Opportunity to Recast India’s Food System

No country can better understand the challenges of a food system than India which feeds the largest population in the world. The primary goal of a food system is to ensure nutrition security to all, it can only be achieved sustainably if the producer producing the food make reasonable economic returns.

Challenges for India:

On the nutrition front, India faces a double burden of malnutrition. At one end, despite making great progress over the year, a sizeable population of India exhibit nutrient deficiencies.

As in the national family health survey 2019-2021, 35% 0f children are stunted and 57% of women and 25% of men are anaemic.

At the other end, due to imbalanced diet and sedentary lifestyle, 24% of adult women and 23% of men are now obese.

On the production side farm incomes are insufficient to meet the ends of marginal and small farmers. According to the report by transforming rural India foundation, more than 68% of marginal farmers supplement their income with non – farm activities.

Further depleting natural resources and changing climate are making India’s food production highly vulnerable.

As in the 2023 soil health survey, almost half of the cultivable land in India has become deficient in organic carbon, which is essential indicator of soil health.

Groundwater, the largest source of irrigation is rapidly declining.  In states such as Punjab more than 75% of the ground water assessment locations are over exploited.

Steps needed:

To solve these interconnected challenges, we need a triad approach that engages all three sides of the food system

  1. Consumer
  2. Producer
  3. middlemen

first consumer demand needs to be shifted towards healthy and sustainable diets. We need to shift a food plate that is healthier for people and planet.

The public sector through its innumerable touch points such as PDS, Midday meals, Railways catering, Urban canteen can help to improve what at least 70% of Indian are consuming. Even religious institutions can shape food choices for example the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam which serves nearly 70,000 people daily, has started to procure naturally from producer.

Second to ensure resilient income, we support farmers transition towards remunerative agricultural practices. We need to broaden and scale up initiatives such as Agro-forestry, conservation agriculture, precise farming etc.

Third shift farm to fork value chains toward more sustainable and inclusive ones. Middlemen such as corporations supplying raw and processed food to consumers should prioritise direct procurement from farmers. Various young agricultural enterprises such as Dehaat and Ninjacart are enabling such farms to buyer linkage.

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