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A wealth of ideas for food security

posted Nov 27, 2011, 9:22 PM by Puneet Goyal

Swaminathan's call to blend traditional knowledge with frontier areas in farm science

Agriculture scientist and chairman of the steering committee of the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition M.S. Swaminathan has stressed the need to blend traditional knowledge systems and agricultural practices with modern frontier areas in science to enhance crop productivity.

Delivering a talk on Biodiversity, Sustainable Food Security and Green Economy at the 81st annual session of the National Academy of Sciences, India, (NASI), here on Friday, the visionary called on scientists and local farming communities to join hands in participatory programmes aimed at ensuring food security for the country.

“About 50 per cent of India's currently favourable, high potential wheat production area may be reclassified as heat stressed, lower potential, short season growing environment by 2050. For each one degree Celsius rise in mean temperature, wheat yield loss in India is likely to be around 6 million tonnes per year. Rainfed wheat yields in South Asia will decrease by around 44 per cent by 2050 if adaptation measures are not put in place.”

Prof. Swaminathan said community food and water security systems involving the establishment of gene, seed and grain banks, and water sources held the key to eradication of hunger and poverty. Observing that the human demand on the biosphere had more than doubled between 1961 and 2007, he called for steps to promote a sustainable lifestyle.

India, Prof. Swaminathan said, would have to contend with the diversion of fertile farmland, the volatility of food grain prices, and the challenges posed by climate change to agriculture. Biodiversity conservation and equitable sharing of the benefits from utilising biological wealth are crucial for sustainable development, he said.

“At the international level, controlling food inflation would require tough regulatory oversight of commodity markets, better transparency in exchange trade, restoration of confidence in international trade, building stocks at the global and regional level, more investment in agro-ecological agriculture, and curbing the growth of developed countries' food demand.”

According to him, the thrust of the national policy to address price volatility should be to improve domestic food supply, curb increase in food price, support access to food, reduce the vulnerability of the country and household, foster community grain banks, and enlarge the country's food basket to include under utilised crops.

Prof. Swaminathan said the National Food Security Bill, on the anvil, proposed the adoption of a lifecycle approach with special focus on the first 1,000 days in a child's life and enlarged food basket including nutri millets.

Highlighting the role of soil carbon banks in mitigating climate change and enhancing food production, he called for agro-forestry programmes based on fertilizer trees. “Ensuring a biogas plant, fertilizer trees and a farm pond in every farm will help curb greenhouse gas emissions.”

He stressed the need for India to adopt measures to check genetic erosion among farm animals.

Prof. Swaminathan said Tamil Nadu had successfully experimented with seawater farming using halophytes.