Connecting agriculture and nutrition
The Tata-Cornell Institute comes at a time when agriculture and nutrition are at the top of the policy debate and political agenda in India. The global food price crisis of 2008 brought the attention back to agriculture and the need to ensure stable food supplies. The continued tightness of the global food markets since then, and the upward pressure on food prices are shifting the policy focus away from short term measures, such as the rice export ban implemented in 2008, towards long term productivity improvement strategies. At the same time there is growing realization that despite strong economic growth, the incidence of poverty, hunger and malnutrition continue to be stubbornly high, and require deliberate actions that address the agriculture-nutrition nexus for the lagging regions and the people left behind.
The Indian context is characterized by enormous diversity and complexity, a place where India is at once economically emerging and developmentally lagging. Emerging India describes high economic growth and the country as a Green Revolution pioneer able to achieve food self-sufficiency. Lagging India highlights that the country experiences high rates of extreme poverty, hunger, and undernutrition; partly fueled by low agricultural yields and reduced investment in the primary crops cultivated and consumed by the poor. The food system is changing in India and the rise of supermarkets, increased urbanization, and free-flow of information and commerce is accelerating the speed of diet transformations. Food systems are evolving and the affordability and availability of food in traditional markets and modern markets is posing new problems and opportunities for nutrition and human health.
Despite the challenges there is great hope and optimism for an “agricultural renaissance” in India that can have broad based impacts on poverty reduction and nutrition. Some of these broader positive trends include:
- A renewed recognition, at the National and State government levels, about the importance of agriculture as an engine of growth, especially for the lagging regions.
- The ability to meet the burgeoning food needs of the urban middle class; in terms of food quantity, quality and diversity, and the opportunities arising for smallholder farmers and integration into domestic food systems.
- Innovations in genomics and crop improvement, specifically targeted towards stress tolerance (for instance drought and submergence) and bio-fortification (iron and zinc enriched crops) are providing new means of addressing smallholder agricultural productivity and nutrition improvements.
- The rapid spread of cell phones and other ICTs are allowing for rapid information flow to and from farmers and enabling the scale up of knowledge intensive technologies.
- ICTs and the “unique biometric ID program” can improve the targeting and effectiveness of nutrition and safety net programs, particularly for women and children in the poorest household.
With these innovations and opportunities in mind, the TCI seeks to encourage and participate in cutting edge research and interventions that address the complex intersection of agriculture, human nutrition, and poverty.