India needs to triple investment in agricultural research: IFPRI

“India’s investment in agricultural research is still very low. China spends three to four times more than India. India has to invest more on research if it wants to catch up,” said Shenggen Fan, Director General of the Washington DC-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

“It is seen that for every dollar we spend in agricultural research, there is a return of 10 dollars, Fan said on the sidelines of a two-day conference on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through agriculture in India.

Commenting on India’s efforts to double farmers’ income by 2022, the IFPRI chief said: “This is not possible if we focus just on rice, wheat or maize. It should encourage farmers to grow more vegetables and fruits and diversify into areas like dairy farming for additional income generation,” he said.

According to him, agriculture is key to meeting half of the 17 SDG targets set for 2030, which includes eliminating poverty and hunger and reducing inequalities.

Food insecurity

While India met several of the Millennium Development Goals – the precursor to the SDGs – much of the country continues to suffer from poverty and food insecurity. More than 300 million people in South Asia live in poverty, with up to 71 per cent of them living in India. Improving the country’s agricultural sector presents an opportunity to address both urban and rural development needs, he argued.

The IFPRI also released its 2017 Global Food Policy Research Report, which focussed on food security and nutrition in an urbanising world. It highlights how cities are reshaping food systems across the world and new challenges are emerging from such a rapid urbanisation.

Rapid urbanisation is posing major challenges to food and nutritional security in India. “The rate of malnutrition in Indian cities is outpacing urbanisation itself,” he said.

Besides, India is among those countries where both malnutrition and overnutrition co-exist equally. Studies have shown that between 2008 and 2014, the number of obese and overweight people in India doubled to 22 per cent of the population. Ironically, the number of people living below the poverty line is also close to 20 per cent.

To accomplish the SDGs, it is imperative that policymakers support transformations in the food system, and some of the gratest changes to India’s food system are coming from rapid urbanisation, Fan observed.

“Access to technology is already beginning to change the landscape of agriculture,” he said. “Take cell phones for example. More than half of farmers who provide food to Delhi use cell phones to directly negotiate prices for crops. Leveraging the power of technology can help connect farmers to markets, optimise agricultural output, and improve livelihoods.”

Source: Hindu Business Line

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