Budget 2020: Nutrition and women small-holder farmers’ security is important, says India’s ‘Nutrition Man’ Basant Kumar Kar

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It is very likely that the year 2020 is going to be the year of Nutrition. The buzzword is going to move beyond debates and is expected to drive government policies. India, which is home to one-third of the world’s malnourished children (source: GNR-2018), has almost achieved a zero-hunger target for its 1.3 billion population with the National Food Security Mission, and now it’s time for it to go for a malnutrition free country.

AgriGate Global caught up with Basanta Kumar Kar, Recipient of Global Nutrition Leadership and Transform Nutrition Champion and Award, 2019, Member, Steering Committee- South Asian Policy Leadership for Nutrition and Growth (SAPLING), to talk about his expectations from the Union Budget 2020.

Here’s an excerpt from interaction with the “Nutrition man” of India, Basant Kumar Kar.

Q. What are your expectations from Agriculture Budget 2020?

I would like to see the budget focusing on nutrition and women smallholder farmer security. Some of the expectations on structural reforms in food security, nutrition and agriculture are as follows:

  • The strategic shift from Food Security to Women Small Holder Farmer Security: India can be a global pioneer.
  • Traditionally, it is believed that food security can address the farmer’s security and nutrition security. In a country like India where malnutrition is all-pervasive and women smallholder farmers consist of the bulk of farmer population and producers are consumers, India should be the pioneer to address nutrition and livelihoods security through women smallholder farmer security.
  • The budget should aim at promoting and protecting the interest of women smallholder farmers and encourage farmer’s collective for better nutrition and livelihoods security. 

Q. How do you rate the current policies and what can be done to improve it?

I think the present National Food Security Act -2013 is inadequate to address sustainable food and nutrition security in the country. Therefore, India needs a new National Legislation on Food and Nutrition Security to deal with a) farmer’s security b) sustainable food and nutrition security c) food safety including management of food and nutrition value chain and d) preserving biosafety and biodiversity.

Q. What are your suggestions towards any legislation to address micro-nutrient malnutrition?

As per me, National Food Fortification Act is the best idea. Mandatory fortification has more advantages than voluntary fortification. Therefore, mandatory fortification can ensure universal access, regulatory enforcement and monitoring, transparency, and thereby, improve access to safe and quality fortified products to the poor who suffer from multiple micronutrient deficiencies. Hence, the government of India may consider bringing out mandatory fortification laws. Bio-fortification through conventional hybridisation should also be part of the fortification legislation. 

Q. Any suggestions for the policy makers?

  • National Food and Nutrition Council chaired by the Prime Minister himself can strengthen institutional arrangements and improve program delivery effectiveness.
  • Establishing the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Nutrition is needed in order to revitalise Parliamentarians for collective action.
  • Policy breakthrough in revolutionising dry land agriculture-nutrition and alternative medicine to address sustainable Nutrition practices is the need of the hour.
  • Apart from the need for good governance and good policy on dry land agriculture and alternative medicine, there is a need for MNREGA to support kitchen garden, biofortified crop, and dryland agriculture, conversion of Anganwadi centres into daylong crèches, Special Budget for Agriculture- Food Security and Nutrition, promotion of horticulture to increase dietary diversity, promotion of biofortified crops like moringa, a Minimum Support Price (MSP) for millet that is twice the procurement price of rice, establishing a Bio-Fortification Mission and Bio-Safety Authority, to name a few. 

Q. What’s your take on Climate-smart Nutrition sensitive Agriculture?

Agriculture and forestry contribute to 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions in the world (IPCC-2014 Report). Indian sustainable agriculture practices and traditional forest conservation methods have much to provide answers to India and the world on issues related to sustainable nutrition and environmental conservation. The government may consider a special budget on climate-smart -nutrition-sensitive agriculture which should focus on developing a knowledge bank on Indian traditional practices.

Q. Anything else you want to highlight?

India National Nutrition Report: Every year, India needs to bring out a status report on nutrition which should provide evidence-based data and models and rank districts and states based on their performance. 

Groundwater iron in Policy: I feel the Government of India should recognise Ground Water as a Source of nutrients and micronutrients and address heavy metal contamination in the groundwater as topmost priority agenda. To start with, the Government of India should endorse groundwater iron as a determinant of iron and anaemia status in populations.

JANANI( Join Angan Nutrition for New India): Also, for each hamlet, India needs women to Change Leaders who can provide a message on nutrition. India has 6.5 Lacs villages. Each village is having 3-4 hamlets. India needs 2.5 to 3.5 million JANANIs to spread nutrition messages.