India is losing about 2 to 3% of GDP growth because of hunger issue.: Shenggen Fanm, DG, IFPRI

India is losing about 2 to 3% of GDP growth because of hunger issue.: Shenggen Fanm, DG, IFPRI

US based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), is part of a global network which looks into agriculture and food security issues closely in developing countries.  Dr Shenggen Fan, Director General, IFPRI spoke to on challenges faced by small farmers in India.

Q: What would be your suggestion for the new Indian government for rejuvenating agriculture sector which employ a large chunk of country’s population?

In India as the economy is growing, the non-farm sector is also booming. This provides a great opportunity for the small holders to move out of the farming sector. Once they move out they can enjoy high income and those farmers left behind can consolidate their operations through greater size of their land holding. So while a chunk of farmers move into non-farm sector and those in farming earn more income. Thus we call it ‘Move out and Move up’ strategy.

If farmers having small holdings get good opportunities in cities, they should move out. The government should facilitate that process. Its not fair for small holders farmers to stay behind in the villages and remain poor and hungry. This transformation has happened in China. To do that the government also needs to ensure that small holders farmers have their rights over their land intact. Do not change the ownership if small farmers move out to cities they can always rent their land rights. As after moving into cities, if small holders want to return to agriculture they should be allowed have their land as a social security net.

Q; Indian conditions of farmers and size of land holding are diverse. How would a government approach this sensitive issue of shifting a chunk of its population out of agriculture?

See both China and India had been growing at 8% annually during last many years even the current growth rate of around 5% is quite good. We will continue to see people moving out of villages to cities, to non-farm sectors even to overseas in the developing economy like India. The government needs to support those left behind in the villages in managing bigger size of operations so that they can enough income from the agriculture sector. The government should support these farmers in growing high value crops such as fruits and vegetables instead of rice and wheat.

Q; Are you suggesting India to cut down on its rice production as it has already emerged as the biggest exporter of rice in the world?

If India needs to focus on providing nutritional food to large mass of people, it must change its policy of supporting farmers with Minimum Support Price for growing only rice and wheat. This policy is highly biased in favour of cereals. Instead the support price should be towards fruits, vegetables and dairy products and also animal products. This biased should be removed and the inefficient subsidies should be phased out. The fertiliser, water and power subsidies should be removed so that money saved through reducing these subsidies could be invested in better marketing infrastructure, value chain and logistics for ensuring better distribution and marketing of fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat products. The subsidies should be focused towards more nutritious food production.

Q: Nutritional food is the key now as the country like India has enough cereals production to support large number of people?

The nutritional growth of large population helps in economic growth. The current policy does not pay enough attention to nutritional aspect it only provides attention to increasing foodgrain production. The focus is to produce more rice and wheat and export it while large number of children have stunted growth and women are malnourished because of nutritional deficiency. Even FAO data indicates that there are large number of population who do not have access to adequate food grain There is the issue of hidden hunger. Lack of micro-nutrients and vitamins is equally damaging to human growth. And large number of the population do not get enough nutrition in their food. Besides another key challenge India faces is issue of over nutrition.

Q: You have also said that India loses out on a chunk of its GDP growth due to malnutrition?

The proper nutrition helps people’s productivity and their health. India is losing about 2 to 3% of GDP because of hunger issue. If India invests in reducing malnourishment, many global studies have shown that every one Rupee invested in addressing under nourishment issue would give Rs 30 in return to the economy. Addressing malnourishment issue is an human rights, moral issue and economic issue.

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