Agricultural Interventions and Nutritional Status

Cross-posted from the FSP India website written by Bas Paris

Photo credit:Flickr, Sowmya's Photography
Photo credit:Flickr, Sowmya's Photography

A paper in Food Policy provides a review of various studies on the impacts of agricultural interventions on the nutritional status in South Asia. Past review exercises and studies have analysed the available evidences to understand the ways in which agriculture can be leveraged to enhance nutritional status, however, very few of them have employed a systematic approach encompassing a significant number of studies. This paper aims to fill this gap through conducting a systematic review assessing the existing evidence in 25 studies for combating food insecurity and malnutrition through agricultural interventions.

The paper analysed studies on the impact of interventions in agriculture and allied sectors (horticulture, livestock, fisheries and forestry) in South Asia (and India) on the nutritional outcomes for adults and children, published since the year 2000. The nutritional outcomes were captured through intermediate outcome indicators such as dietary diversity, calorie intake and nutrient intake, and outcome indicators such as anthropometric factors and DALYs (Disability Adjusted Life Years). The studies selected were not homogenous in terms of a common outcome indicator and the studies used different metrics for examining the linkage. Some studies analysed nutritional outcomes by examining the stunting and wasting of children and adolescents, whereas others analysed the Body Mass Index for determining adult malnutrition or levels of micronutrients such as vitamin A and haemoglobin. Some studies used intermediate outcome indicators, such as changes in consumption patterns, dietary diversity, and intakes of certain foods. Most of the included empirical studies analysed data from secondary datasets and had large sample sizes. Others were primary baseline surveys, with smaller sample sizes.

The paper categorizes the findings of the studies according to six pathways developed by UNICEF, and slightly modified by the paper, through which agriculture can influence nutritional outcomes. These six pathways are: sources of food, source of income of households involved in agriculture, agricultural policy and prices, women in agriculture and their socio-economic status, maternal employment in agriculture, and maternal nutrition and health status.

Regarding the sources of food the study highlights that 22 of the 25 reviewed studies examined the contribution of agriculture as a source of food for nutrition. The studies indicate strong evidence that the dietary intake of agricultural households largely depends on food supplies from their own farm, this is because subsistence farming is common across South Asia. The evidence, however, is not conclusive for the impact of supply of livestock on food consumption. A negative and significant association was also reported in three studies between improvements in agricultural productivity and under-nutrition. Particularly, the interventions for increasing the productivity and production of specific nutritious food crops such as vegetables and pulses, widely grown and consumed in India, showed positive implications for increased intake and child nutrition. However, a number of studies, two of which focused on India, estimated a weak relationship between calorie consumption and nutritional outcomes.

8 out of 25 studies investigated the impact of agricultural incomes on nutrition. In this regard the paper highlights that it is unclear whether agricultural growth leads to improvements in nutrition. Specifically, Heady illustrates that high agricultural growth rates in some states of India, such as Gujarat, Rajasthan and Bihar, were not accompanied by a decrease in under-nutrition. However, a number of studies find that nutritional security was reported to be significantly influenced by per capita agricultural income, one study also reported that increased household wealth also significantly positively affected the diet diversity of children in India.

Only 5 studies analysed the role of agricultural policies aimed at reducing relative prices or increasing the affordability of food on nutritional status. Based on the representative sample for India, it was demonstrated that policy interventions for affecting food prices played an important role in diet diversification and nutritional outcomes. The policy of improving the affordability of staples by the public distribution system provided food and nutritional security. However, the relative price of staples has a strong and significant association with diet diversity, but not with calorie availability.

8 studies covered the importance of women empowerment in agriculture and its contribution to household food and nutritional security. The nutritional status of the mothers, measured using the BMI, had statistically significant positive effects on height and weight for age scores of their children aged less than three years. Women empowerment influenced the quality of feeding practices for infants and young children, but was weakly associated with child nutrition status.

In conclusion the paper highlights that agricultural interventions (pathways 1-3) have the potential to influence nutritional outcomes in India and South Asia. However, the available evidence linking the agricultural interventions and their impact on the nutritional status of women and children is small (pathways 4-6). Overall, the paper stresses that these findings show that linkages between agriculture and nutrition are complex and require multi-sectoral and multi-dimensional approaches to tackle malnutrition problems. The findings clearly indicate the importance of the home production of nutrient-rich food crops for improving the nutritional outcomes. This suggests that bio-fortification of staples and homestead gardens can influence the intake of a micronutrient-rich diet and consequently nutritional outcomes. This also suggests that the diversification of agriculture towards fruits and vegetables can potentially promote dietary diversity and improve nutritional outcomes.

The full paper can be accessed here

Who Wants To Quit Agriculture And Why?

Farmer in Nalanda District, Bihar. Source: Divya Pandey, IFPRI
Farmer in Nalanda District, Bihar. Source: Divya Pandey, IFPRI

Agriculture the backbone of Indian economy that engages more than 50 percent of the country’s workforce, is losing its preference as the most desired profession. Research shows that more than 40 percent of farmers dislike farming as a profession because of low profits, high risk, and lack of social status, yet they continue with it owing to a lack of opportunities outside agriculture.

A recent study on “Farmers' Preference for Farming: Evidence from a Nationally Representative Farm Survey in India” identifies factors that underlie farmer’s reasons to move out of agriculture.

Farmers who express a preference for moving out of agriculture are mostly those with small landholdings, poor irrigation facilities, fewer productive assets including livestock, and follow a cereal-centric cropping pattern. They also have relatively lower access to credit, insurance, and information, and are weakly integrated with social networks such as self-help groups and farmers’ organizations. Within caste group, the dislike for farming moderates with larger landholdings.

If look in the past, over the year’s Indian agriculture faced the challenge of stagnation in arable land, rise in population with increase in demand, changing consumer preference and growing small land holder with an average size of 0.38 ha. According to the latest decennial population census 2011, for the first time in the last four decades, the absolute number of farmers in India fell by 9 million, from 127 million in 2001 to 119 million in 2011. However, a commensurate decline in the agricultural workforce did not occur. The share of agricultural workforce in the total employment declined extremely slowly from 74 percent in 1972-73 to 60 percent in 1993-94 and further to 52 percent in 2009-10.

The author’s highlights that lack of profitability, high risk, and lack of social status in farming and others in that order are few of reasons for moving out. About 67 percent disliked farming due to low profits, 18 percent due to high risk factors and remaining 15 percent based it on the low social status attached to the profession and other factors. Across the different farm land classes, low profitability remained the prominent denominator but it is relatively more pronounced among smaller farmers. Risk was directly in proportion with landholding sizes.

Study reveals that by comparing the net returns on the farms of potential quitters (those who don’t like farming as a profession) and willing stayers (those who like farming as a profession). It is as high as 25 percent in the medium (2.0-4.0 ha) farm class and 18 percent in small (1.0-2.0 ha) farm class. Importantly, the probability of quitting does not seem to be much influenced by social identity as the proportion of farmers disliking agriculture as a profession is almost similar across social classes.

The authors identifies number of pull and push factors underlying farmers’ decisions on agriculture. Pull factors mostly relate to the income opportunities outside agriculture for eg. access to non-farm business activities, higher education, income from labour/salaried jobs, while push factors are a reflection of the constrained livelihood opportunities in agriculture, forcing farmers to seek avenues outside agriculture for eg. lack of access to irrigation, farm credit, crop insurance, information on crop agronomy and modern technology. On the other way around access to irrigation and diversification of production structure towards high-value crops and livestock production make farming attractive to stay in agriculture.

These findings have two types of implications; one for the farm sector and the other for the nonfarm sector. The results point toward a tendency of possible decline in viability of agriculture as a profession. It was noted that farmers who practice integrated farming can be a signal for a greater policy emphasis for diversification toward these activities. Farmers need an improved availability of finances, inputs, information, and markets to benefit maximum from technological change and diversification. Since risk was identified as important reason for disliking farming, insurance agencies can target efforts to improve their outreach among smallholders.

Authors conclude that to improve viability of small-scale agriculture, investments and prioritization on climate smart agriculture interventions by the policymakers can be an important step towards improving the food security and rural livelihoods in addition to mitigating the climate impacts.

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40 per cent Indian farmers do not prefer farming as profession

Highlights of Recent IFPRI Food Policy Research in India

Source: (Flickr): Pallavi Rajkhowa, IFPRI
Source: (Flickr): Pallavi Rajkhowa, IFPRI

IFPRI began its enduring partnership with India nearly 40 years ago. In fact, IFPRI’s first Board of Trustees in 1975 included Vijay S. Vyas, Director of the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, India. IFPRI and India’s partnership played a particularly important role following the Green Revolution when that partnership analyzed the necessary policies to both promote domestic food production and to encourage farmers to adopt new rice and wheat varieties. IFPRI’s studies on the Green Revolution in India showed that agricultural growth had a strong impact on poverty alleviation and that further attention to agricultural growth was necessary to reduce poverty. In the late 1970s, amid stagnant food production, weather-related crop losses, and an ever-growing population, the Indian government sought food security solutions that extended beyond food aid; technology and rural development played leading roles in the IFPRI-India working relationship during that period.

During the 1980s, IFPRI’s research focused on India’s agricultural sector, particularly on agricultural growth linkages to the nonagricultural economy; the impact of high-yielding rice varieties in South India; and instability in foodgrains production, food subsidies, dairy development, and livestock demand. Research conducted during the 1990s included studies on topics such as public expenditure and poverty in rural India, incentives and constraints in the transformation of Indian agriculture, and high-value agriculture. Research topics since the 2000s have expanded to include malnutrition, public investment, climate change, value chains, capacity strengthening, and biofortification. As of 2015, the Institute has produced more than 450 publications on India’s food security and collaborates with dozens of Indian institutions.

IFPRI receives continuous financial and logistical support from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the Department of Agricultural Research and Education within the government of India and works alongside dozens of research collaborators in the country. This brochure highlights some of the key collaborations between IFPRI and its Indian partners, describing recent and ongoing work.

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Use of ICTs in Indian Agriculture

Cross-posted from the FSP India website written by Jaspreet Aulakh

Source:Bioversity International
Source:Bioversity International

India currently has several public and private active information and communication technology (ICT) initiatives with objectives to support and provide assistance to farmers, but analysis on how ICT is helping farmers to enhance productivity, better cope with the weather variability, and att

ain better prices for their produce is limited. Information on how small farmers and women engaged in agriculture are being helped by agricultural information dissemination via ICT is limited as well.

A workshop on October 16 in Hyderabad on the use and role of ICTs in Indian agriculture mapped the landscape and functionality of these initiatives. Participants agreed this was the first conference held at this scale on this topic, and it helped introduce different partners concurrently working on this common cause.  The main expectations from this workshop were to better understand the ICT landscape in India, the contribution of ICT, and the challenges faced in promoting the use of ICTs. It looked into how public policies can address some of these challenges, and will hopefully serve as a jumping off point for the development of new research that can generate evidence on the use of ICTs in achieving food security.

The extensive availability and coupling of ICTs in the recent decade-- television, mobile phones, computers, digital networks-- has led to unparalleled capacity for dissemination of knowledge and information to the farmer population. Some commonly used ICT applications or tools deployed to promote agricultural related information include: tele-centers, web portals, call centers, mobile phones, community radio, video, digital photography, GIS, e-mail, audio and video conferencing, and social media applications such as Facebook and WhatsApp. In addition to these, traditional ICTs such as radio, television, and print media are also used to share information about agricultural technologies, weather updates, and market price information. The one limitation to these older mediums is their comparatively unidirectional flow of information and lack of interaction and exchange between parties.

The gathering shared experiences from a number of initiatives, including mKisan[1], a SMS based farm advisory portal run by government of India; the Green Sim, a private initiative by India’s largest cell phone provider, Airtel; Kisan Call Centre under the government’s Department of Agriculture and Cooperation; and iKisan, an online informational resource for farmers by another private sector entity, Nagarjuna Fertilizers and Chemicals Ltd (NFCL).

mKisan was launched in 2013 and gives information, services, and advisories to farmers by SMS; farmers can indicate their preferred language and specify relevant agricultural practices and data specific to their location.  mKisan has sent millions of messages throughout the length and breadth of India.

Kisan Call Centers were launched in 2004 over the entire country to deliver extension services to the farming community. Farmers can call and make queries related to crops, seeds, fertilizers, agricultural commodity prices, pesticides, horticulture, veterinary issues and so on, free of charge.

Green Sim, another private national initiative, is a joint venture by IFFCO (Indian Farmers Fertilizer Cooperative) and Airtel, fulfilling their individual objectives of both the telecom provider and cooperative by providing information directly to farmers, delivering location- and time-sensitive information, and important alerts without adding economic strain to farmers. Green Sim comes with a flat cost of 86 rupees and can get the IFFCO services free of charge with proactive messaging services which target at updating of new information in the market, weather and cropping patterns, and reactive messaging services which are need-based.

iKisan was established in 2000 as part of Nagarjuna Group’s vision of rural prosperity through enhanced knowledge, with technology making Indian farmers globally competitive. iKisan is an agricultural portal which provides online, detailed content on crops, crop management techniques, fertilizers, and pesticides and a lot of other agriculture-related material. Other initiatives by private sectors entities discussed included mKrishi, a mobile agro-advisory system by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS);

Other forms of online portals were also discussed, such as the eSagu personalized agro-advisory system, the use of Facebook by Kerala’s Department of Agriculture, and SasyaSree. eSagu is an IT-based scalable system to disseminate location-specific best agricultural practices to all farmers; an agricultural scientist provides expert advice using digital photographs of the crop. Facebook is being widely used by the Department of Agriculture, Kerala in state’s local language as a channel to disseminate useful information to farmers and facilitate communication among the famers. SasyaSree, managed by Centre for Good Governance (CGG), is another local language portal (this one in Telugu) which promotes the use of existing technologies as means to improve productivity and farmer incomes. It is currently available in eight districts of the state, providing informative videos based on local conditions and local cropping patterns.

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Access to all of the conference presentations:

National Workshop: Mitigating Agrarian Distress in Indian Agriculture

Cross-posted from the FSP India website written by Jaspreet Aulakh

Hamish John Appleby / IWMI
Hamish John Appleby / IWMI

Partially spurred by the recent droughts in several states in India, a conference was held in Telangana on October 15, 2015 focusing on “Mitigating Agrarian Distress in Indian Agriculture” as part of a series of dialogues being organized under the Indian Food Security Knowledge Platform and Policy Dialogue. The conference was jointly organized by IFPRI and Centre for Good Governance and took place at the CGG Conference Centre in Andhra Pradesh. Distinguished guests from government, national and international researchers, and private stakeholders participated in the event.

The workshop aimed to look at the problems the agricultural sector faces from the recent drought to formulate proper policies and programs, not only for achieving sustainable and inclusive development of agriculture but also integrated rural development. The main goal of the workshop was to frame a set of recommendations to resolve the agrarian crisis based on an evidence-based assessment of the situation.

Although there are already government policies in place to support irrigation in case of dry spells, including an early weather advisory system and power regulation, there are still many Indian farming communities feeling the impact of drought and entering a phase of agrarian distress. The worst fears of a second consecutive year of rain deficit have played out as 2015 saw the adverse effects of drought in states of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has reported 12 percent average shortfall covering 40 percent of India for 2015. With a 43 percent below normal deficit in rainfall, Karnataka is the only state to declare drought this year and many districts-- 27 out of 30-- are affected. Yet other states are suffering severely as well; Maharashtra is experiencing a deficit of 51 percent below normal rainfall, for instance.

The central government has released 591.35 million USD as a national relief fund for the state of Karnatakam and last year 617.6 million USD were released for state of Maharashtra. The states of Punjab and Haryana are able to better cope to drought this year due to advanced irrigation facilities than other parts of the country. The delayed rains of September may alleviate some of the further damage but it is unlikely to mitigate the damage already done to agriculture production for 2015.  Hence, there is a need to address this agrarian stress which is multi-faceted through government policies.

The specific objectives this conference were the following:

  • Assess the socio-economic impact of recent droughts in India,
  • Document technological developments to reduce impact of drought.
  • Review government policies and programs which mitigate drought impact.

The impacts of droughts are multifaceted. They range from impacts on the quality and quantity of agriculture produce, on resources such as soil and surface water and depletion of productive assets, and on reduced demand for non-agriculture goods and services. Drought can exacerbate poverty, along with other socio-economic phenomena such as outmigration and overcrowding of cities. Drought can also impact prices of agricultural commodities according to one study presented at this workshop. It was also discussed that hot spots for extreme poverty, unrest, and outmigration are drought-prone areas which can cause effects to be exacerbated due to low resilience to shocks.

Coping with drought has been one of the underlying objectives for government of India for widespread public programs such as PDS (Public Distribution System), MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), and Agricultural Insurance (National Crop Insurance Scheme). Agricultural insurance is not taking off in India despite the sufficient supply because the willingness to pay for insurance is low in India. Thus, there is need for improvement in product design for selling insurance products in India. Insurance is particularly important in drylands as there is high production risk. There needs to be more studies to estimate whether insurance has improved household economy and improved livelihood opportunities.  MNREGA which can also be applicable in scenarios of drought has prevented 14 million people from falling into poverty since the start in 2005. Less developed regions which use MNREGA show higher participation and higher rate of poverty reduction than more developed regions.

PDS as a vehicle for food security, is the oldest system designed by government of India and needs to be designed around three elements of ‘Availability’, ‘Acceptability’ and ‘Accessibility’ (3 ‘A’s) and active involvement of other states besides Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, and Haryana. Food availability is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for food security. The Abhijit Sen Committee (2000-2002) brought out the conundrum of availability of excess food and simultaneously food deprivation/starvation. Therefore, the focus of the policy instruments must be to improve access to food with proactive planning, particularly in areas prone to drought without waiting for manual-based declarations.

Presentations also highlighted the existing drought-proofing methods such as solar pumps, drought-tolerant seeds, cloud seeding, and diesel pumps. Cloud seeding was a new concept which is interesting technology used to seed small clouds to create artificial rain over the drought prone agricultural areas. Drought tolerant seeds is an agronomic intervention in which staple crops are bred for drought resistance (can tolerate dehydration in critical growth stages) and show early maturity helping them to escape dehydration. Solar pumps are another mitigation strategy used by Bihar government helped to bring down the cost of irrigation 266 percent when compared to conventional irrigation methods in the case of wheat.

The Telangana government programs includes several initiatives along with Universities to mitigate drought. The press is highly used in the months of high drought risk to spread the weather forecast of Indian Meteorological Department (IMD). The contingency plan in event of drought explaining the adaptation strategies, climate variability, and possible rainfall deficit is shared via video conferences and the farmers given sowing instructions for rainfed crops. The updated forecast is communicated to the officials of Department of Agriculture, farmers and scientists. Wide coverage of contingency plan is given via national television network and 14 other channels.

Bihar government programs for drought proofing include subsidies on shallow tube wells, diesel pump-sets, and investment in public tube-wells. Affordable irrigation is one of the essential components for creating resilient agriculture in Bihar which depends upon affordable power. The current solar-pump model needs immediate change, with farmers and solar companies requiring a modified financial model.

Some options discussed during the dialogue included-stress mitigation with relief measures and subsidies, reduction of single cash cropping, optimization of state reservoir capacities, crop insurance, and improvement of irrigation conditions, alternative government employment, and accessibility of low-interest institutional loans.

The summary conclusions of the dialogue include the following:

  1. There is a need for better information sharing on the role of particular departments within the government as well as more coordination in dealing with drought; for example, between those doing remote sensing and those looking at the agricultural markets and production. More discussion is needed on the role of national markets which can reduce the burden of distress by allowing free trade among Indian Agriculture Markets.
  2. Non-farm employment needs to be considered in policies, as it can be important insurance tool in the incidences of agrarian distress. The non-farm sector has high potential in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh states, for example.
  3. There are many existing policies such as MNREGA, PDS, and NIAS, demonstrating the government’s active role.However, new policies should be built around and in coordination with the programs in place and formulated in the context of the Indian political economy these programs receive a great amount of funding but are not reaching the desired results on poverty reduction.
  4. Tweaking already existing programs cannot give a sustained solution for solving the existing issues. Thinking outside the box is needed along with provision of skill-development programs and crop diversification with livestock, for example.
  5. There is need for pragmatic policies which are based on real-time data and multi-programed technology. Climate-smart agriculture methods are needed as well as a location-specific understanding of the impacts of drought.

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