Agriculture, The Indian Diet, And Health
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When a newly independent India went through a protracted freedom struggle and subsequent partition, it brought many burdens with it. One of the primary goals of the country was to become self-reliant and stable, which included feeding the starving masses and ensuring food security. That emphasis largely remains main thrust of India’s food policy.

The Green Revolution of the 1960s focused on growing cereals like rice and wheat, besides which maize, millet, oilseeds, and pulses were also promoted as solutions to feeding a large population. This was a priority across generations and governments. Five-year plans were rolled out to address this problem and streamline agricultural output. Agriculture and irrigation, and related industrial development, received great focus. Over half of India’s workforce is employed in agriculture and related fields.

Today, the challenges in the agricultural sector are a far cry from the scenario of post-Independence. India is now a global leader in food production and exports. It is the world’s leading producer of milk. In contrast, not too long ago, there was a time when it was reliant on the aid of milk powder and wheat from overseas donors. India is ranked second in the production of wheat, rice, certain dry fruits, pulses, sugarcane, coconut, eggs, farmed fish, and various vegetables.

Millets were introduced to the world as a nutritious food source by India. The year 2023 has been declared the International Year of Millets at the UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) at the instance of Indian initiatives. The government is actively promoting millets' cultivation and use as a healthy alternative for the masses. Millet cultivation is sensible for prudent water use and the preservation of groundwater tables. Millet-infused recipes are breaking trends on the search engines as people globally are searching for healthier alternatives.

The result of changing dietary choices, work cultures, and lifestyles in India over the past few decades has thrown up disturbing health statistics. India is considered the global capital of Type 2 diabetes, with an estimated 61% of deaths being attributed to non-communicable diseases as of 2017 (WHO). This is reflected in the changing patterns observed: a decline in consumption of cereals (millet), pulses, and dark green leafy vegetables and an increase in demand for oils, animal products, and processed foods. The introduction of global cuisines into the Indian eco-system has enabled people to sample more non-vegetarian, processed, marinated, packaged, frozen, and factory-made foods. Keeping pace with the growing demand for the exotic has led to an increase in foreign ownership, privatized farming, and preferential farming.

Awareness of biomagnification by use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides has prompted a rise in preference for organic farming. Growing concern for the environment has prompted activists throughout the nation to promote bio-friendly, sustainable agriculture and farming practices. Composting, recycling, water conservation, soil health and soil conservation from erosion and nutrient depletion, air quality maintenance, green cover issues, greenhouse gasses, and other parameters are receiving unprecedented attention.

A clear example of modern influence is seen in the growing trend of home gardening: terrace gardens, self-reliant farm homes, and even community gardening groups. People are becoming proactive in their own small way. With a growing economy, the enthusiasm to invest in healthy superfoods (protein supplements, exotic health drinks, and super cereals like quinoa) has become a common enough reality.

Today we hear of urban farming, terrace gardening, vertical gardening, aquaculture, hydroponics, greenhouse cultivation, etc., besides the regular dairy farming, poultry farming, and fish farming, etc., to feed the masses.

The cycle of influence

Agriculture is the key to a sustainable modern ecosystem, and apart from fulfilling a population's nutrition requirements, it influences personal health and that of the environment. As a rapidly growing and urbanizing society, food options have greatly increased along with overall demand. Food has evolved from a basic necessity to a fancy, fad, and enjoyable indulgence. All things we call food are now available in a wide variety and all year round. There are several options to cater to the adventurous "foodie," the conscious "dieter," the edgy "carnivore," or the trendy "vegan." Critics claim this has led to a drifting away from the traditional "sync" with nature, the land, and the seasons.

Unnatural farming methods can potentially have undesirable effects on health as an immediate effect and be disadvantageous to the natural environment in the long term. Excessive preservation, packaging, storage, and transportation create more impact on the environment. Are we as a species mature and advanced enough to predict how this will affect us and our environment? The biological chain begins at the microbial level and also extends through the living mass, affecting vegetation, world weather, and natural balances.

Keeping in mind the current climate crisis, formulating plans that factor in food and agriculture resilience has become of paramount importance for all of us Indians. NITI Aayog, the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer's Welfare, entrepreneurial start-ups, and multinational organizations all have their work cut out for them in ensuring better food alternatives and securing improved local and global health.