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UNFAO Report: Transforming Agri-food Systems

Context: A report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) revealed the enormous hidden expenses of worldwide agrifood systems, exceeding a remarkable $10 trillion.

Key Aspects of the UNFAO Report on Transforming Agri-food Systems

In India

  • In countries with middle-level income, such as India, these expenses amount to almost 11% of their GDP.
    • This results in increased poverty, environmental degradation, and health issues, including malnutrition and unhealthy eating habits.
  • The report attributes these rising costs to “unsustainable standard operations and practices.”
  • It emphasises the necessity to overhaul agricultural and food systems, advocating for a transition to multi-cropping systems.
    • Such a change could safeguard the welfare of farmers, enhance nutritional benefits for communities, and have a beneficial effect on environmental health.

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Unsustainable Standard Operations and Practices

  • The impacts of intensive agriculture, particularly in India, are multifaceted and largely detrimental. The shift towards mono-cropping and chemically intensive farming, driven by technological advancements, has had several negative consequences:
    • Dependency on HYV Seeds: High Yielding Variety (HYV) seeds, primarily of wheat and paddy, now make up over 70% of India’s agricultural output. This reliance on HYV seeds and chemical fertilisers has eroded seed sovereignty and weakened Indigenous knowledge systems.
    • Nutritional Compromise: The focus on these crops has compromised the nutritional diversity of the food supply, moving away from a range of crops like pulses and millets to monocultures.
    • Environmental Impact: Intensive agriculture practices have led to ecological disasters, including excessive groundwater extraction and degradation of soil health.
    • Financial Burden on Farmers: These practices have also increased the debt burden among agricultural households, as they require significant investment in seeds, chemicals, and water.
    • Crop Diversity Decline: There has been a significant shift from diverse crop varieties to monoculture plantations, reducing agricultural biodiversity.

The Impact of Government Policies on Agricultural Diversity in India

  • The crops that are being favoured in this system are primarily rice and wheat, largely because these are included in the Public Distribution System (PDS) of the central government.
  • The area under cultivation for rice and wheat has increased substantially over the years.
  • Additionally, other government-supported crops like sugarcane (which is water-intensive) and arecanut also receive attention.
    • However, crops like jowar, bajra, ragi, maize, and barley, which are more sustainable and less resource-intensive, receive much less attention as they constitute less than 1% of total foodgrain procurement.

Benefits of Crop Diversification

  • Restoration of Degraded Land and Soil: Crop diversification can play a crucial role in rejuvenating deteriorated land and improving soil health.
  • Advantages of Millets: Millets, with yields comparable to rice and wheat, offer several benefits.
    • They are nutritious, thrive in semi-arid conditions, reduce groundwater depletion, require minimal inputs, and contribute to a varied diet.
  • Multi-Cropping Systems: In Karnataka, the practice known as ‘akkadi saalu’ exemplifies diversified agriculture.
    • It involves intercropping various crops like legumes, pulses, oilseeds, along with trees and shrubs.

Transition Strategies for Farmers

  • Shifting Farming Practices: Farmers can gradually move from chemical-intensive farming to non-pesticide management and eventually to natural farming methods. This progression can significantly lower input costs.
  • Incorporating Livestock and Poultry: Diversification can also include integrating livestock and poultry farming, providing additional income sources and enhancing farm sustainability.

About United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)

Category Details
Organisation Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
Description A specialised agency of the United Nations focusing on international efforts to defeat hunger.
World Food Day Celebrated annually on October 16 to commemorate the FAO’s founding in 1945.
Location
  • Headquartered in Rome, Italy.
  • Sister organisations include the World Food Programme and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
Initiatives
  • Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)
  • Monitoring the global Desert Locust situation
  • Overseeing the Codex Alimentarius Commission for food standards
  • Adoption of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (2001)
Flagship Publications
  • The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA)
  • The State of the World’s Forests (SOFO)
  • The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI)
  • The State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA)
  • The State of Agricultural Commodity Markets (SOCO)

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