India's food security mission aimed at feeding every mouth, could well run into problems in the long run if the government does not take immediate measures to halt the degradation of the natural resources, that is the soil and groundwater.
This view was expressed by Narpinder Singh, professor in the department of food science and technology of the Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU) here on Wednesday while delivering the annual Sardar Bishan Singh Samundri Memorial Lecture sponsored by the Sardar Jaswant Singh Rai Memorial Trust. The lecture was organised on the university campus by the department of botanical and environmental sciences.
Speaking on the topic, 'Food security and post harvest processing-a challenge', Singh pointed out that agricultural output, including that of paddy, wheat and pulses was bound to fall in the years to come if over-exploitation of the soil and groundwater continues at the rate at which it is being done today. Climate change will also alter the cropping pattern and in the process hit production, he added.
Making a particular reference to Punjab, he said that the water table in the state had fallen due to overdrawing of water for paddy and basmati. If this trend continues, Punjab could well become a desert state, he added.
He gave a rather interesting example of the South American country of Peru which has earned fame for export of asparagus. As foreign exchange began flowing into Peru, the rulers of that country kept encouraging the cultivation of this crop, he added.
Dr Singh pointed out that Peru was now paying a very heavy price as ground water table has gone very deep and many areas have gone dry. Asparagus like paddy or basmati is a water hungry crop.
"What did Peru get in return? For every dollar a US consumer spent on imported asparagus, a mere 30% from this one dollar went back to Peru while the rest stayed in the USA," he added.
Turning to basmati, Dr Singh pointed out that around 7 million tonnes of this crop is exported and Punjab accounts for 70% of the total exports. For producing one kg of basmati, 3,000 to 5,000 litres of water is required.
"We are over exploiting our ground water resources for exporting this basmati crop. If this trend continues then Punjab could well turn into another Peru," he warned.
Singh, who is one of the best-known food scientists of the country, observed that if the country wants to accomplish its food security goals, then the government will have to ensure the fertile land is preserved and not given away to multi nationals of real estate developers. Considering the rate at which the population was growing, every inch of cultivable land should be preserved, he advised.
Singh also laid stress on improving post-harvest technologies to minimise food or grain loss. In particular he stressed on paying special attention to developing the food-processing sector to take care of the fruits and vegetables and milk and dairy products.
At the end of the lecture, Singh was presented the Bishan Singh Samundri Memorial Lecture award which comprised a silver plaque along with a cheque for Rs 25,000 and a certificate.