A new Integrated Sustainable Food System being introduced in Himachal Pradesh hopes to not just benefit local farmers but also strengthen food security and reduce malnutrition in the state.
Shimla: Food security has been a major concern for India, and the Global Hunger Index 2021 report has only deepened this concern. India ranked 101 among 116 countries, below all its neighbouring countries — Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan. The report revealed that since 2000 there has been a drop of 29.1 per cent in India's ranking.
The problem of food security is perceivable in almost all parts of the country, including the northern state of Himachal Pradesh. According to the National Family Health Survey 2019, 59.8 per cent of women aged 15 to 49 in Himachal are anaemic, 27 per cent of children below five years of age are stunted and 26.6 per cent of children are underweight. There is, hence, an urgent need to improve the health of women and children, which can only be ensured by the availability of chemical-free, nutritious food.
Keeping this in mind, an Integrated Sustainable Food System is being created in Himachal Pradesh to provide a market for dairy products, fruits, vegetables and cereals grown naturally, without the use of fertilisers, pesticides and chemical growth regulators. For this, a blueprint has been created by the State Project Implementation Unit under the government scheme, Prakritik Kheti Khushhal Kisan Yojana.
A transparent system
The sustainable food system is being prepared in collaboration with experts from leading organisations in the field of food security across the world such as United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM-Organic), and National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE) in France. A transparent system is being devised to transport the produce from the farmer's field to the consumer's plate. Emphasis will be laid on providing a market by aggregating these products and creating a brand.
With this system, the farmer will be aware of the price at which their product is being sold in the market, and the consumer will be able to trace where and from whom the product has come from. Under this system, first, the food needs of the state will be met and after that, the products will be sent to other states.
The main aim of this system is to strengthen food security and reduce malnutrition in the state. Chemical-free food is expected to improve the health of people and reduce nutritional disorders. In addition, the system will hugely benefit small and marginal farmers by ensuring that they get the right price for their crops.
Since this is an open system database, the interaction between the consumer and the farmer will also be strengthened, as a result of which the farmers will get access to an open market. First, a survey of cereals, vegetables and fruits grown in all the four climatic zones of Himachal will be done. After this, arrangements will be made to sell vegetables, fruits and grains grown within one district and then across another district based on the need. With this system, the state government will also be able to reduce the import of food grains from other states by giving incentives to local farmers to grow what is needed.
Current system in place
At present, there is no systematic arrangement for the sale of various food products. Farmers sell their produce as per their own capabilities and through middlemen. The products grown using different agricultural techniques (chemical, organic and natural) fetch almost the same price at the market and the difference between these products is not clear to most buyers. The state government has, hence, taken steps to bring all the consumable products prepared naturally under one roof. Under this system, the surplus produce will be sold through farmer unions. Farmer Producer Organisations (FPO) and Farmer Producer Companies (FPC) will be formed within the state and be managed by a consortium of FPCs at the state level.
High-level meeting on sustainable food systems held under the chairmanship of the chief minister (Picture courtesy of Raman Kant)
Many organisations are coming forth to support this food system and work with the government. Recently, the draft of the system was shared at a high-level meeting between the state agriculture department, GIZ India and KfW Development Bank. In this meeting, Rajeev Ahal, Director, National Resource Management and Agroecology, GIZ India praised this system, calling it a unique initiative and said that it will soon set an example for other states to follow. Sangeeta Agarwal, senior sector specialist, KfW Development Bank assured her cooperation towards the formation of this system and also gave suggestions on linking farmers to this system and providing incentives to them.
The first challenge in implementing this system will be establishing smooth coordination between the departments of Agriculture, Horticulture, Fisheries, Animal Husbandry, Forest and Rural Development. Along with this, connecting farmers, livestock farmers, dairy owners, meat sellers with this system and building trust may prove to be tough.
Collaborating with the various stakeholders associated with the system, working in a phased manner according to the roadmap prepared under the draft, time-to-time monitoring and delivering the right food items to the consumer will also be challenging.
The system is planned to be implemented within a year. Prof Rajeshwar Singh Chandel, executive director of Pratikriti Kheti Khushhal Kisan Yojana, said that efforts are on to ensure transparency and trust in the system.
With the integration of new technology, a database of farmers will be created and shared. An app will also be created, which will show the available quantity of different products according to their geography in real-time. Chandel informed that after several rounds of talks with experts from institutions — FAO, INRAE, IFOAM, Biovision, GIZ, and Access Livelihoods — the food system has been drafted and is being sent to the government for in-principle approval so that work can start quickly.
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