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Food security act is necessary for sustainable development

india Updated: Feb 09, 2011 21:13 IST
MS Swaminathan

2010-20 has been declared as the decade of innovation. An essential pre-requisite for achieving the position of an innovation superpower is providing an opportunity to every newborn child to achieve his innate genetic potential for physical and mental development. Every fourth child in our country is characterised by low-birth weight due to under-nutrition. Nearly 45% of children below the age of 5 in the country are under-weight. To become an innovation superpower, we must adopt a whole-life cycle approach in our plans for food for all and for ever. We must not deceive ourselves into believing that by establishing 14 innovation universities, we will become an innovation superpower. Nutrition and education are the pathways to a happy country.

Food security at the level of each individual child, woman and man is the first requirement for a healthy and productive life. Jawaharlal Nehru had said in 1947, "everything else can wait, but not agriculture". These words are more relevant today than 65 years ago, since our population has grown from 300 to 1,200 million during this period.

The three major components of sustainable food security are availability of food in the market, which is a function of internal production and if necessary imports; access to food, which is a function of adequate purchasing power and absorption of food in the body, which is a function of clean drinking water, sanitation and primary healthcare.

The proposed National Food Security Act is being designed to ensure economic access to food through legal entitlement, while factors relating to production and absorption are proposed to be included as essential enabling provisions.

In industrialised countries, farming is a food or other commodity-producing machine, while in India, farming is the backbone of the livelihood security system for over 60% of the population.

In industrialised countries, less than 3% of the population is engaged in farming and may be called "farmer-consumers." However, in India, over 60% of the population belong to the " farmer-consumer" category.

Our 80% of the over 115 million farming families belong to the small (2 ha and less) and marginal (1 ha and less) categories. There is widespread malnutrition in the families of small and marginal farmers. Therefore, increasing the productivity, profitability and stability of small farms will make the largest contribution to overcoming hunger caused by inadequate purchasing power.

Some of the essential components of a National Food Security Act should include.
A lifecycle approach, to legal entitlements, starting with pregnant mothers. A "First 1,000 days Child Nutrition and Development Programme" should be organised to provide nutritional support to pregnant women so that the new born has an opportunity to express his innate intellectual potential.

An enlarged food basket that will include nutritious millets in the Public Distribution System, thereby achieving double benefits of improving nutrition security and providing a market for the crops of dry land farmers and tribal families.
A decentralised procurement system and a national grid of community grain banks, rural go-downs and storage structures.

Increasing agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of 1.2 billion human population.

A food-cum-drug approach in the case of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and leprosy where prolonged treatment is necessary.

The National Food Security Act is our last hope in getting coordinated action initiated in achieving the goal of sustainable food security.

M.S. Swaminathan is an eminent agriculture scientist and considered to be the father of the Green Revolution in India.