Is the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme counter-productive? How to ensure that the poor do not slip into an unhealthy lifestyle with the income earned under the scheme? What is the permanent solution for malnutrition? These and many other thought-provoking questions were raised by MS Swaminathan, the Father of Green Revolution, and ESL Narasimhan, Governor, at a satellite event of the ongoing biodiversity conference at the NIN Campus here on Tuesday.
The answers for the questions are many and varied. Seeking to add his voice to the discourse, MS Swaminathan said, “despite many efforts, malnutrition is very high in the country. If we put faces before figures, we will understand there is no decline in the burden of malnutrition.”
According to him, the only solution to the problem is to “marry agriculture and nutrition.” Explaining his concept of three As of food security, he pointed out that though availability of food was satisfactory in the country, access to food and absorption of food (in the body) were very poor. The 87-year-old expressed the hope that the National Food Security Bill, likely to be discussed in Parliament in the next session, would have a provision on climate smart nutri-cereals.
Governor ESL Narasimhan, on the other hand, took the side of the layman and raised quite a few pertinent questions on food security, which he opined, was as important as national security. He was of the opinion that there was a need to revisit a few policy decisions.
Speaking about the free rice scheme to people below the poverty line, he asked if it wouldn’t be better to supply a more nutritious package to the poor to help them lead a healthy life. The employment guarantee scheme, he pointed out, had been useful in generating income for the poor but he wondered, “how do we ensure that this income is not diverted towards unhealthy lifestyle and further raise the level of unemployability?”
He also asked if there was a way to deal with “shrinking lands” and “urban-rural migration”. He pointed out that agriculture had to be made more remunerative to deal with the issue as he believed migrations would only lead to greater disappointment and chaos if the rural masses were not uplifted. He also referred to the increased yield of paddy and wheat and questioned, “Why cannot we make enough storage space for paddy and rice?” He stressed that it was high time “we dealt with all these issues in a realistic manner.”