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Insights into Editorial: India’s food basket must be enlarged

Insights into Editorial: India’s food basket must be enlarged



India is ranked 102 in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) out of 117 qualified countries. With the increase in prevalence of wasting (low weight for height) among children under five contributing the most to the country’s poor performance.

Hunger is defined by caloric deprivation; protein hunger; hidden hunger by deficiency of micronutrients.

Nearly 47 million or four out of 10 children in India do not meet their potential because of chronic undernutrition or stunting.

This leads to diminished learning capacity, increased chronic diseases, low birth-weight infants from malnourished parents.

The global nutrition report pegs 614 million women and more than half the women in India aged 15-49 as being anaemic.

Nutrition garden:

Recently, the Ministry of Human Resources Development brought out school ‘nutrition garden’ guidelines encouraging eco-club students to identify fruits and vegetables best suited to topography, soil and climate.

These gardens can give students lifelong social, numerical and presentation skills, care for living organisms and team work, besides being used in the noon-meal scheme.

Students also learn to cultivate fruits and vegetables in their homes and this could address micronutrient deficiencies.

All schools should set up kitchen gardens: Centre:

All schools have been asked to set up a kitchen garden and instructions to this effect have been issued by the Centre to all the states and union territories.

The Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) has issued guidelines for developing and maintaining kitchen gardens in all schools, both in urban and rural areas.

As per the guidelines, provision of seeds, saplings, organic manure, training and technical assistance under the scheme can be obtained by tying up with agencies like Krishi Vigyan Kendras, Department of Agriculture/Horticulture, Food and Nutrition Board, state agriculture universities and forest department.

Moreover, activities like construction of boundary wall and levelling of land for the kitchen garden can be taken up under the MGNREGA scheme.

The exercise is aimed at improving nutrition in schools, inculcating habits among children in an era of rapid urbanization and mounting environmental issues.

It also seeks to develop among children the skill of growing own vegetables and fruits in schools and homes.

The guidelines lay emphasis on a perception that kitchen garden which is being referred to as a school nutrition garden can be set up anywhere, even in a school in a crowded urban area.

Agrobiodiversity Challenges:

  • Out of 2,50,000 globally identified plant species, about 7,000 have historically been used in human diets.
  • Today, only 30 crops form the basis of the world’s agriculture and just three species of maize, rice and wheat supply more than half the world’s daily calories.

Scope for Agrobiodiversity: Agrobiodiversity helps nutrition-sensitive farming and bio-fortified foods:

  • Genetic diversity of crops, livestock and their wild relatives, are fundamental to improve crop varieties and livestock breeds.
  • We would not have thousands of crop varieties and animal breeds without the rich genetic pool.
  • India is a centre of origin of rice, brinjal, citrus, banana, cucumber species.
  • Relating to diversity of crops and varieties is crucial in food security, nutrition, health and essential in agricultural landscapes.
  • Our promising genetic resources include rice from Tamil Nadu (Konamani), Assam (Agni bora) and Kerala (Pokkali), Bhalia Wheat and mushroom (Guchhi) from Himachal Pradesh and rich farm animal native breeds: cattle (42), buffaloes (15), goat (34), sheep (43) and chicken (19).
  • For instance, moringa (drumstick) has micro nutrients and sweet potato is rich in Vitamin A. There are varieties of pearl millet and sorghum rich in iron and zinc.
  • Across the world, 37 sites are designated as Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS), of which three are Indian: Kashmir (saffron), Koraput (traditional agriculture) and Kuttanad (below sea-level farming).
  • In India, over 811 cultivated plants and 902 of their wild relatives have been documented.

Development goals:

The UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 advocates for Zero Hunger and the Aichi Biodiversity Target focuses on countries conserving genetic diversity of plants, farm livestock and wild relatives.

It emphasises that countries develop strategies and action plans to halt biodiversity loss and reduce direct pressure on biodiversity.

What are the biggest challenges and Areas for Improvement?

Some of the biggest challenges to achieving SDG#8 come from external factors. Two of these are climate change and conflict.

Global warming has led to an increase in extreme weather occurrences such as droughts, floods and hurricanes which have destroyed crops and pushed up food prices in some of the poorest countries in Africa, South Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Food insecurity is made worse by conflicts which weaken the capacity of governments and institutions to deal with problems.

According to the 2018 Global Report on Food Crises, conflict is the main current driver of food insecurity, with Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, South Sudan and Syria among the countries worst affected.

This highlights how SDGs cannot be tackled in isolation. Achieving success with SDG#2 is to an extent reliant on the success of SDG#13 (climate action) and SDG#16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).

Ecologically Sensitive Farming and Agriculture:

The Centre for Biodiversity Policy and Law (CEBPOL), a policy advocacy unit of the National Biodiversity Authority, came out with recommendations to increase India’s agrobiodiversity in 2019.

  • It suggested promotion of the bio-village concept of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) for ecologically sensitive farming;
  • Conserving crop wild relatives of cereals, millets, oilseeds, fibres, forages, fruits and nuts, vegetables, spices etc. for crop genetic diversity healthier food;
  • Providing incentives for farmers cultivating native landrace varieties and those conserving indigenous breeds of livestock and poultry varieties.
  • The recommendations also include encouraging community seed banks in each agro-climatic zone so that regional biotic properties are saved and used by new generation farmers.
  • Preparing an agrobiodiversity index, documenting traditional practices through People’s Biodiversity Registers, identifying Biodiversity Heritage Sites under provisions of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002.
  • Strengthening Biodiversity Management Committees to conserve agrobiodiversity and traditional knowledge.
  • Developing a national level invasive alien species policy is required to identify pathways, mapping, monitoring, managing, controlling and eradicating the invasive species and prioritising problematic species based on risk assessment studies.


Loss of crop genetic resources is mainly a result of adopting new crop varieties without conserving traditional varieties.

Similarly, there are concerns on high output breeds for production of meat, milk and egg. The consumption pattern and culinary diversity must be enlarged to increase India’s food basket.

There is a need for a comprehensive policy on ‘ecological agriculture’ to enhance native pest and pollinator population providing ecosystem services for the agricultural landscape.

To conserve indigenous crop, livestock and poultry breeds, it is recommended to mainstream biodiversity into agricultural policies, schemes, programmes and projects to achieve India’s food and nutrition security and minimise genetic erosion.