If India must catch up with the WHO-advised levels of intake, it has to urgently go for farm sector reforms
While the World Health Organization recommends a daily intake of 400 gm of fruit and vegetables (excluding starchy tubers like potato, cassava, etc.), or five servings of 80 gm each, a new Icrier report finds, Indians, on average, consume just 3.5 helpings—with youngsters (in the 18-25 years age group, it is 2.97 helpings) and students (2.94 servings) consuming even lesser. Given many of the essential vitamins and micronutrients come from fruit and vegetables (phytonutrients), the average Indian is clearly deficient of these, unless there is a dependence on nutritional supplements. There are many reasons why Indians are consuming less fruit and vegetables than is required. While lifestyle is definitely one—intake varies across diet types—income and inflation, the report highlights, are two important ones where the right policy interventions could help.
Year-on-year fruit and vegetable productivity has more or less remained constant since FY05, making the country a net importer. As income rises with higher growth—McKinsey predicts the share of the middle-class in the country’s population will increase from 5% to 41% if growth averages 7.3% between 2005 and 2025—the demand for fruit and vegetables is going to soar. Therefore, if the current levels of production continue, India’s phytonutrient-trade balance is only going to worsen. What the government can do to prevent this is to quickly implement a set farm- and retail-sector reforms. For example, delisting fruit and vegetables from the APMC Act will mean the mandi stranglehold on these will go and prices can come down as retailers procure directly from producers. Similarly, moving away from the assured procurement and MSP regime for rice and wheat could prompt farmers to grow more fruit and vegetables, given they command a higher price in the market. Opening up the retail sector to FDI could mean cold-storages, a crucial link in the supply-chain for perishables, would come up, assured of a ready front-end.