Tackle malnutrition through diversifying food systems: Experts

Titled ‘Transforming Food Systems for a Rising India’ the book authored by noted economists examines the interactions between India’s economic development, agricultural production, and nutrition through a food lens

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Leading agriculture economist, Prof Prabhu Pingali of Cornell University addressing audience.

New Delhi: In wake of rising burden of malnutrition, there is growing evidence that diversifying diets, increasing income and improving access to food safety nets is vital for reducing it. Within households, improving education, behaviour change, empowering women, and improving access to water, sanitation and health infrastructure is crucial to tackle undernutrition, hidden hunger and obesity, according to a new study by one of world’s leading agriculture economist, Prabhu Pingali of Cornell University.

The book, Transforming Food Systems for a Rising India written by Pingali, along with Anaka Aiyar, Mathew Abraham and Andaleeb Rahman, examines the interactions between India’s economic development, agricultural production, and nutrition through a food lens.

“Despite India’s per capita GDP doubling over the last decade, there are stark differences in the regional growth experiences as reflected in nutrition and poverty indicators. Undernutrition in Madhya Pradesh remains high, but in Kerala, overweight and obesity are on the rise. Similarly, rural poverty in Punjab has reduced due to agriculture development, while in Odisha, low agricultural productivity has resulted in high rural poverty. Most Indian states have also experienced different levels of structural transformation. Less than 20% of the population remains engaged in agriculture in high-income states while that figure is over 40% in the low-income states. The book explains these differences in growth trajectories, by classifying Indian states into three categories – Agriculture led-states, Urbanizing states, and Lagging states,” explained Pingali, Professor in Charles H Dyson School of Economics & Management at Cornell, and Founding Director of Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutriton (TCI).

The Indian growth story is paradoxical. Despite multiple decades of economic growth, malnutrition and food insecurity persist. Growing populations and growing incomes have simultaneously increased demand for diet diversity and put pressure on agricultural systems. Rising trends in obesity along with communicable diseases, waxing regional inequality, and looming influence of climate change forewarn us of a future health crisis.

This book provides an integrative Food Systems Approach (FSA) that captures these complexities while highlighting some of the major opportunities and challenges that lay ahead for creating a nutrition-secure future. Drawing from and building upon the policy analysis and research at the Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition, the book evaluates the intersectionality of these domains – economic growth, agriculture production, and health and nutrition – and their spillovers on the economic, ecological and health systems within the country of India.

“FSA accounts for the nexus between economic development, agricultural production, and nutrition. The motivation of a FSA is to pursue a developmental model that aims to expand opportunities to strengthen nutrition access and enhance capabilities of individuals to increase their own welfare. The main goals of the approach are to create new opportunities and capabilities for increasing farm production and productivity, reducing malnutrition and improve labor productivity, facilitate greater structural transformation and reduce inequality,” said Pingali.

“Greater demand for diet diversity, rapid urbanization, a rising middle class and a growing population now provides new opportunities to leverage urban growth for rural development. Given the challenges climate change poses to the stability of the food system, this book provides insights and policy recommendations for tackling some of major issues facing nutrition security in the future,” added Pingali.

Agriculture scientists from International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Tata Cornell Institute (TCI), International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) were present on the occasion.

The book is a must read for those who want to understand why the policy recommendations must be oriented towards creating a robust food system and moving towards a nutrition secure future. Having been downloaded almost 19000 times during the last six months, the book can be accessed for free from the following link – http://link.springer.com/978-3-030-14409-8.