Launching a nutri-farm movement

Tags: Op-ed
Launching a nutri-farm movement
AP
MEAGRE MORSEL: A high proportion of marginal farm families as well as landless labour families suffer from under-nutrition, because of inadequate income
According to the 2011 census, farm families constitute the majority of India’s population. A high proportion of marginal farm families as well as landless labour families suffer from under-nutrition, because of inadequate income. Thus, we have to deal with three kinds of hunger if we are to achieve food and nutrition security for all.

First, we have to help farm families overcome under-nutrition as a result of calorie deprivation. This can be achieved through the National Food Security Bill which is now before Parliament. Secondly, protein hunger is becoming serious due to the inadequate consumption of pulses and milk (in the case of vegetarians) and eggs, fish and meat (in the case of non-vegetarians). Thirdly, there is widespread hidden hunger, caused by the deficiency of micro-nutrients such as iron, iodine, zinc, Vitamin A, Vitamin B12, among others in the diet.

The nutri-farm initiative suggested by me to the finance minister and for which a provision of Rs 200 crore has been provided in the budget of 2013-14, is designed to give concurrent attention to the three major problems mentioned above. About 100 high malnutrition burden districts have been selected for starting this project during kharif, this year. Since neither ICAR nor agricultural universities seem to be involved in this exercise, I suggest that in each of the 100 districts chosen, a technical advisory committee (TAC) may be constituted, consisting of appropriate experts in agronomy, agro-meteorology, farming systems design and nutrition. Nutrition experts from home science colleges will be helpful in identifying major nutritional maladies prevailing in the area.

The TAC may also suggest how to achieve convergence and synergy among ongoing programmes like the National Food Security and Horticulture Missions, Mahila Kisan Shas­haktikaran Pariyojana and Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana. Such convergence will be very helpful in maximising the benefits and impact of all these programmes.

For ensuring the success of the nutri-farm programme, a nutritional literacy movement needs to be launched in the chosen districts. For this purpose, it will be useful to request panchayats to nominate one woman and one man to be trained as community hunger fighters who will familiarise the village community with the nutritional maladies prevailing in the area. Thus, they will enable farm families to overcome nutritional maladies through the appropriate introduction of agricultural remedies in the prevailing farming system. Agricultural interventions will include the introduction of naturally occurring biofortified crops and varieties, such as Moringa, sweet potato and maize, as well as genetically developed varieties such as iron-rich bajra and zinc rich jowar. In addition, the cultivation and consumption of pulses will be extremely important to fight protein hunger. The development and spread of a farming system for nutrition (FSN) programme through nutri-farms will help to mainstream nutritional parameters in the design of farming system programmes.

Thus, the following steps are needed to implement the nutri-farm programme effectively: (a) Survey and identify the major nutritional problems in the area; such a survey should be engendered, since women suffer more from iron-deficiency anemia. (b) Study the on-going cropping and farming systems (that is, crop-livestock integration) in the area and identify and introduce agricultural interventions, such as the cultivation of biofortified crops and varieties, which will help to address the nutritional deficiencies prevailing among women, children and men. (c) Develop impact assessment criteria for assessing the role of agricultural remedies in combating the nutritional maladies prevailing in the area. (d) Launch a nutritional literacy programme in the area through gram sabhas and panchayats and create a cadre of community hunger fighters who can help to bring about convergence and synergy among various social protection measures against hunger.

Grassroot democratic institutions such as panchayats are not being adequately used for developing cooperative action in villages in the areas of soil conservation, water and pest management and land use planning. It is in this context that the example set by the Edaiyapatti panchayat of Tamil Nadu, which has converted itself into a pulses panchayat is worthy of emulation. Pudukottai district, which is one of the driest regions in Tamil Nadu receives an average rainfall of 922.8 mm. Climatic variation resulting in erratic monsoon behaviour has affected agriculture dearly, especially dry land agriculture in the region. As a result, pulse cultivation in the district has shrunk drastically by 30 per cent over the past decade. The decline in the pulse cultivation is affecting adversely the health of particularly of children and women.

To help our nation to become self-reliant in pulse production, the people of Edaiyapatti panchayat have passed a resolution and vowed to put maximum available land (about 200 ha) into pulse production. There are 10 villages in this panchayat consisting of 342 families out of which 133 families are dalits (some of them own small land holding). This pulses panchayat is assisting farmers to improve pulse productivity and profitability through soil and water conservation, participatory variety selection, introduction and demonstration of innovative technologies.

(M S Swaminathan is an agricultural scientist who led India’s green revolution )

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