New Delhi: More than 100 professionals in the agricultural and nutrition sectors gathered to listen to a policy debate on the subject of agricultural diversity in India, hosted by the newly founded Technical Assistance for Research in Agriculture and Nutrition (TARINA) in the city on August 05, 2016.
The debate opened with Tata Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition (TCI), Director, DrPrabhu Pingali, giving an introduction to TARINA and its goals and objectives. This was followed by a series of lectures by Dr Purvi Mehta, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s; Mr Suresh Pal, Member, Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP); Dr P K Joshi, Director- South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); Dr Ashok Gulati, Infosys Chair Professor at Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) and Dr Shobha Shetty, Practice Manager, Food & Agriculture Global Practice, South Asia Region, The World Bank amongst others.
Each panelist elaborated on the subjects that they found most important to the future of agricultural diversity in India and the problem of malnutrition. The topics discussed ranged from price incentives for crop production to opportunities for increased investment in post harvest management technologies, such as cold storage.
While government veteran Dr. Ashok Gulati, current Infosys chair for ICRIER argued that price incentives distort farmer incentives to produce non-staple crops, contrastingly, current government rep from CACP Suresh Pal mentioned that price incentives and government investment have played a great role in improving the status of farmers. Dr. Pal also added that vegetable production in India is demand-driven, rather than responsive to price changes.
Dr Shetty from the World Bank emphasized the climate-smart agriculture is very important for the future of diversification. “We need to improve nutrition by also using our existing natural resource base,” Dr Shetty said, emphasizing that only certain areas are suitable for horticulture or pulse production and thus research and investment should keep a keen eye to these kinds of distinctions. She mentioned that Punjab has less than 2 percent of land availability in India but produces a large percentage of grains, resulting in lowered water availability and thus further stress on farmers.
Dr Gulati proposed that the government should work on vegetable production in a cooperative system. “If milk can be directly sourced [from farmers], why not fruits and vegetables?” he said. He added that government investment is overly skewed towards cereal and grain crops and mentioned that fertilizer subsidies are distorting incentives for farmers. “We need direct income support to farmers, not price supports…does the government have the guts to do it?” Dr Gulati said.
There is an expectation that Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) will go into the food processing industry very soon. Dr Pal mentioned that this is an interest of the government, and later, Dr Joshi of IFPRI emphasized that food processing for export will be a very lucrative and beneficial field for farmers.
In conclusion, the policy panel indicated that leading development professionals earnestly believe the government should focus on fruit and vegetable production and agricultural diversity within India, devising trade policy that meets shortages for products that are not inherently suited to India’s landscape.