How can India ensure sustainable food security for a billion-strong population? "Sustainable food security" means enough food for everyone at present plus the ability to provide enough in future as well.
This calls for sound policies and investments in natural resources such as land and water, flora and fauna, forests and biodiversity -- the ecological foundations essential for sustainable food security - plus sustainable intensification of crop and animal production. Population pressures and the forces of atmosphere and climate change must also be taken into account.
The M S Swaminathan Research Foundation and the World Food Programme have together produced three Atlases -- a compendium of facts, statistics, maps and analysis - designed to promote public policy and action to enable a hunger-free India by 15 August 2007, the 60th anniversary of India's independence. "They will help policy-makers to promote an evergreen revolution in all major farming systems, by enhancing productivity in perpetuity without any ecological or social harm," says Prof. M.S. Swaminathan.
The first atlas -- Food Insecurity Atlas of Rural India -- was released in April 2001 by Prime Minister Vajpayee. The second -- Food Insecurity Atlas of Urban India -- was released in October 2002 by President Abdul Kalam.
The Food Insecurity Atlas of Rural India revealed that the Punjab-Haryana region, India's breadbasket, could lose its production potential in a few decades if current patterns of groundwater extraction and pollution, soil salinization and rice-wheat monoculture persisted. It was therefore decided to produce an Atlas on Sustainability of Food Security in India to promote ecologically sustainable methods of food production and natural resources management. The third atlas is the result.
This third Atlas - Atlas of the Sustainability of Food Security in India (book in PDF)-- is being released at the National Food Security Summit on February 5, 2004. The publication brings to fruition the efforts of a nine-member research team of MSSRF and a 2-member team from WFP, who have worked in co-operation and consultation with a number of experts and research institutions.
"Food security has three components," says Prof M S Swaminathan. "The first is food availability, which depends on food production and imports. The second is food access, which depends on purchasing power. The third, food absorption, is a function of safe drinking water, environmental hygiene, primary health care and education."
The Atlas examines the ability of States in India to provide food security at present as well as sustain it in future. The Atlas of about 300 pages contains 10 chapters of facts and analysis, 28 maps and a few score tables on the many factors that go to ensure sustainability in different States. The most recent data have been used for analysis. There is a chapter on policies, programmes and recommendations directed mainly at governments.
The Atlas concludes with a "Sustainable Food Security Compact," a nine-point action plan for every State and Union Territory. The action points refer to stabilizing population, conserving and enhancing land resources, ensuring water security, conserving and restoring forests with community participation, strengthening biodiversity, improving the atmosphere, managing common property resources, intensifying crop and animal production in a sustainable way, and forming a Coalition for Sustainable Food Security in every State.
The publication reveals some interesting facts.
- In some States like Orissa, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Net sown area has been declining. In the process prime agricultural land may shift to non-agricultural uses.
- Land degradation has been fairly high in Nagaland, Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh. In some northeastern State, wasteland accounts for 50 per cent of the total geographical areas.
- Overexploitation of groundwater has reached danger levels in Punjab, Haryana and Tamil Nadu.
- Some States (Madhya Pradesh for example) show high poverty levels at present, yet natural resources are sufficient to sustain agriculture in future. In other states (Punjab and Haryana), livelihood access is good at present, but natural resource endowments for future sustainability are below par.
- In States like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, there is an urgent need to diversify livelihoods to non-crop and non- agricultural enterprises.
Every State will have to chalk out its own strategies for sustainable livelihood to move on the path of sustainable food production and sustainable livelihood security.
A valuable part of the book - and a unique contribution to literature on the subject - lies in a system of indicators and indices to gauge sustainable food security. Sustainability is measured in a relative sense, not against any arbitrary figure or yardstick. The book lists and discusses 17 indicators to describe present food security and future food sustenance. Of these, eight indicators relate to sustainability of food production, seven to sustainable food access and two to food absorption. Thirteen of the 17 indicators relate to natural resources such as land, forests, and water, and their sustainable use in relation to population pressure.
On the basis of these indices, a final composite index of sustainable food security has been worked out for all States of India. There are five categories of States, ranging from "sustainable" to "extremely unsustainable". But a change in one or two indicators can pull a State up to a higher category or push it down to a lower category, showing that the states have their own strengths and weaknesses.
A State that ranks high in unexploited natural resources such as forests and water, soil fertility (in terms of lower land degradation and greater natural replenishment of soil) and stable crop production, will also rank high in composite index of sustainable food security.
Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Goa obtain the top three ranks as regards a sustainable food security index. Karnataka, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh occupy ranks four to six.
"The path towards sustainable development varies from State to State," the publication says. States with a strong natural resource base may rank high in sustainability but may not be in a position to produce enough food at present. Removing pressure on land and water and conserving natural resources for sustainable water supply are essential in Tamil Nadu; increasing land productivity, diversifying agriculture, improving infrastructure and providing market linkages are essential in Orissa, and to some extent in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. In states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, population stabilization will ultimately hold the key to sustainable food security.