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Niti Aayog has formed a committee to recommend strategies to increase the availability of millets to ensure nutritional security.
The central government needs to implement schemes that encourage a diversified food basket by mapping the food consumption patterns and nutrition, a study by ICRIER said. The trade-off between promoting agricultural production and nutrition must be confronted and leveraging agricultural policies and programmes to be more “nutrition-sensitive” and reinforcing diet diversification will help focus on both nutrition and development, it said.
According to the study — “Achieving Nutritional Security in India: Vision 2030” — jointly authored by Shyma Jose, Ashok Gulati and Kriti Khurana, agricultural programmes and policies should focus on improving diet diversity and access to micro-nutrient rich diets to improve nutritional outcomes and this requires developing food systems that are nutrient-rich and strengthening institutions and policies that have a positive effect on nutrition.
The Centre had launched the National Nutrition Strategy in 2017 to reduce the prevalence of underweight children (0-3 years) by three percentage points every year by 2022 from NHFS 2015-16 estimates. The POSHAN Abhiyan targets to reduce stunting and underweight and low birth weight, each by 2% per year and anaemia among children, adolescent girls and women, each by 3% per year by 2022. However, the Global Burden of Disease Study has estimated that India will fall short of achieving the targets of stunting, underweight and low birth weight by 2022 if the current trend continues. Icrier’s study has suggested measures to address challenges of nutritional insecurity and end all forms of malnutrition by 2030.
Targeted agricultural programmes with a stronger design that support livelihoods, improve household food availability and diet quality and foster women’s empowerment need to be promoted. On the supply side, the focus should be on increasing diversification of production towards coarse cereals, pulses, and fruits and vegetables, it said.
“To tackle the problem of malnutrition and micro-nutrient deficiencies, the central government has proposed the promotion of millets under the public distribution system (PDS). Niti Aayog has formed a committee to recommend strategies to increase the availability of millets to ensure nutritional security. The study has recommended that this scheme needs to be put on a fast-track mode.
The food-based safety nets in India are biased in favour of staples (rice and wheat) against arguably more nutritious foods such as coarse grains, pulses, and fruits and vegetables. Calories adequacy cannot address a household’s nutritional security without including protein-rich food in the food consumption basket. The high prevalence of micronutrient deficiency and anaemia among Indian women and children cannot be solved by just giving 5 kg of grains per person per month (under the National Food Security Act). Food-based safety nets such as PDS should provide a more diversified food basket, including bio-fortified staples, it said.
At a time when farmers are demanding legal rights over MSP and continuation of official procurement of wheat and paddy under law, the Icrier’s study has suggested these food-based safety nets such as PDS and other schemes should shift towards cash payment to beneficiaries through direct benefit transfers (DBT) in a phased manner depending on the population density, geographical location, banking infrastructure and financial inclusiveness of the particular state. This will encourage beneficiaries to use the cash grant according to their consumption needs and give them greater autonomy to decide on their diet plans, it said.
“Besides, diverting a part of the subsidy on wheat and rice towards nutritious food can help reduce food insecurity,” the study argued while pointing out that the PDS over the years has also been criticised for targeting errors and deliberate diversion.