Food safety mustn’t lull us into complacency

SN Jha

THE robustness of Indian agriculture ensured that there was no meals disaster throughout the over two-month-long lockdown as a result of Covid-19. Rather, India determined to feed the vast majority of its inhabitants freed from value until November 2020, and might accomplish that for one more one-and-a-half years even when there is no such thing as a meals manufacturing — because of the agricultural scientists, farmers and different stakeholders who’re a part of the Indian meals and agriculture system. The Covid-19 pandemic has pressured us to reorient our system in order that the nation at all times stays food-secure. Being one of the crucial populous nations on the planet, India wants a meals system so strong and renewable that even when one other pandemic happens, the affect on the economic system usually and this method particularly is minimal.

In phrases of meals and agriculture, some Indian states are thought of to be shoppers whereas others are suppliers. The consuming states are largely suppliers of labour to the manufacturing states not just for agriculture, but in addition for labour-intensive industries. Normally, the provision of labour is from states with much less financial exercise to these with excessive financial exercise. Although correct knowledge is tough to acquire, the Union Labour Ministry’s statistics put the variety of migrant labourers in India at over Four crore. As per Census 2011, the variety of inner migrants within the nation was 13.9 crore. However, this quantity additionally contains ladies who migrate as a result of marriage or with their migrant husbands. UP, Bihar, MP, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Odisha and the North East contribute the utmost migrants. Covid-19 triggered the reverse exodus of lakhs of labourers from work websites. According to at least one estimate, practically 60 lakh migrant staff have been seen crossing state borders throughout the pandemic. This frantic march of labourers in direction of their dwelling states was primarily as a result of worry that almost all of them would run out of meals earlier than the top of the lockdown. In addition, over 90 per cent of them had already misplaced one to 3 weeks of labor, which triggered monetary insecurity too.

Though the general provide scenario and the costs of important meals gadgets didn’t seem too worrisome, within the longer run, opposed results have been seen in six instances. One, the upheaval affected harvesting, assortment and advertising of foodgrains, fruit and veggies on the farm degree. Two, the autumn within the costs of a variety of commodities in agriculture. Three, if the return of migrant staff again to their workplaces doesn’t occur even partially, agricultural and industrial operations are usually not going to collect tempo, and thus a huge effect on financial progress could also be seen within the close to future. While some operations in chosen areas could also be accomplished utilizing machines and instruments, the native scarcity of machines or its hiring centres, restore retailers and spare elements is affecting the actions, resulting in many machines mendacity unused. Labour scarcity was additionally being skilled in most milk processing vegetation, chilly storages and warehouses. Four, provide chains have been disrupted throughout the nation for a variety of commodities, inflicting big post-harvest losses even on the provider’s degree.

Five, the youth, even in rural areas, don’t need to work within the agricultural fields. It is tough to seek out labourers for farm operations even in villages. In the longer run, the nation goes to face a labour crunch in agricultural and industrial sectors. Six, our cultivable land and water availability are shrinking, however we must feed a inhabitants that’s estimated to succeed in 1.7 billion by 2050 beneath adversely modified weather conditions. Policy-makers have to consider methods and means to sort out these conditions on a right away and long-term foundation.

Action plan

During his interplay with sarpanches on Panchayati Raj Day (April 24) this yr, Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned the Covid-19 scenario had taught us to be self-reliant. Every district and panchayat need to turn into self-reliant for ushering in Atmanirbhar Bharat. The mismatch of financial actions of various states and completely different districts inside states must be addressed. For labour-surplus states, we’ve got to create agricultural/rural uncooked material-based industries in order that farmers or their dependents don’t rely solely on agricultural actions. Each household should have a minimum of one or two members doing a salaried job, whereas states having labour scarcity could go in direction of absolutely mechanised precision agriculture and post-harvest actions, and on-line advertising techniques. Indian agriculture now requires a significant emphasis on agricultural engineering and post-harvest processing.

In labour-surplus states, we have to arrange Intensive Economic Zones with agro-processing centres (APCs). One APC with an funding of about Rs 30-40 lakh can provide direct employment to 4-6 individuals with a web revenue of as much as Rs 1 lakh per 30 days. If so, we additionally want to ascertain storage godowns on the panchayat degree (which is able to assist in decreasing grain motion throughout the pandemic), meals high quality testing laboratories, a market yard for promoting regionally and within the open market by means of digital platforms. Farm equipment and post-harvest gear custom-hiring centres, gear restore and repair centres and so on. could come up in these areas and create jobs. If one such APC is established in every village, labour motion could get significantly lowered. No one needs to go away his birthplace if his fundamental necessities are met regionally. We need to generate work for a majority of the individuals as a further supply of earnings.

In labour-deficient states, we have to lay emphasis on mechanisation. Efforts need to be made to make use of robotics not just for agricultural operations for foodgrains but in addition for fruit and veggies. The Internet of Things, machine imaginative and prescient system, deep machine studying, sensor-based maturity, harvesting and ripening stage willpower with huge knowledge analytics and decision-making system must be developed for Indian agriculture.

Be future-ready

The world now must be able to face a Covid-like scenario on the agriculture and meals entrance too. Generally additionally, we have to reduce down on the usage of land, labour, water and fertilisers. World Food Prize winner Dr Rattan Lal has rightly mentioned: “We need to reduce land under cereal crops, and water used for irrigation has to be brought down by one-third.” So, we’ve got to seek out other ways of manufacturing extra meals. The nation which is able to be capable to fill the bellies of its residents whereas preserving its pure assets would be the winner. For such a scenario, we’ve got to begin engaged on growing engineered meals (manufacturing meals in factories with out cultivation). Processes and equipment need to be developed to transform any biomaterial, weeds, grass, fallen leaves, tree barks and crop residue into meals for people. An interdisciplinary platform comprising agricultural engineering, electronics, laptop purposes, robotics, chemistry and so on. ought to be established to attain this long-term objective and for tackling pandemics and local weather change. If we is not going to begin now, another will certainly do, and we might be left behind.

The author is Assistant Director General (Process Engineering), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). Views are private.

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