Putting pulses into the farming system for household food and nutrition security
In spite of impressive growth of Indian agriculture, ensuring household food and nutrition security is still a challenge due to imbalanced growth in agriculture. Food and nutrition security is said to be achieved when adequate and nutritious food is available and accessible to all individuals at all times to live a healthy and active life.
Though production of pulses has increased in India in recent decades it has not kept pace with the increase in population. Given that Pulses are a major source of protein in Indian diet and are climate resilient crops suited to rainfed farming conditions, increase in pulse production can be a remedy for addressing undernutrition.
Half of the pregnant women in India are anemic while in the case of children under the age of five years, 74 percent are reported to be anemic and 43 percent underweight (World Bank, 2012). Promotion of Pulses (Red gram Green gram and Chickpea) form an important of the core crop interventions under an ongoing Farming System for Nutrition (FSN) study in Wardha district of Maharashtra, India as part of a research programme on Leveraging Agriculture for Nutrition in South Asia (LANSA). The focus of the intervention is to bring about change consumption pattern of food items over time in smallholder farm families leading to greater dietary diversity and improved nutrient intake in terms of energy, protein and fat; from my experience, the availability of quality seeds of acceptable pulse varieties is a challenge in the region. Specific varieties are often available only through the state governments research institutes and are not very accessible to small holder farmers. Research and extension department’s efforts should focus on farmer selection of appropriate varieties and their promotion to increase cultivation and consumption.
Also, considering the fact that there is widespread malnutrition in India, especially among children and women, there is need to increase production and availability of pulses by adopting various innovative measures like institutional and policy support, development and wider adoption of High Yielding Varieties (HYV) and low cost technologies, proper extension services for processing and marketing of pulses. In my view, a major innovation that can facilitate movement of pulses from the field to the cooking pot will be introduction of low cost pulse processing machines in villages and greater nutrition awareness on the benefits of consuming pulses. Also including pulses in social protection programmes like the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) and the PDS will help promote their consumption for better nutrition.