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In the current discussion, the focus has been chiefly on the impact of agriculture on nutrition security. In this context, I wanted to bring in the role of the government in promoting food and nutrition security amongst the population. In India, the Public Distribution System (PDS) is an important channel through which the vulnerable sections receive a monthly quota of cereals, kerosene and sugar. A few states have initiated the distribution of pulses and millets in the PDS. It is no surprise that these particular states such as Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Chhattisgarh- for pulses and Karnataka- for millets also show a better nutrition status.
In the agriculture sector, a few schemes such as Integrated Scheme of Oilseeds, Pulses, Oil Palm and Maize (ISOPOM) in 2004 gave states the flexibility to utilize the funds for the scheme/crop of their choice. In 2007, the Additional Central Assistance Scheme (RKVY) incentivised states to draw up plans for their agriculture sector more comprehensively, taking agro-climatic conditions, natural resource issues and technology into account, and integrating livestock, poultry and fisheries more fully. These are just a few examples to showcase that the role of the government is extremely important in the promotion of a farming system which aids nutrition security.
Throughout the world, production trends give an indication of what comprises the consumption basket of a country. India produces about 19 million tonnes of pulses and has to import around 4 million tonnes to meet the demand deficit in 2014. Yet, we just about met the daily requirement of 40 grams per day starting 2011.
A few states in India such as Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Chhattisgarh provide pulses in the Public Distribution System (PDS) to promote a balanced food consumption basket. However, for a majority of states, pulse distribution through the PDS still remain s a challenge. In the PDS, the poor households are provided essential food items at subsidised prices. This is important because pulse prices are very volatile in India primarily due to a late announcement of the Minimum Support Price (MSP), thereby not providing an incentive for increase in their production. On the other hand, once imports also reach the market, prices start to fall.
In order to increase the consumption of pulses, it is important as mentioned earlier in this discussion to increase awareness about the nutritional benefits of pulses. Till date, they are referred to as poor man's meat and along with millets as orphan crops. In India where almost half the population is vegetarian, increasing the consumption of pulses in the diet is extremely important to fight micronutrient deficiency. Pulses can be cooked in innovative ways such as a pulse patty or a pulse burger which might seem tastier for children and young adults. Production of pulses should also be encouraged by timely announcement of the MSP and proper procurement procedure. This will help the country meet the minimum daily requirement of pulses in the diet.
Analogous to the water-diamond paradox, women spend more time doing unpaid household work including child-care and cooking. Social and cultural norms prevent them from asking the males in the household to help out in the domestic work, specially in the rural areas. The household dynamics might not even allow them to cook according to their own preference. Typically, in India, they are also the last to eat in the household.
Given this context, it becomes vital to increase their awareness and education levels. The importance of the first thousand days in a child's life and diet diversity needs to be stressed. Empowering the women is the only way forward to tackling the inter-generational aspect of malnutrition.