Beefing up food security

New atlas analyses current patterns and serves up lasting solutions

By Neelam Singh
Published: Friday 30 April 2004

Punjab and Haryana -- the powerhouses of food grain production in the country -- should not be lulled into a false sense of security. For improbable as it may seem, even states like Arunachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh (mp) are likely to fare better than them in the long run.

This is one of the startling facts highlighted in the Atlas of the Sustainability of Food Security , a 294-page report brought out by Chennai-based non-profit trust M S Swaminathan Research Foundation and World Food Programme, the un's frontline agency for tackling global hunger. It was released at the National Food Security Summit, held in New Delhi in February. The atlas contains findings of a study which assesses the states' current as well as future ability to ensure food security. While the state's performance on the food absorption front is satisfactory, the problem areas are unsustainable food production and livelihoods. tn, which lies in a semi-arid region, is overexploiting its natural resources. It has very little forest cover, and surface and groundwater utilisation is excessive. Even as about 70 per cent of the state's workforce depends on agriculture, the net sown area has been declining in recent years. The report recommends a change in the pattern of agricultural development, which would involve switching over to less water-intensive practices.

On the other hand, Orissa and Bihar have become unsustainable despite good rainfall, and adequate water and forest resources. The sustainable access to food and its absorption is quite low in these states. However, sustainable production is not an issue, particularly for Orissa. The atlas mentions that Bihar is environmentally more sustainable than Orissa.

Precariously perched
Surprisingly, highly food-secure states in terms of production and access, and with proper facilities for healthcare to assist in absorption, fall in the bracket of moderately unsustainable regions. Cases in point are Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana. Here, too, the extremely low environmental sustainability is characterised by inordinate use of natural resources.

"We produce enough; there is no problem of access to food. But sustainable production is unlikely to be achieved since our water resources are getting depleted," says S S Johl, vice-chairperson, state planning board, Punjab. The atlas suggests a gradual shift from direct dependence on land to venturing into non-crop enterprises.

Safe prospects
The future availability of groundwater and surface water as well as adequate forest cover make Arunachal Pradesh and mp the best performers. The report notes that since Arunachal Pradesh is a tiny state, it has a fairly small net sown area. But it produces just about enough staple food for itself. Therefore, the present level of food production security is reasonably good. Environment sustainability is the most ideal in the country. In other words, the state has a large forest area and only a few people are dependent on the natural resources.

In mp, the per capita food grain production is next only to Punjab and Haryana. It scores over the latter two on sustainability as it has more unutilised water sources, a large forest area and a balanced crop pattern. These factors provide mp with a vast potential to expand food production. However, it narrowly trails Arunachal Pradesh with regard to livelihood and healthcare.

Recipe for recovery
The atlas suggests several measures to facilitate sustainable food production. It calls for adoption of ecofriendly technologies while stating that no specific policy exists on the subject. The document suggests an overhaul in the current agricultural subsidies as they are seen to be damaging natural resources. The study contends that policies dealing with natural resources such as water, land and forests cannot be viewed in isolation. It criticises the National Water Policy 2002 for not charting out a specific course and ignoring key matters like community control over natural resources.

A nine-point action plan has been recommended to bring about changes in policy. These pertain to crop production, natural resource use and community conservation, and healthcare. The document exhorts each state to stabilise its population, conserve land resources, ensure water security, develop forests, protect biodiversity, sensitise communities to climate change, empower local bodies to manage resources, and strive for crop diversification. Strong emphasis has been laid on the formation of a state-level coalition to monitor the implementation of this action plan.

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