Agricultural Sector and Marketing Reforms – eNAM, Model APMC Act, Eco Survey Reco, etc.

How India’s food systems must respond to the climate crisis


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: EAT-Lancet diet

Mains level: Paper 3- Food system issues


This month, the UN Secretary-General will convene the Food Systems Summit. There is a proposal to have an International Panel on Food and Nutritional Security (IPFN) — an “IPCC for food,” similar to the panel on climate change.

Issues with India’s agriculture?

  • What is a food system? According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), food systems encompass the entire range of actors involved in the production, aggregation, processing, distribution, consumption and disposal of food products.
  • Effects of Green Revolution: The Green Revolution succeeded in making India food sufficient, however, it also led to water-logging, soil erosion, groundwater depletion and the unsustainability of agriculture.
  • Deficit mindset: Current policies are still based on the “deficit” mindset of the 1960s.
  • Biased policies: The procurement, subsidies and water policies are biased towards rice and wheat.
  • Three crops (rice, wheat and sugarcane) corner 75 to 80 per cent of irrigated water.
  • Lack of diversification: Diversification of cropping patterns towards millets, pulses, oilseeds, horticulture is needed for more equal distribution of water, sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture.

Issues with various elements of India’s food system

1) Changes needed in India’s agriculture

  • The narrative of Indian agriculture has to be changed towards more diversified high-value production, better remunerative prices and farm incomes.
  • Inclusive: It must be inclusive in terms of women and small farmers.
  • Similarly, women’s empowerment is important particularly for raising incomes and nutrition.
  • Women’s cooperatives and groups like Kudumbashree in Kerala would be helpful.
  • Small farmers require special support, public goods and links to input and output markets.
  • Better remunerative prices: Farmer producer organisations help get better prices for inputs and outputs for small-holders.
  • The ITC’s E-Choupal is an example of technology benefiting small farmers.
  • Innovation: One of the successful examples of a value chain that helped small-holders, women and consumers is Amul (Anand Milk Union Ltd) created by Verghese Kurien.
  • Such innovations are needed in other activities of food systems.

2) Hunger and malnutrition in India

  • The NFHS-5 shows that under-nutrition has not declined in many states even in 2019-20. Similarly, obesity is also rising.
  • A food systems approach should focus more on the issues of undernutrition and obesity.
  • Safe and healthy diversified diets are needed for sustainable food systems.
  • The EAT-Lancet diet, which recommends a healthy and sustainable diet, is not affordable for the majority of the population in India.
  • Animal-sourced foods are still needed for countries like India. For instance, per capita consumption of meat is still below 10 kg in India as compared to 60 to 70 kg in the US and Europe.

3) Ensuring sustainability of food system

  • Estimates show that the food sector emits around 30 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases.
  • Sustainability has to be achieved in production, value chains and consumption.
  • How to achieve sustainability? Climate-resilient cropping patterns have to be promoted.
  • Instead of giving input subsidies, cash transfers can be given to farmers for sustainable agriculture.

4) Health and social protection

  • Food systems also need health infrastructure.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the weak health infrastructure in countries like India.
  • Inclusive food systems need strong social protection programmes.
  • India has long experience in these programmes. Strengthening India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, public distribution system (PDS), nutrition programmes like ICDS, mid-day meal programmes, can improve income, livelihoods and nutrition for the poor and vulnerable groups.

5) Role of non-agriculture

  • Some economists like T N Srinivasan argued that the solution for problems in agriculture was in non-agriculture.
  • Reduce pressure on agriculture: Therefore, labour-intensive manufacturing and services can reduce pressure on agriculture.
  • Income from agriculture is not sufficient for smallholders and informal workers.
  • Strengthening rural MSMEs and food processing is part of the solution.


India should also aim for a food systems transformation, which can be inclusive and sustainable, ensure growing farm incomes and nutrition security.

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