India cannot depend on imported food security, but on home-grown food security. This was stated by Venkaiah Naidu, the country’s vice-president, at the National Consultation on Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition, which took place at the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), Chennai, on Monday.

“Agriculture is our basic culture, and our core philosophy is of share and care, which our farmers are doing in the form of providing food,” he added.

Quoting the latest United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) report, which stated that malnutrition had risen for the first time in over a decade, Naidu said, “Policy-makers and politicians should focus more on the issue of malnutrition.”

He insisted that agricultural production had become more nutrition-sensitive, adding that crop production should be diversified to include millets and pulses, rather than merely concentrating on rice and wheat.  He also requested the media to prioritise reporting on agricultural issues.

R Doraikannu, minister for agriculture, Government of Tamil Nadu, noted that people had now come to understand the value of pulses and millets, which was reflected in the increased production of those crops in recent years.

Swaminathan, founder, MSSRF, emphasised how the farming system should be supported by good agronomic practices. He said, “Good soil health leads to good plant health, which translates into better human health.”

Adding that the Green Revolution had addressed calorie deficiency and achieved food security, and that this was possible due to the interaction of policy and public support, he said attention should now be paid to protein deficiency and micronutrient deficiency, along with addressing water scarcity.

Ashok Dalwai, chief executive officer, National Rainfed Area Authority, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, spoke about how policy support is usually skewed towards cereals. However, the government has recently set a higher minimum support price (MSP) for nutri-crops like pulses and oil seeds than the MSP of paddy and wheat.

He called for proper procurement methods for nutri-crops, as in the case with paddy. He added, “We should promote the integrated farming system model, which is a risk-negotiating tool that can meet the nutrient needs of farmers, while also increasing their incomes.”

In response to a question, Dr Dalwai suggested there should be a shift from a consumer approach to a farmer approach. He recommended that agricultural trade cells be established at Indian embassies so that it would help in export of agricultural produce.

R Venkataramanan, managing trustee, Tata Trusts, said, “Incentives drive behaviour and changing the behaviour of crop growers by even a small extent can lead to greater benefit towards nutrition.”

R Rukmani, director, food security, MSSRF, presented the findings of MSSRF’s Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition programme across four states (i e Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Maharashtra), pointing out that there was no policy on biofortified crops at the moment, and added that formulating a policy could consider the aspects of educating farmers in the domain apart from setting up farmer-led seed banks.

R Balakrishnan spearheads the Millet Mission of Odisha. He asked for convergence rather than coordination in all aspects, in terms of planning and budget implementation. “The Government of India, civil society and academia must work together,” he added.

“Odisha has a Nutrition Secretariat to bring a nutrition-orientated policy to agriculture,” said Balakrishnan, adding that it would take into account all the recommendations made by the National Consultation on Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition, as listed by Dr Rukmani.

M Nedunchezhiyan, principal scientist, Indian Council for Agricultural Research – Central Tuber Crops Research Institute (ICAR-CTCRI), said, “Tuber crops have high content of protein and minerals when compared to rice and should be called as power bank crops, rather than as a poor man’s crop. However, storability is an issue, but this can addressed either by drying and cutting it into chips or powdering it and mixing it with wheat flour for chapati.”

Lakhan Singh, ICAR – Agricultural Technology Application Research Institute, Pune, said there should be convergence between Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and the line departments, and there should be innovations for adoption at multiple levels by farmers.