Agro-forestry plays a crucial role in nutritional security. Nutritional hunger is a silent emergency that goes unnoticed and hampers the development of individuals in their critical stages. Gujarat forests and environment secretary SK Nanda spoke to HT on a range of issues. Excerpts:
What role can agro-forestry play in food security?
Each village may or may not have forests nearby. If they have forest all that area should have a component for agro-forestry to have species such as kaju, jamun, drumsticks, custard apple, guava, mango, amla, and blackberry or small berry to name a few. These species, other than providing a source of livelihood for the local population as per the provisions of the Forests Rights Act, will also supplement rather than fill the gap of nutritional deficiency. It will give diet that is reachable, accessible and available to all. Similarly, an area which does not have forest should encourage community forestry.
Can you give us an idea about how widespread is the prevalence of micronutrient malnutrition (MNM) in India and some other countries of the world?
India is home to 40% of the world’s malnourished population and many suffer from dietary and micronutrient deficiencies. Nearly 79% of kids below five years of age are anaemic. This could be more due to prevalence of malaria parasite and worm infection, which compound the problem of iron deficiency. In case of adolescent girls, the rate is as high as 72%. It is estimated that annually 22,000 people, mostly pregnant women, die due to acute anaemia. Vitamin-A deficiency also takes a toll on 3,33,000 kids every year, while around 20,000 children are born with Neural Tube Defects (NTD) due to folic acid deficiency.
The most crucial area in the whole process of fortification is the role of monitoring and evaluation. Absence of regulation can wreak havoc in the process of fortification. Please elaborate on steps that need to be taken?
When we had taken up oil fortification through millers, producers and refineries, each one of them had set up a small lab to monitor the presence or absence of fortification to comply with the Food and Drug Rules, which allowed them to add vitamin and minerals to any food product as specified on the sachet or packet. Same was true for all the major as well as medium millers where while milling wheat into flour they were to find out the quality of fortification elements iron and folic acid. All this was done on a voluntary mode. As a matter of law, report of compliance at the district and state level is needed for rigorous implementation.
In a country like India, which is ridden by vitamin deficiency, how can fortification of food help save health expenses? Can you elaborate with specific examples in Gujarat?
It has been seen that half of child deaths could be due to malnutrition, while 25% of maternal death is due to the same fact, leading to poor resistance, increased infection and high risk factors for low-weight birth rate babies. Hospital expenditure on treatment would be unendingly high and over 30 to 35% of the income is compulsorily spent on treatment, which does not attack the problem but only addresses the disease for the time being. There is no doubt that health expenses can be brought to zero level if proper dietary fortification is practised and implemented.