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Nutritional insecurity is a big challenge for India: Peter Kenmore

Mar 05, 2014

Peter E Kenmore, Representative in India of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), spoke to OneWorld South Asia on the sidelines of DSDS-2014 in New Delhi. Excerpts from the interview.

Peter Kenmore

OneWorld South Asia: India has been successful in increasing food production but ensuring nutritional value remains a challenge. How challenging do you think is it for India to meet the nutritional challenge for its teeming billions?

Peter E Kenmore: I think it is one of the biggest challenges faced by India. The fact that approximately over 40 per cent of the children under the age of 5 are stunted is an absolutely unacceptable number.

In the national Food Security Act (FSA), there’s an allocation for the pregnant women which is a great part of it. I am happy that it’s in there but the big question is if it would be implemented in the right spirit. Let’s be honest that there are problems in the implementation, whether it’s the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) or the Public Distribution System (PDS).

Ideally, the food security safety net including the PDS system, the mid-day meal scheme and the ICDS should source their products that they turn into the food rations from within an area of 25-30 kilometers. This would help the marginal farmers in the local area who are most at risk of financial insecurity. If the marginal farmers have contracts to grow with a guaranteed price, it can solve both the problems related to procurement and farmer’s income.

OWSA: Do you think it is high time India takes a real look at the food mix available for its people?

Kenmore: I think it is already going on. I think, state by state, different food systems of the safety net systems are now looking at the right kind of composition.  There are some new schemes like the nutri-cereals programme in the 12th plan with the Ministry of Agriculture promoting nutri-cereals like Jowar, Bajra and Ragi.

OWSA: How can regional trade regulation ensure food security at the sub-national and national level?

Kenmore: I think it’s a great idea. Essentially, every state in India can supply enough between itself and the immediate neighboring state. According to India’s Agriculture Secretary, Ashish Bahuguna, a lot of food security issues in India are now under good management, in terms of actual food production.

It means, now we have to look at nutritional aspect and turn the calories and cereals into good nutrition, especially for the poorest people.

OWSA: According to statistics, 60 per cent of Indian water blocks are under severe crisis. Do you think that calls for an urgent implementation of enabling irrigational systems?

Kenmore: I think that means people need to seriously think about water sheds and where the water's coming from and where the water's going to. Water scarcity is an absolute top problem for India. There are people looking at it but we have to pull our efforts together not just nationally but state by state, district by district and block by block to search for the best possible solutions.

Practices like water harvesting which is prevalent in very dry areas like western Rajasthan in summers have to be considered now. We need to make efforts for empowering local farmers and local farmers groups so that on one hand they manage their water better and on the other they have a better leverage position with respect to the market.

OWSA: Post production waste undermines all efforts that go into raising food production. How do you look at it?

Kenmore: I think post harvest wastage is a big issue as it undermines a lot of other things. The losses are more as the Indian middle class is getting more than 300 million people and they are buying in from the supermarkets leading to enormous food wastage.

Nowadays, middle class families are eating out more often in restaurants. Since, the servings are often big, the food gets wasted. Losses in the system also happen due to many other reasons including transportation from farm to processing units and from distribution to sales.

OWSA: What should be the best way towards food security given the fact that by 2030 there would be a demand for 50 per cent more food?

Kenmore: We need to look at local solutions that doesn't mean even at district level but at the block and Gram Panchayat level. We can now use the connectedness of Web for exploring solutions related to water insecurity and searching markets for the produce.

One can also look forward to a tie up of cooperatives of farmers with cooperatives of consumers. The latter want to have safer food and high quality food while the farmers look for a justifiable price for their produce.

I think the district level research stations like the Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) should not be just be broadcasting the answers to the farmer queries but should also be doing research on the local problems which are within the nexus of land, water and energy.

There is a need of farmer field schools which exist in different states like Andhra Pradesh where farmers are doing their own experiments. Researchers at the district level stations could talk with farmer groups and do some of the work together in a farmer's field. Internet should be used for sharing ideas and solutions to all the stations in the country as this medium still remains an unexploited institutional potential. (Transcription: Isha Qureshi)

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