving agricultural education which lays down the sound footing for efficient agriculture. There is great disparity between regions — some don’t have a single agricultural university whereas some others have many, but the quality in terms of both scientific and human resource development can do with improvement to be competitive in the present context of transactions of food worldwide.

Again in the developing world, the shortfall in both qualitative and quantitative agricultural products demands for emergency action on technology development and its application. For example, the production efficiency of vegetable crops in India, needs to be vastly improved to raise the productivity levels.

While the developed countries have advanced knowledge in farming technology, efforts continue to refine and advance it further, whereas the developing world is in the process of catching up. In this electronic age, why shouldn’t knowledge be shared and both the worlds catch up with each other to bridge the gap?

Whether it is breeding new varieties of crop or developing new crop management practices, plant protection measures or port-harvest handling technology or marketing; the latest technologies or practices should be utilised to harness maximum output in production. Sometimes biotechnological tools over traditional breeding could do better, whereas in other crops both the tools could be used profitably. The practice of GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) at the farmer’s level has ensured success in good harvests.

As diverse as they are, these challenges need to be addressed in time and appropriately by both, the public and private sectors at different levels, whether it is framing policy, development of technology and application, post-harvest handling or consumption. Various aspects of agriculture call for attention of those concerned to fulfill their commitment whether they are policy makers, researchers, professors, development officials or farmers.

Women’s contribution unrecognised

Do women really feed the world? On a global scale, women produce more than half of all the food that is grown. In sub- Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, they produce up to 80 percent of basic foodstuffs. In Asia, they provide from 50 to 90 percent of the labour for rice cultivation (Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 1998). Despite their contribution to agriculture and food security, their work is not recorded in statistics or mentioned in reports. As a result, their contribution is poorly understood and often underestimated. Outside the household, a great deal of rural women’s labour whether regular or seasonal- goes unpaid and is, therefore, rarely taken into account in official statistics (FAO, 1998). Rural women often lack education and opportunities to learn about new technologies.

Using natural resources wisely

In this context of agriculture, we cannot forget the contribution of natural resources which are essential ingredients as well as partners in the manufacture of food. These natural resources are plants, animals, and human beings on one side and earth, water, sun and air on other side which provide both base and medium for the production, reproduction and survival of the former group of resources. Further, human beings need plants and animals as sources of food and agriculture facilitates the production of food products.

We should underscore that none of the natural resources are in plenty and that we should ‘economise’ on each natural resource to build together the world’s livelihood. For example, water is utilised for different purposes. It seems, a strong competition exists among humans, plants and animals with regard to fresh water utilisation. We need to cut down our consumption and use water wisely. Statistics show that we use 2,029 gallons of water to produce one pound of hamburger, 468 gallons for one pound of chicken, 600 gallons for each pound of cheese, 72 gallons for one pound of apples, and only 16 gallons of water to produce one pound of tomatoes. Now it is for us to judge and decide what we like to produce and eat.

Poverty and food security

Today, more than a billion people are suffering from hunger and malnutrition in the world, out of which about 300 million live in India. For them food and nutrition security are priority areas which need to be addressed both by public and private sectors. In India alone about 42 percent of the children are malnourished. What would be the future of the country? Who is to be blamed, the government or the public? I think both are responsible. It is difficult to achieve food security when poverty prevails in the households. Among other factors, access to food remains a dominating force in the frame of food security, where economic accessibility plays an important role. People are hungry because they have no earnings which can be mitigated by providing employment to them. Therefore creating employment opportunities should be a priority.

At Rio+20 (United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development) held in June 2012 at Brazil, the emphasis was to build a green economy to achieve sustainable development and lift people out of poverty including support for developing countries that will allow them to find a green path for development and to improve international cooperation for sustainable development.

Today India needs serious attention of policy makers, development officials, researchers and farmers in boosting land productivity, food production, availability of nutritious food and most of all accessibility to food.


Prem Nath

The writer is the Chairman, Dr. P.N. Agricultural Science Foundation (PNASF), Bangalore. He is also the former assistant director general, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO-UN).