International Conference 2021
This fortnight e-synergy has some of the eminent participants’ videos who speak on various issues related to food and agriculture.Download
Indian agriculture has now assumed a legal responsibility, since the National Food Security Act 2013, commits itself to a legal access to food to a majority of our population. The right to food can be fulfilled only with home grown food, since international prices are very volatile- highlights from Prof. M S Swaminathan’s speach during the 35th Annual convocation at Anna University
In this address, I would like to deal briefly with three major issues. The first relates to the enigma of high persistence of hunger and malnutrition in the midst of the enormous progress our farmers have helped our country to make in the field of crop, animal and fish production. Grain mountains and hungry millions tend to co-exist. Our Universities should analyse the reasons for such a situation and help to apply appropriate public policy measures which can help to end hunger in our country. Even the latest Global Hunger Index pulished by the International Food Policy Research Institute ranks India 55th out of 76 countries in terms of prevalence of hunger as measured by undernourishment, child underweight and child mortality.
The latest issue of the National Geographic Magazine (October 2014)gives the following statistics in relation to the persistence of hunger
According to NFHS-3, 45% of children in India under 3 years were stunted and undernourished
One of the reasons for the persistence and even increase in the number of cases of TB, HIV/AIDS and Leprosy in our country is the lack of a food cum drug approach to disease management. For example, the following data will help to indicate the relationship between poverty, malnutrition and disease.
While these facts are discouraging, there has been an era of hope on the food production front. Food grain production has reached a level of over 265 million tonnes . In addition, we produce over 260 million tonnes of fruits and vegetables. Milk production has gone up to over 140 million tonnes in 2014 from about 20 million tonnes 50 years ago. These remarkable achievements have been the result of Mahatma Gandhi’s approach of Production by Masses rather than mass production technologies. Production by masses to be economically viable and commercially competitive should be supported by centralized services, particularly in the field of post harvest technology. Unfortunately in our country, there is a mismatch between production and post harvest technologies with the result that spoilage and wastage are high.
The United Nations has therefore introduced a Zero Hunger Challenge designed to eliminate hunger by 2025. The Zero Hunger Challenge consists of five major areas of action. These are:
These broad goals will have to be converted into precise action plans at the village level. Community Hunger Fighters chosen from Panchayats can be trained in the science and art of management of hunger. These community Hunger Fighters will have to be trained in our Universities in identifying the major nutritional maladies of an area and then proposing appropriate agricultural remedies. Leveraging agriculture for nutrition is the most effective and least expensive of the interventions we can plan.
All our educational institutions can take up training programmes in their respective areas for creating a cadre of Community Hunger Fighters.
Ensuring continued food self-sufficiency:
A second area I wish to discuss relates to the Sustainable food self-sufficiency.
The recommendation of the National Commission of Farmers (NCF) is that there should be an Indian Single Market which will allow the free movement of agricultural produce throughout the country deserves implementation. There are too many impediments in the movement of agricultural and horticultural commodities across the country and it is high time that we have an Indian Single Market where farmers can move and sell their produce all over the country without restriction at the best available price. Modern information technology can help farmers to know the prices of commodities in different parts of the country. This will help them to get the best possible price. The monsoon and the market are the two major determinants of a farmers’ economic wellbeing. In both cases, ICT will be of immense help in reaching the unreached.
There is urgent need to increase the production of pulses. 2016 has been designated as the International Year of Pulses and we should begin steps now onwards to intensify the cultivation of pulses. This will not only help to improve soil fertility but also will help to alleviate protein hunger. To sum-up, taking the best available technologies to farm families is the need of the hour. Now that agriculture has assumed a legal obligation to provide the food needed for implementing the right to food under the National Food Security Act, 2013, there is no time to relax on the food production front.
New Technologies for Small Farm Productivity Revolution : Role of Biotechnology
It is 61 years since the beginning of the new genetics based on the discovery of the double helix structure of the DNA molecule by Watson, Crick and Wilkins. It is also 31 years since the production of transgenic plants started, thanks to the work of Marc Von Montagu, Jeff Shell, Mary del Chilton and several offers. The first patent for a living organism went to Dr Anand Chakraborty who developed through recombinant DNA technology an organism for cleaning up oil spills. The science of molecular genetics has been applied with great benefit in the fields of medicine, industry, environment and agriculture. In the case of medicine, both scientists and consumers have been experiencing many beneficial fallouts such as new vaccines, insulin and genetic medicine. The major concern in medical genetics is one of ethics, as for example, the application of recombinant DNA technology for reproductive cloning. Therapeutic cloning, on the other hand, has been welcomed. In the case of environmental biotechnology, there is great interest in bioremediation methodologies since there is growing pollution of ground and river water. It is only in food and agricultural biotechnology there are concerns about biosafety, environmental safety, biodiversity loss and human and farm animal health.
In the case of technologies which carry both benefits and possible risks, it is important to have regulatory mechanisms which can help to analyse risks and benefits in an impartial, transparent and professionally competent manner. The same is true in the case of nuclear energy. This is the reason why the Government of India has introduced a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill in Parliament. Unfortunately the validity of this Bill from the point of view of debate and decision has now expired with the conclusion of the term of the current Lok Sabha. This gives ICAR, DBT, ICMR, CSIR, UGC, Ministry of Environment and Forests and other agencies a wonderful opportunity to go through the text of the Bill once again, taking into account the numerous comments, criticisms, and suggestions which have been received, and a get a new Bill prepared for introduction in Parliament as soon as the new Parliament begins its work. While it may take time to set-up a Parliament approved National Biotechnology and Biosafety Regulatory Authority, guidelines for safe field testing should be developed. Enforcement of procedures for the release of GMOs for commercial cultivation through the proposed Act may take time but field testing under well defined safeguards should go on. There are numerous GM varieties in the Breeders’ Assembly Line, and they should be tested in the field without further delay. Meanwhile, procedures for their release can be finalised through appropriate legislation.
The Agricultural Biotechnology Committee which I chaired in 2003 and which submitted its report early in 2004 had recommended both a Parliament approved Regulatory Agency as well as the necessary infrastructure for conducting All India Coordinated Trials with GMOs. Such a special All India Coordinated Trial to be organised by the ICAR should have as its Coordinator an eminent Biosafety Expert. The necessary precautions, such as the needed isolation as well as demonstration of the importance of refuge, should be undertaken under this coordinated project. Ten years have passed since this recommendation was made and we should lose no further time in implementing it. We should place in position a trial and safety assessment system which answers the concerns of anti-GMO experts and environmental organisations. The present moratorium on field trials with recombinant DNA material is serving as a serious handicap as well as a disincentive in harnessing the benefits of the wide array of transgenic material currently available with various public and private sector research organisations and universities. Many of the GMOs in the breeders’ assembly line have excellent qualities for resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses as well as improved nutritional properties. Much of this work has been done in institutions committed to public good. Also much of the work has been done by brilliant young scientists who are getting discouraged because of the lack of a clear official signal on the future of genetic modification.
While urgent steps are needed for putting a widely accepted regulatory system in place, full advantage should be taken of the molecular marker assisted selection procedures of breeding. The designed goals can be achieved through marker assisted breeding. Varieties developed through marker assisted selection are accepted for organic certification. Agriculture is a state subject and it is very important that the StateAgriculturalUniversities and State Departments of Agriculture are involved in the design and implementation of the field trials. It takes nearly 10 years for a new variety to be ready for recommendation to farmers. Therefore speed is of the essence in organising field trials and gathering reliable data on risks and benefits.
Return from investments in biotechnology research is high. The Public Sector institutions should accord priority to the development of high yielding climate smart and disease resistant varieties, while obviously the private sector will only produce hybrids whose seeds will have to be brought every year by farmers. Public and private sectors should develop a joint strategy which will help to ensure the inclusiveness of access to improved technologies among all farmers, small or large. The Public Sector R&D institutions should give high priority to the breeding of varieties which can help farmers to minimise climate and market risks.
There is need for PAN-political support for promoting the safe and responsible genetic engineering research. Every research institution should have a Project Selection Committee which will examine carefully whether recombinant DNA technology is necessary to achieve the desired breeding goal. In many cases, marker assisted selection would be adequate for developing a variety with the necessary characters. Recombinant DNA technology should be resorted to only when there is no other way of achieving the desired objective.
The report of the Parliamentary Committee headed by Shri Basudeb Acharya has to be carefully studied and the suggestion of the Committee that we should set up a Biosafety Regulatory Authority on the Norwegian Model should be examined for appropriate action and adoption.
The Secretary General of the UN Ban Ki-moon, launched a ‘zero hunger challenge’ at the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development held in Brazil in June 2012. At a high level consultation held in Madrid, Spain, in April 2013, it was agreed that the world community should commit to a common vision that hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition should be ended by 2025. At these meetings, governments were requested to pay concurrent attention to the following five pillars of the ‘zero hunger challenge’ — 100 per cent access to adequate food all year round; zero stunted children less than two years of age; all food systems are sustainable; 100 per cent increase in smallholder productivity and income; and zero loss or waste of food.
Looking back on India’s progress on the agriculture front since 1947, India has gone through four distinct phases in its agricultural evolution.
The Indian enigma is the persistence of widespread undernutrition in spite of substantial progress in agricultural production. Agricultural growth has led to great strides in food production in India, but chronic undernutrition persists.
One part of the solution to this enigma likely involves focusing on crops and livestock that have large nutritional impacts on both farmers and consumers. Another part may involve addressing socio-economic factors that affect the link between agriculture and nutrition, including the distribution of assets, particularly land; the role of women; rural infrastructure; and rural health and sanitation. The Women Farmers’ Entitlements Bill of 2011 that I introduced during my tenure as a Member of the Rajya Sabha, was introduced in the Indian Parliament with the aim of establishing women farmers’ rights to agricultural inputs, land, water, credit, technology and market.
I have also been involved in the development of two other policy initiatives to tackle this situation. First, the National Food Security Act (2013) has included nutri-millets in the public distribution system (PDS). These underutilised or orphan crops (referred to officially as ‘coarse cereals’) will be made available at Rs 1 per kg. This will open up greater market opportunities for these nutritious and climate smart cereals, thereby providing an incentive to both conserve and cultivate them. The greater the opportunity for remunerative marketing, the greater will be the interest of the farm families in the agro-biodiversity hotspot areas to conserve them. Hence, the widening of the food basket to include millets in the PDS is an important step in converting ‘hotspots’ into ‘happy spots’. Secondly, the Union finance ministry provided Rs 200 crore in the budget for 2013-14 for starting a pilot programme on nutri-farms. In such nutri-farms, crops rich in micronutrients like iron-rich bajra, protein-rich maize, vitamin A-rich sweet potato and zinc-rich wheat will be introduced.
We have to understand that India will remain a predominantly agricultural country for much of the twenty-first century, particularly with reference to livelihood opportunities. Enhancing small farm productivity and profitability will likely make a major contribution to reducing hunger and poverty. An integrated crop–livestock–fisheries farming system is the way forward for the country. This calls for an Evergreen Revolution (i.e. increase in productivity in perpetuity without associated ecological harm), focused on rain-fed farming areas and crops suited to these areas. The technology required has three components: (i) defending the gains — through soil health enhancement, water harvesting and management, credit and insurance, technology and inputs, and remunerative marketing; (ii) extending the gains — through an appropriate mix of technology, services, and public policies; and (iii) making new gains — through improvement in post-harvest technology, agro-processing, genomics and gene pyramiding, and integrated asset reform aimed at equitable land distribution and utilization of water.
Particular attention is needed to agro-biodiversity hotspots. Predominantly inhabited by tribals, these areas are characterised by culinary and curative (medicinal plants) diversity. Women play a key role here. Over centuries, they have conserved for public good, at personal cost, rich genetic variability. More recently, the government, through the National Plant Variety Protection and Farmers’ Rights Authority, has started recognising their contributions through the genome saviour award. The following issues are relevant in this context:
Indian agriculture has now assumed a legal responsibility, since the National Food Security Act 2013, commits itself to a legal access to food to a majority of our population. The right to food can be fulfilled only with home grown food, since international prices are very volatile. Unlike other rights, like the right to information which can be redeemed with the help of files, the right to food can implemented only with the help of farmers. This is why we have to redouble our efforts in helping farmers to overcome the many challenges they face in producing more food and other agricultural commodities from diminishing per capita land and water resources.
The National Food Security Act 2013 mandates the government to procure wheat, rice, and nutri-millets (often called coarse cereals). Such procurement at a remunerative price is the pathway for stimulating interest among farmers to produce more.India is also just beginning to uncover the potential of agri-business, diversification, marketing and exports, as well as increasing the value addition to food production. The country is exploring whether, with proper protections for the poor and vulnerable, commercial agriculture can be a catalyst for economic development. Also, climate change, manifested in adverse alterations in temperature, precipitation and sea level, will add to the problems of farmers and farming. What steps should we take to ensure sustainable advances in agricultural productivity and production?
In my view, we should attend to six key areas to safeguard the stability and sustainability of agricultural production in our country.
First, we should ensure that soil health is not only conserved but improved continuously. This will require concurrent attention to the physics, chemistry and microbiology of soils. Also, we should take steps to ensure that good farm land is conserved for agriculture.
Second, irrigation security will have to be ensured through integrated attention to harnessing rainwater, river and other surface waters, ground water, treated waste water and sea water. Rain water harvesting should be made mandatory both in rural and urban areas.
Third, technology and inputs need to be tailored to the agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions under which farmers work. Technology is the prime mover of change and a technology upgrading of agricultural practices via the introduction of biotechnology, IT and proper agricultural mechanisation is essential to attract and retain youth in farming.
Four, farmers should receive appropriate credit and insurance support. Credit should be made available at 4 per cent or even lower interest rates as recommended by the National Commission on Farmers (NCF). Insurance procedures should promote group insurance on an agro-ecological basis. Government should promote an Indian Single Market, so that agricultural commodities can move across state frontiers without hurdle. This single step would help to eliminate a major cause of price volatility particularly perishable commodities like tomato, onion and potato.
Five, assured and remunerative marketing ultimately holds the key for economically viable agriculture. Procurement at the minimum support price (MSP) is the greatest incentive to farm families. The MSP should be C2 plus 50 per cent as recommended by NCF. The WTO regulations may come in the way of providing our small farmers prices which can help to keep them above the poverty line. We should take the stand at WTO negotiations that in the case of countries like India, where over 50 per cent of the population depend for their livelihood on crop and animal husbandry, fisheries and agro-forestry, there should be a Livelihood Security Box on the lines of the green box provisions, which are being taken advantage of by industrialised countries to provide high subsidies to their farmers. A hunger-free India is a goal which should be non-negotiable.
Finally, there is need to give the power and economy of scale to small holders. This can be in the form of cooperatives, which have been very effective in the dairy sector or producer companies. Group farming through self-help groups can also be promoted. Today, the small farmer has neither the holding capacity nor bargaining power to ensure that he is able to get a reasonable price for his produce. Also, some kind of group cooperation is essential to promote ecologically sustainable production measures like integrated pest management, scientific water management, and improved post-harvest management.
The third area I wish to deal with is climate change.
AnnaUniversity has been a leader in the study of climate impact on our economy. Three aspects of climate change need particular attention. The first relates to a rise in mean temperature probably upto 2ºC by the end of this century. This will have adverse effect on the food and water security of countries in South Asia. In contrast, a rise in mean temperature will confer some benefit to counties in the Northern latitude since the duration of crops will get extended, thereby increasing the prospect for additional yield. In contrast, India may lose about 5 to 6 million tonnes of wheat if the duration of the wheat crops is reduced by about 6 days in the Punjab, Haryana region.
The second aspect of climate change relates to changes in precipitation leading to more frequent drought and floods. Here again we have to initiate anticipatory research which can help us to adapt to the new situation. For example, there are varieties of rice which can withstand flooding. Genes are available for the elongation of plant height. We should have crop varieties ready which can help to reduce the loss of grain during flood. Drought is another important consequence and here anticipatory action will be needed both to reduce the adverse impact of water scarcity and for maximising productivity per unit of water. Unfortunately we tend to give more importance to supply augmentation than demand management in the case of water. Both these aspects of water security need concurrent attention.
The third aspect of climate change relates to sea level rise. The 2014 Working Group II report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that low lying coastal areas will be exposed to risks from sealevel rise. Anticipating this problem, MSSRF initiated in 1990 a research programme to enhance the coping capacity of coastal communities to withstand the adverse impact of sea level rise. This programme has taken several forms like the standardisation of techniques for sea water farming, development of mangrove and non-mangrove bioshields and the establishment of a genetic garden of halophytes which can provide genes of sea water tolerance. Already at MSSRF, there are varieties of rice with genes for salinity tolerance derived from Avicennia marina and for drought based on genes from Prosopis juliflora.
I am particularly happy that the AnnaUniversity with the help of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has established a National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management. This Centre under the leadership of Dr R Ramesh has provided guidelines for the management of coastal areas in a manner that the ecological security of the area and the livelihood security of the local population can be concurrently safeguarded. Tamil Nadu has a long coastline and it is important that the Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management of Anna University identifies the hotspots from the point of view of vulnerability to sea level rise as well as coastal storms. Thanks to Mobile telephony, we can now empower artesenal fisheries with data on waveheights, location of fish shoals etc.
Universities help to advance the frontiers of knowledge, while technology helps to advance a frontiers of production. What is important for the University is to develop under its vision 2020 programme an excellent centre for translational research which can help to convert scientific know-how into practical applications and accomplishments.
The vision 2020 paper of AnnaUniversity provides many original ideas on the further development of this great University. It is now the responsibility of the management, faculty and scholars to convert this vision into concrete action plans and ultimately to tangible results. At the same time, it would be worthwhile to recall what the late Dr C N Annadurai said and I quote,
“I should like to say that the pressing need of the hour is for the elders to see that their thoughts and deeds are conducive to the common good. Then only the youth and students will behave with good qualities”.
I wish the graduates of the year much professional success and personal happiness. I also wish the University continued growth in its different programmes as well as in its national and international reputation and recognition. I once again thank you for giving me the opportunity to share a few ideas at this Convocation.
M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) established in 1988 is a not-for-profit trust. MSSRF was envisioned and founded by Professor M S Swaminathan, agriculture scientist with proceeds from the First World Food Prize that he received in 1987.