[Editorial Analysis] Reimagining food systems with lessons from India

Mains Paper 3: Economy
Prelims level: Sustainable Development Goals
Mains level: Transformation of food systems


• Poor quality diets are increasingly leading to the compromising of human health as never before; the prevalence of undernutrition persists and remains acute in vulnerable regions, and hunger is increasing concomitantly with an unprecedented rise in overweight, obesity and nutrition-related non-communicable diseases.

• Increasing access to healthy diets through faster, stronger implementation of supply and demand-side strategies that address the underlying drivers of today’s faulty food systems is imperative to solve these problems, as well as to address related environmental and economic costs.

Successful transformation of food systems:

• Six critical domains are identified that must be addressed for the successful transformation of food systems:

1) reinvent agriculture,

2) transform food environments for healthy diets,

3) mitigate climate change,

4) productively engage the private sector,

5) influence public policy priorities, and

6) establish true cost accounting of food.

• For higher agricultural incomes and nutrition security, India must also restructure its food systems, which must be inclusive and sustainable. According to a previous United Nations Assessment on the Food System, today’s food systems are greatly affected by power imbalances and inequality, and do not operate for the majority of women.


• Global food systems refer to the networks that are required to produce, transform, and distribute food to consumers, as well as the routes that food takes from farm to plate.

• Many countries’ food systems are in a state of crisis, impacting the poor and vulnerable.

• In terms of bigger goals, the transformation of the food system is seen as critical to accomplishing the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

• This makes sense because the food system is intimately tied to 11 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

• Nutrition and food diversity: A emphasis on rice and wheat has caused nutritional issues, as has dietary diversity, nutrition, and related health outcomes. India has decided to add iron to rice distributed under the Public Distribution System (PDS).

• Low nutrition: India, while being a net exporter and a food surplus country overall, has a 50% higher prevalence of undernutrition than the global norm. However, the percentage of people who are undernourished has decreased from 21.6 percent in 2004-06 to 15.4 percent in 2018-20.

• Food wastage: Reducing food wastage is a huge challenge that is tied to the food supply chain’s efficiency. Food waste in India is estimated to be in the billions of rupees.

Challenges in India’s Food Systems

• Although the Green Revolution has resulted in substantial advances in the country’s agricultural development, it has also resulted in water logging, soil erosion, groundwater depletion, and agriculture’s unsustainable nature.

• Policies in Place: Current policies are still founded on the 1960s deficit mentality. Rice and wheat are favoured in procurement, subsidies, and water policy. Rice, wheat, and sugarcane account for 75 to 80 percent of all irrigated water.

• Malnutrition: According to the NFHS-5, undernutrition has not decreased in many states in 2019-20. Obesity, on the other hand, is on the rise. Dietary guidelines from the EAT-Lancet for rural India cost between USD 3 and USD 5 per person per day. Actual nutritional intake, on the other hand, is roughly USD 1 per person per day.

Steps needed:

• Crop Diversification: For more equitable water distribution, sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture, crop diversification toward millets, pulses, oilseeds, and horticulture is required.

• Institutional Changes in the Agri-Sector: Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) should assist small farmers in obtaining better prices for inputs and outputs.Small farmers can profit from technology like E-Choupal. Women’s empowerment is critical in rising incomes and improving nutrition. Cooperatives and clubs for women, such as Kudumbashree in Kerala, might be beneficial.

• Food systems that are sustainable: The food sector is estimated to emit roughly 30% of the world’s greenhouse gases. Production, value chains, and consumption all need to be sustainable.

• Strong social protection programmes are also required for inclusive food systems. India has a lot of experience with these types of programmes. Strengthening India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Public Distribution System (PDS), and nutrition programmes such as the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and Mid-Day Meal programmes can help the poor and vulnerable improve their income, livelihoods, and nutrition.

• Non-Agriculture Sector: Non-agriculture has an equally vital part in the development of sustainable food systems. Because agriculture does not provide enough revenue for small farmers and informal labourers, labor-intensive industry and services can help alleviate the pressure on agriculture. As a result, one component of the solution is to boost rural Micro, Small, and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) and food processing.

• Collaboration: We must work together to invest, innovate, and develop long-term sustainable agriculture solutions that contribute to equitable livelihood, food security, and nutrition.

• India has a lot to contribute in terms of learning from its triumphs and preparing for the next 20 to 30 years. The food system must be reimagined with the goals of balancing growth and sustainability, mitigating climate change, ensuring healthy, safe, high-quality, and affordable food, preserving biodiversity, improving resilience, and providing an appealing income and work environment for smallholders and youth.

Way forward:

• In September 2021, the United Nations Secretary-General will host the Food Systems Summit, which aims to revolutionise global food systems in order to fulfil the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. It is an excellent opportunity to strengthen policies aimed at reaching the SDGs.

• Science and technology are critical to achieving these objectives. India should also strive for a food system change that is both inclusive and long-term, ensuring rising agricultural incomes and food security.


Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the Kamdhenu Deepawali 2021 campaign, consider the following statements:

1. It aims to make Cows to be economically useful by proper economic use of Cow Dung and Cow Urine too along with its Milks, Curd, Ghee.

2. It was launched to manufacture and market more than 100 Crore Cow dung based Deepak lamps and Laxmi-Ganesh Idols.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: C

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