'...and provide access to nutritious foods from smallholder producers must be at the heart of...'
The assumption that nutritious foods come only from smallholder farmers or producers is misleading. Can we change it like this:
'...and provide access to nutritious foods from smallholder as well as large producers must be at the heart of...'
In Tamil Nadu, India, mid-day meal is provided to kids, especially those from poor families, in government schools. In this scheme, one egg is provided to each child every day on school days (Monday to Friday only). It has been found the health of the children taking eggs in mid-day meals has proved significantly. Eggs can rove nutrition of poor kids and their parents, if they can afford them. To keep the access of eggs to the poor, the price of egges must be as low as possible.
To keep the price of eggs low, the feed cost must be either kept low by innovative methods (e.g., converting food wastes into poultry feed) or egg price must be subsidized by local governments to improve the nutrition of the poor. Afterall, the food and nutrition security of people, especially the poor, is a key responsibility of the local and or national governments.
Rice is the most staple food in Asia. The Asian rice sector supports 140 million farmers who cultivate rice on 145 million hectares of harvested area, employs 300 million people in the rice value chain activities, and it is an important staple food for 60% of the Asian population. The mean size of one hectare per farm is too small to support a family of 5-6 members. Further continuous fragmentation of rice farms after each generation poses serious challenges to the viability of rice farming in Asia. Given the mounting pressures to quit rice farming, smallholder farmers continue to persist, especially in South and East Asia, despite fast developing economy and increasing urbanization. There is also a growing agrarian crisis in most developing countries of Asia due to a long neglect of rural areas where most of the smallholders live and farm. They suffer from poverty, malnutrition, dispossession of land assets, and death. We need an urgent and a comprehensive solution to tackle this rural degradation and agrarian crisis.
Precision farming and resource-conserving technologies are now available and new ones are being developed to tackle the technical constraints of rice-based farming systems. Farmers must be empowered and faclitated to better adopt the currently available technologies -- the Best Management Practices for lowland rice farming in Asia.
Climate change remediation by individual farmers: Farmers must make every family farm a climate-smart farm, one which is equipped with the knowledge and technologies essential to manage and mitigate the expected adverse impacts of Climate Change on agriculture. Achieving the triple objectives – adaptation, mitigation and food security – is increasingly being called “climate-smart agriculture.” In climate smart farms, farmers should use stress (flood, drought, pests and diseases) tolerant or resistant rice varieties with appropriate production technologies that reduce such stresses. In addition, farmers need to improve cropland management practices and restore organic matter into the soil. Increasing soil organic matter content in farms not only increases carbon sequestration – a climate mitigation function, but also enhances soil quality, water-holding capacity, nutrient use efficiency, and finally higher crop yields. Alternative wetting and drying (AWD) irrigation method thus has the potential to reduce the global warming impact of irrigated rice farming by one-third, relative to the continuously flooded rice system.
Governemnt actions needed to contain climate change: Important actions, ones which must be taken by national or local governments, include building irrigation-drainage facilities for farmers to cope with changing rainfall patterns. There must be an adequate supply of good quality seeds and other farm inputs at the right price. Governments should assist in the building of rural processing facilities and improve farmers’ access to key markets. Government support for affordable rural education and healthcare and renewable energy infrastructure is imperative.
Finally, favorable policy and institutional support are critical for:
- Identifying climate-related risks and stresses along the entire value chain
- Breeding rice varieties that are more tolerant of climate-related abiotic stress (drought, flood, cold, & high temperature) and also have increased resistance to biotic stressors (insect pests and diseases)
- Deployment of scientific findings and technologies to make farming practices much more efficient at using natural resources of soil, water, and energy, while optimizing necessary external inputs, including fertilizers and pesticides
- Equipping and empowering smallholder farmers to adopt ecologically sound conservation agriculture practices. These will include improving soil health and fertility, a better management of water and energy resources, enhancing biodiversity both on-farm and off-farm, implementing appropriate farm mechanization, and using agroforestry systems whenever feasible
- Enhancing the adoption of smallholder crop-animal production systems as a means to improve cash flow, family nutrition and health, and resilience against abrupt changes in weather and or markets.
Addressing the socio-economic and policy constraints is the most difficult for all. Rural reconstruction is the key to improving rural livelihoods and reducing rural to urban migration. What we need is to develop smart villages rather than smart cities by improving rural living conditions through better and affordable healthcare and education facilities, better rural infrastructure for farm production, processing and storage, as well as good roads and efficient transport to well-functioning markets.
Given the persistence of smallholders in Asia, the governments should enable such farmers to make a decent living out of their farms. We need to explore some smart ways to increase the effective farm size through consolidation of small holdings without farmers losing their title to their lands. Some examples of increasing effective farm size include a kind of “village farming” in China, “small farmers, large farm” in Vietnam, and professionally managed groups of small holders in Indonesia. Farmers in such large virtual farms should have decent access to good quality water resources, favorable land tenure system, favorable weather, appropriate technologies, training and technical support, credit, insurance, and adequate rural infrastructure (health, education, roads, transport, and processing and storage facilities). Such well-supported large virtual farms will adopt precision farming methods to produce adequate quantities of good quality produce for efficient marketing at attractive price.
Over all, we need appropriate policy and institutional support systems in place – ones which will allow farmers to make intensification of rice farming sustainable, profitable, regenerative, and supportive of the land and water resource bases, and of the environment. A comprehensive understanding of scientific, technical, environmental, economical, and societal issues - including re-education of farmers and stabilization of the human population – is a prerequisite to effectively implementing eco-efficient farming practices. There is, however, no assurance that all the necessary prerequisites will be met, yet the food and nutrition security of billions of human beings depends on success in implementing a truly sustainable agricultural ecosystem(s) for growing rice across Asia.
The drivers of rural to urban migration are: poor rural infrastructure (health, education, transport, services & entertainment, etc.); lack of employment opportunities; growing agrarian crisis and indebtedness; climate change and natural disasters. If we allow free flow of able bodied, but not fully trained and equipped people to urban areas, the productivity, economy, environment, housing, and health problems will mount in both rural areas and urban centers. We need a complete paradigm shift in national development:
(1) What we need urgently is to build smart villages rather than smart cities. This will help improve the rural infrastructure which in turn will help distribute the population evenly over the entire country, avoiding over crowded slums and the related problems in cities.
(2) In population-dense countries like India, the economic growth must be decentralized with labor intensive micro-small-medium enterprises and distributed components manufacturing at homes and assembly units at strategic locations will help generate the much needed jobs in the rural and urban sectors and will help reduce the overall poverty in any country. Jobless growth is the curse of the modern economy producing billionaires and a decent national GDP, but increasing rural and urban poverty and disempowering hundreds of millions of people.
(3) Farming and the related processing and value addition industries must be developed fully in rural areas to enhance the rural economy, REDUCE RURAL POVERTY AND TO MITIGATE THE AGRARIAN CRISIS and reduce the rural indebtedness, reduce rural to urban migration, and to build the national economy in a sustainable manner.
Prior to 1990s, we used the one-way rural radios or interactive HAM radios to communicate with farmers. Then came the TVs to spread the technological messages and commodity prices to farmers. Now, the widely spread smart phones are handy to interact with farmers with all sorts of information: up to the minute price updates for commodities of interest in various markets, weather information, advice to farmers on pests and disease incidences and how to control them, showing pest-damage or diseased crops to researchers and getting timely advice on control measures, showing samples of farm produce to dealers or whole salers in various markets and negotiating the price for such commodities, and so on. The introduction of video chatting in WhatsApp will further enhance the face-to-face interaction between different actors in the commodity value chain. Farmers or farmer groups can be effectively linked in the commodity value chain and empowered to deal with produce collectors and dealers, and to procure all the farm inputs at a competitive price. If properly used, all the actors in the value chain will benefit from the appropriate use of the ICTs in agriculture.
Populations of pollinating insects including honeybees is threatened by monocropping and use of intensive agricultural practices including rampant application of pesticides. A good example is the almond farms in California that require increasing import of pollinator honey bees from outside for proper pollination of almond flowers. What can be done to improve on on-farm biodiversity and to enhance the multiplication pollinator insects including honeybees? Allowing broad-leaf weeds and leguminous plants to grow in field boundaries; growing wild flowers in areas adjacent to crop fields; adoption of diversified cropping -- rotation of crops, intercropping, incorporation of trees in farms like in agroforestry systems; leaving live natural vegetation strips or hedge rows of shrubs and trees along the contour in large farms will all help in increasing diversity in farms and support the growth and development of pollinators and natural enemies of crop pests. Ecological intensification through conservation agriculture is the way forward to intensify food production and to enhance farm biodiversity.
Urban farming is expanding in many cities and towns to produce part of the foods, particularly fresh vegetables and fruits, that we consume. My friend Dr. S.P. Periaswamy and I, along a few other friends, are promoting home gardening including roof-top gardening and micro-greens (Word.docx attached) in Coimbatore, India. On third Sunday each month at 15:30-17:00 hours, We provide training on planting media, soil-manure-fertilizer-filler mix, seed and seedling management, nutrient use, watering and moisture management, ecological pest management, and harvest procedures and use of the fresh produce. We provide this training free of cost to participants with a view to promote home gardening and provision of pesticide-free fresh vegatables and fruits to family members, particularly children. About 25 to 30 people, of whom 60-70% are women, participate in this training. Among the participants there are organic production enthusiasts, rational producers with organic and fertilizer nutrient sources, and others who use fertilizers and other input to produce for local markets. This forum also promotes exchange of ideas and experiences from among the participants. We have conducted 7 sessions until 19th June 2016. We are happy that the response is good even after 7 sessions.
One question that is not addressed in this forum is the nexus between soil health, production practices, crops/animal health, and human health (that includes overweight/obesity). Unless soil health is maintained, producing healthy and nutritious food from crops and animals is impossible. Promotion of conservation agricultural practices (minimum tillage, soil mulch/cover crops, and diversification of farming) is the first step in regenerating degraded landscapes and soils and in maintaining soil health in other areas for producing healthy and nutritious foods for the local, national and international markets. Another aspect is the integrated pest management (IPM) to minimize or avoid pesticide residues in foods that we consume. Production of pesticide-free foods must be our goal if we were to protect human health. A third aspect is the proper management of postharvest processing, storage and distribution/retailing. These activities must be managed to reduce wastages, prevent contamination from food-borne patogens and insect pests, and use of air-tight packaging that minimizes deterioration food quality over time.
One chapter must be allocated to discuss this linkage among soil health, production practices, crops/animal health, and human health.
The most important is the consumer education. It is the consumers who decide wat to buy and eat. If they are ignorant of food and nutrition issues, nothing will succeed. (1) Adult education and awareness creation on food choices and their impact on their heath is the first step to healthy eating habits. (2) It is equally important that kids in schools receive proper education on food, nutrition, exercise/physical activity, and health. We need a healthy body to house a healthy mind. They should learn about cooking and how to prepare healthy foods for themselves and for their families. (3) Food processing industries must be given all the incentives to produce healthy foods and consumers must be prepared to pay higher prices for healthy foods. With both spouses going to work to maintain the family, it is important to provide easy-to-prepare food choices that are nutritious and healthy to the entire family. With these three initiatives, we can improve our diets and popularize healthy eating habits among the population.