Why India needs a food supply rethink to stave off food crisis: academics

By Lester Wan

- Last updated on GMT

India’s self-sufficiency model for securing food will come up short in meeting the country's nutritional needs. ©GettyImages
India’s self-sufficiency model for securing food will come up short in meeting the country's nutritional needs. ©GettyImages
India needs to change how it sources food supplies in order to avoid severe dietary shortages in the coming years, said researchers from the University of Edinburgh.

India has previously been described as a “sleeping giant” but the Scottish researchers said that the South Asian nation needs to wake up to its major food problems that could bring about severe food-related crises down the road, in future decades.

According to the research, India’s self-sufficiency model for securing food — dependent on increases in domestic crop yield and reduction of food loss and waste — will come up short, especially in meeting the nutritional needs of the country in the future.

“Our analysis suggests that India’s current agricultural policies will be insufficient to fully address malnutrition,” ​said Hannah Ritchie, School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh.

“To meet the UN goal of zero hunger by 2030, India will need to adopt intervention strategies that encourage dietary diversification and boost micronutrient availability.”

Multiple measures required

Based on the study and its findings, the researchers suggest a two-pronged approach of optimising domestic production as well as increasing global trade links to enable the South Asian nation to meet the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of zero hunger by 2030.

The researchers further found that closing the gap between India’s food and nutrition supplies and its burgeoning population growth will require a combination of measures.

Among the researchers' suggestions include a nationwide programme to optimise crop selection, which is critical to maximise the production and supply of dietary energy, protein and micronutrients for the nation and its citizens.

Furthermore, they add that India needs to boost its international agricultural trade as well as lift restrictions on food imports — to diversify, improve and safeguard the country’s food supplies.

“The country will need to further develop food processing and fortification methods, but domestic production alone will be insufficient to close the nutritional gap. Therefore India will also need to increase its levels of global trade,” ​said Ritchie.

State of the nation

The University of Edinburgh researchers analysed the domestic capacity of India’s food system and made projections for 2030 and 2050.

Their research maps the entire Indian food system for the first time, from crop production to household-level availability and studied levels of calories, protein, fat and micronutrients.

They found that an increase in population coupled with environmental and dietary pressures could lead to nutritional shortages across 60% of the Indian population.

Globally, it is estimated that more than 2 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, with nearly half of them living in India.

Deficiency, also known as hidden hunger, occurs when the intake of essential vitamins and minerals falls below the levels needed for children to develop and adults to function.

The health and productivity costs of such micronutrient deficiencies could also result in severe economic losses, totalling about 2.4% of India’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Moreover, India is one of the most at-risk countries in terms of climate change impacts, water scarcity and declining soil fertility due to land degradation.

The study indicates that improvements in crop yields alone would fall short of keeping pace with India’s population growth by 2030.

According to the researchers, studies suggest that India will need to diversify its traditional forms of food production to address the availability of all the nutrients necessary for adequate nourishment of its population.

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