An opportunity to recast India’s food system

Context- This article discusses the importance of reasonable economic returns and resilient
environmental system in ensuring food security in India. It also suggests solutions to reform
India’s food systems.
What is the interconnectedness of nutrition, livelihoods and environment?

  • Nutrition security can only be achieved sustainably if the producers producing the food
    make reasonable economic returns that are resilient over time.
  • This resilience is intricately linked with the resilience of our natural ecosystem because
    the largest inputs to agriculture — soil, water and climatic conditions — are all natural
  • Acknowledging this interconnectedness of nutrition security with livelihood and
    environmental security is essential to making our food system truly sustainable.
    What is the status of nutrition security in India?
    India faces a double burden of malnutrition:
  • At one end, a sizable proportion of Indians exhibit nutrient deficiencies.
    As in the National Family Health Survey, 2019-21, 35% of children are stunted, and 57% of
    women and 25% of men are anaemic.
  • At the other end, due to imbalanced diets and sedentary lifestyles, 24% of adult
    women and 23% of adult men are now obese.
    What are the challenges of food production in India?
  • Non-remunerative agriculture: On the production side, farm incomes are insufficient to
    meet the ends of marginal and small farmers. According to a report, more than 68% of
    marginal farmers supplement their incomes with non-farm activities.
  • Depletion of natural resources and changing climate are making India’s food production
    highly vulnerable.
    As in the 2023 soil health survey, almost half the cultivable land in India has become deficient in
    organic carbon. In States such as Punjab, more than 75% blocks are over-exploited.
    What should be done?
    We need an approach that engages all 3 sides of the food system: consumers, producers, and
  • First, consumer demand needs to be shifted towards healthy and sustainable diets. For
    e.g., Locally-grown millets.
  • Civil society and the health community could partner with social media influencers who
    can shape healthier and sustainable consumption for millions.
  • The public sector, through the Public Distribution System, mid-day meals, railways
    catering, etc., can help improve what Indians are consuming.
  • Second, to ensure resilient incomes, farmers’ transition towards remunerative and
    regenerative agricultural practices should be supported. For e.g., National Mission on
    Natural Farming.
  • We need to broaden and scale up such initiatives to various agro-ecological practices
    such as agroforestry, conservation agriculture, and precision farming.
  • Agriculture support should move from input subsidies to direct cash support to farmers
    per hectare of cultivation to promote efficient use of inputs.
  • Agricultural research should earmark budgets to focus on sustainable agricultural
  • Third, shifting of farm-to-fork value chains towards more sustainable and inclusive ones.
  • Enabling more value addition of agricultural produce in rural areas to enhance rural
    (farm) incomes.
  • Corporations supplying raw and processed food to consumers should prioritise direct
    procurement and incentivise sustainably harvested produce.
  • Enabling trading of produce between FPOs is another way, as shown by FPOs in Odisha.