Adeela Hameed

The Unprecedented Irony of Food Scarcity and Growing Agriculture

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Food is classified into various categories based on the type of nutrition it provides. As for human health, daily intake of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, roughages/fibres in a well-balanced quantity is must. Deficiency of any of the mentioned nutrients might lead to diseases like scurvy, kwashiorkor, and marasmus, to name a few. As for calories, a human being has been averaged out to consume a minimum of 2500 kcal/day. Any less would result in undernourishment. For example, if calorie intake is less than 80% of the minimum value, a person is labelled severely undernourished.

India as an Agriculture Driven Country

India is a developing country, with almost 3/4ths of its population involved in agriculture, yet the nation showcases an exponential growth in terms of people who die of malnutrition or undernourishment every year. On an average, 40 million people die of starvation every year around the world with countries like India and Africa contributing the most to these statistics. Most individuals affected are in the age group of 1-5 years. This makes children, the future of our nation, taking a direct hit from one of the worst health issues effective today on a global scale.

India has been introducing varied techniques and equipment to help its agriculturists produce food for everyone but the problems arising from using hybrid varieties, GM (genetically modified) crops, and unavailability of proper resources, inclusive of issues related to storage, transportation and distribution, have been increasing drastically. Green Revolution, from M.S. Swaminathan, did help India achieve sustainability in providing food for all and making sure no one goes hungry, but this boost needs more assistance, now that the country is growing even more. It needs prospecting of areas where people suffer and helping them understand how and where to cultivate.

Water Requirement of Agriculture

Obtaining water in semi-arid and arid areas, where population suffers the most, is a hindrance. Water is by far the greatest resource that promotes agriculture. It is a fact that fields need to be properly irrigated and timely supply of water to crops, for a variety of purposes other than irrigation, is required. This makes agriculture water resource intrinsic; i.e. it cannot survive without water. Although, fertilizers and manure are to be utilized to maintain a crop field and suitable storage, transportation and distribution services need to be maintained, but water is an entity, agriculture cannot do without; especially if we talk about staple diet crops in India like rice, wheat, barley and maize.

Talking about the Water Footprint of staples such as rice and wheat, regression models have calculated the total blue, i.e. irrigation water footprint, of these crops at 19% and 31%, respectively. This showcases volume of fresh water utilized in irrigation for dietary crops in India, which given the rate at which water scarcity is increasing, is not a good sign for sustainability. Not only this, emissions from rice fields such as release of methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide lead to an overall increase in concentration of GHGs (greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere, augmenting greenhouse effect. On the other front, leachates, i.e. inorganic substances washed out during floods and rains, from these farms contain precipitates of phosphate, nitrogen, sulphur, and other compounds which increase soil salinity and block air spaces in the soil, thus leading to water logging.

These disastrous effects are impending and food production is about to suffer. It will not be long before dominoes start to fall from here on. It is with planned sustainable agricultural practices that food production can be increased to properly meet the needs of our country’s emergent population without wounding the environment in the process.

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