Experts root for agricultural diversity in India

New Delhi: Impressing upon the need for climate smart agriculture, experts from various sectors called for incentivising diversified agricultural practices for strengthening the nutrition basket in India.

The views were reflected during a panel discussion on the subject 'diversity in food systems for improved nutrition outcomes' in India, hosted by the newly founded Gates-funded Technical Assistance for Research in Agriculture and Nutrition (TARINA) in New Delhi. The discussion was foccused on leveraging food systems for improved nutrition.

The debate opened with Tata Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition (TCI), Director, Prabhu Pingali, introducing to TARINA, along with its goals and objectives.

Government veteran Dr Ashok Gulati argued that price incentives distort farmer incentives to produce non-staple crops. On the other hand, Suresh Pal, representative from CACP (Commission for Agricultural Costs & Process) said that price incentives and government investment have played a great role in improving the status of farmers.

Dr Pal added that vegetable production in India is demand-driven, rather than responsive to price changes. “There is an expectation that Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) will go into the food processing industry very soon,” he said.

Each panelist dwelled on the subjects that they found most important to the future of agricultural diversity in India and the problem of malnutrition. The topics discussed ranged from price incentives for crop production to opportunities for increased investment in post harvest management technologies, such as cold storage.

Dr Shobha Shetty from the World Bank emphasised that climate-smart agriculture is very important for the future of diversification. “We need to improve nutrition by also using our existing natural resource base,” he said.

Dr Shetty emphasised that only certain areas are suitable for horticulture or pulse production and thus research and investment should keep a keen eye to these kinds of distinctions. She mentioned that Punjab has less than 2 percent of land availability in India but produces a large percentage of grains, resulting in lowered water availability and thus further stress on farmers.

Dr Gulati proposed that the government should work on vegetable production in a cooperative system. “If milk can be directly sourced [from farmers], why not fruits and vegetables?” he said. He added that government investment is overly skewed towards cereal and grain crops and mentioned that fertilizer subsidies are distorting incentives for farmers. “We need direct income support to farmers, not price supports…does the government have the guts to do it?” he added.

Dr P K Joshi, Director- South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) stressed that food processing for export will be a very lucrative and beneficial field for farmers.

The discussion concluded with the indication that leading development professionals earnestly believe the government should focus on fruit and vegetable production and agricultural diversity within India, devising trade policy that meets shortages for products that are not inherently suited to India’s landscape.