Food is an essential human need after air and water. We have come a long way since our ancestors took up agriculture about 10,000 years ago. Until a decade ago, nobody really thought that we will run out of food. But today, ask any agro expert and he would acknowledge that the only question bothering him/her is how we are going to feed close to 9 billion people by 2050.
However, this issue cannot be tackled just by looking at how to increase production. There are two more aspects that should be fixed in parallel, namely reducing post production losses and optimizing consumption. Let us try to look at various factors that add up to these three broad areas:
- Price it right: Though most governments believe that “not to be hungry” is a basic human right, it is impossible to think about food without thinking of trade, ownership and profit. Government regulations can help control this to a certain extent, but the key is in striking a balance between regulations and trader interests.
- Produce more: We already talked about world population reaching 9 billion by 2050. Meanwhile as people become wealthier, their diets will also change. There are two ways to increase production: By genetically altering the crop and by using non genetic methods like crop rotation and inter-crop. It is not necessary to increase yield across the world, but the production should be improved in certain parts of the world like Africa.
Improving yield per acre is very vital, especially in countries with relatively less farmlands and water resources.
Since genetically modified food crops are not approved in India, this topic is left out of scope for now.
- Produce right: Innovation is required to produce the right crop at the right time using the right technique.
Modern industrial agriculture relies on just a few types of crops with few varieties grown, in what is known as a monoculture. This burdens the local economy to import the crops that are not grown or grown in less quantity. Proper irrigation and information should be provided to farmers, especially the small ones, to choose the right crop as per the national demand and in-turn improve their own earnings. Needless to say the government would save big dollars as a result of reduced imports.
- The patenting right: Having patents in the genetically modified techniques may be justified, but patenting age-old techniques and crops in the modern world will not help the “feeding the world” cause. The US trying to patent the basmati rice is one such instance. Our Indian sub-continent has been consuming this variety since time immemorial and just because we chose not to patent it, someone else cannot patent it and deprive the whole world of their right to produce it freely. The UN and other world bodies should take note of the same and put checks in place to avoid such time wasting irritants. All the legacy agro techniques that we have inherited over the last 10,000 years should be available as “open source” to one and all.
- Store and move it right: Improving production will only help us so much, if we are not able to plug the post harvest losses (PHL), which currently amounts to more than 1/3rd of the total crop produced. Various factors lead to PHL:
- Cleaning and storing losses which can be reduced by using mechanised techniques and improving storing facilities.
- Transportation losses which can be reduced by improving road and rail infrastructure. These can be reduced further by providing state of the art warehousing and cold storage facilities.
- Processing losses which can be reduced by processing at the right time and using technology that can give right alerts at the right phase to help take precautionary measures.
- Consuming right: This is not just about consuming the right quantity, but also the right kind of food.
- Right quantity: A lot of food on the plates gets wasted daily in households as well as in restaurants and canteens. The only way to control this is to impose self discipline.
- Right diet: With the emergence of fast-food and ready to eat food items, consumption of such hassle-free food is on the rise. Though this does not seem to increase wastage, it does change the dietary pattern and skews the demand for food.