It’s about food, nutrition and livelihood security 

#GS2 #Governance #Health  

Farmers’ cooperation, technological upgrading and favourable public policies can help India deal with the pandemic 

  • The current national lockdown to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the problems of food, nutrition and livelihood security confronting a large number of rural people, in particular, migrants to cities.   
  • While some measures have been announced, such as provision of additional rice or wheat, some pulses and oil free of cost, as well as ₹1,000 cash for the purchase of other essential commodities through the Public Distribution System (PDS), we need to understand the different dimensions of food security in a holistic manner in order to address this problem in its totality.  
  • The first is the availability of food in the market, and this is seen as a function of production.   
  • There is no room for complacency, as in the absence of demand, the lack of storage or value addition facilities, especially for perishable commodities, we do not yet know exactly what the impact of the current pandemic will be on the kharif sowing and food availability in the future.  

Widen the food basket 

  • Fortunately, the government, through the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and the PDS, has assured some additional food to every individual during this crisis.   
  • This should be further strengthened and the food basket widened by including millets, pulses and oil.   
  • Steps should also be taken to avoid hidden hunger caused by the deficiency of micronutrients in the diet.   
  • In light of the closure of schools and anganwadi centres, and the consequent disruptions in the provision of midday meals or other nutritional inputs, it is important to pay attention to the life cycle approach advocated in the NFSA, particularly the first thousand days in a child’s life, when the cognitive abilities of the child are shaped.  
  • The Amul model provides a good example from the dairy sector of improved incomes to milk producers through value addition.   
  • Women farmers are at the forefront of horticulture and special attention needs to be given to both their technological and economic empowerment during this crisis.  

Work under MGNREGA 

  • A pathway to livelihood security for small and marginal farmers and landless households, and women within them, is strengthening the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).   
  • The definition of a worker in MGNREGA has so far been applied only to unskilled, manual work, and not to skilled jobs in agriculture and allied activities.   
  • Given the lack of jobs and incomes during the COVID-19 crisis, it is imperative to expand the definition of work in MGNREGA to cover skilled work related to farmers and their farming activities.   
  • This is particularly important for women farmers and workers, who should not just be given tasks of carrying stones or digging mud.   
  • Apart from farming, they engage in a range of essential care tasks, including caring for children, the elderly and sick people.   
  • These tasks, often invisible, need to be recognised as work and supported with appropriate education, including on nutrition.  

Focus on non-food factors 

  • The lack of adequate clean water in particular has come to the fore in both rural areas and urban slums in the context of COVID-19, where one of the key measures for stopping transmission relates to frequent hand-washing.  
  • If we can ensure food availability, food access and food absorption, then we have a fairly robust system of food and nutrition security.   
  • It is very critical to highlight the linkages between agriculture, nutrition and health.   
  • While the PDS may be able to meet calorie needs, the inability to harvest, transport and market perishable fruits and vegetables at remunerative prices during the current crisis, has not just deprived farmers of incomes and livelihoods, but consumers too are deprived of micronutrients in their diets.   
  • Farmers making losses, and agriculture moving from being job-led to jobless, raise questions about the sustainability of the production cycle.  
  • India avoided what could have been a big famine in the 1960s through the help of technology and public policy, which actively worked with and supported farmers to achieve significant increases in yield.   

Through a combination of farmers’ cooperation, technological upgrading and favourable public policies in p

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