Sustainable agriculture is fundamental to food security, India has said at a high-level UN session, and emphasised the need to bring seed diversity back as shift by farmers from local varieties to genetically uniform, high-yielding breeds has reduced the ability of crops to survive when faced with challenges.
India joined Chile and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO) to co-host the High-Level Political Forum side-event ‘On the road to the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables 2021: Highlighting health and nutritional benefits through sustainable production and consumption of fruits and vegetables’.
“We believe that sustainable agriculture is fundamental to food security,” India’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Ambassador K Nagaraj Naidu said on Monday.
Emphasising the importance of seed diversity, Naidu said 75 per cent of the world’s plant genetic diversity has been lost since the 1900s, as farmers have shifted from local varieties to genetically uniform, high-yielding crop breeds, thereby reducing the ability of crops to survive when faced with challenges.
He said GM crops also have significant socio-economic impacts. Because the seeds are proprietary, farmers have to pay royalties to use them and purchase new seeds every season, facing rising costs, and often increasing debt.
”We need to bring seed diversity back and it is here that women have a crucial role to play because traditionally women across the world have been and continue to be caregivers, nutrition providers and the primary seed-keepers. From seed production, selection, enhancement, storage to seed sharing and exchange, women farmers play a critical role,” Naidu said.
He underscored that the right to safe and nutritious food and the role of fruit and vegetable consumption in ensuring food security and reducing malnutrition have been affirmed on several occasions. The regular consumption of diverse fruits and vegetables is essential for a well-balanced diet and to prevent micro-nutrient deficiency and non-communicable diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases. However, despite this recognition, worldwide per capita consumption of fruit and vegetables is estimated to be 20-50% short of the minimum level recommended.
Low intake of fruit and vegetables is among the top 10 risk factors for mortality in the world and this scenario is largely attributed to unhealthy diets in developed countries and poverty and food insecurity in developing countries, he said.
”The problem also lies with growing monoculture production patterns all over the world,” Naidu said adding that according to the FAO, about 75 per cent of the world’s food is generated from only 12 plants and five animal species.
”In the COVID context, it is all the more important to develop immunity to fight the virus and fruits and vegetables are excellent sources to induce immunity,” he said.
India, with just 2.4 per cent of the world’s land area, is the second-largest producer of fruits with an annual production of 98 million tonnes, accounting for about 10.9 per cent of the world production. India also produces 187 million tons of vegetables annually, accounting for 8.6 per cent of world production. The area under cultivation under fruits and vegetables has increased by about 11 per cent between 2013-14 and 2017-18.
Naidu said the increase in production has been largely due to government efforts in raising the levels of technology used in agriculture through R&D intervention, investments in rural infrastructure, capacity building, and through credit and procurement support.
India has also deployed ICT to revolutionise agriculture, with the government launching an online platform for trading agricultural commodities (E-NAM). The platform helps farmers, traders and buyers in better price discovery and marketing of their produce all over India.
He told the session that India is also implementing post-harvest management technologies including cold chain capacity of 37 million tons to decrease food waste and loss. Chile had championed to declare the year 2021 as an International Year of Fruits and Vegetables’ by UN General Assembly in 2019.