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Emerging themes on developing a diversified food system in Odisha

Odisha’s agriculture sector is
largely dependent on small and marginal farmers, which comprise almost 80 percent
of total farmers. Paddy is the
staple cereal crop in the state, while other cereals and pulses account for a
much smaller share of the gross cropped area. Vegetables and fruits fall even further
behind. Thus, there is an immediate need for an “agriculture
renaissance” to create a more diversified food system which is able to address
the growing problem of malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies in the state,
particularly among the rural poor. A holistic and participatory approach to
shifting the focus of Odisha’s agricultural policy away from staple grains
toward more nutritious non-staples is required.

To this end, TCI-TARINA, in partnership with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), CARE India, and
the Xavier School of Rural Management (XSRM), organized a policy forum, entitled
“Towards a Diversified Food System: Emerging Opportunities in Odisha” on July
19, 2017 in Bhubaneswar. During this event, policymakers, practitioners, and
researchers came together to share their views on opportunities for creating a more
diversified food system in the state, and discussions ensued around three key
themes…

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Panelists (top) addressing the audience (bottom) at the Odisha policy forum in Bhubaneswar.

Theme 1: Enhance agribusiness opportunities through accelerated market
reforms

Markets and agribusiness play an integral
role in agriculture and the livelihoods of farmers. However, Odisha still falls
far behind other states when it comes to market reforms and ease of doing
agribusiness. This is reflected by the fact that most small and marginal
farmers still are not integrated in local value chains, and are therefore unable
to significantly enhance their agricultural income.

Although reforms were introduced
in 2006 under the Agricultural Market Act, only a few components of the act
have been adopted, including reforms around primary markets, contract farming,
farmers markets, and the recently adopted market fee. In comparison, other
states such as Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan have adopted direct marketing,
e-trading, a single point levy, and unified licensing as part of their reforms.

Policy reforms to improve the
ease of doing agribusiness were proposed. However, policymakers cautioned that agribusiness
reforms should not simply enable private seed or implement supply companies to
open retail shops, but should be more inclusive of smallholder farmers’ interests
and needs. They recommended the following:

  • Design policies that not only consider farmers as
    producers, but also as consumers with nutritional needs. When farmers’
    nutritional deficiencies are addressed, their performance as producers improves,
    leading to increases in the productivity of local food systems.
  • Encourage financial institutions to invest in value
    chain development to increase farmers’ access to markets.
  • Make land lease policies more flexible.
  • Incentivize farmers to enhance their productivity
    and increase their capacity to diversify production.
  • Minimize the impact of crop price volatility on farmer
    incentives to diversify production.

Furthermore, policymakers
highlighted that improvements are not only triggered by policy change, but also
by innovations introduced into the existing food system, making it more
farmer-friendly. They referenced organizations such as Ekutir that have used IT
applications to reduce inefficiencies and high transaction costs in local value
chains.

Theme 2: Extension and knowledge transfer to farmers

The government and private
companies often create generic package of practices (PoPs), but their adoption among
farmers is limited. Two important strategies related to PoPs were proposed. The
first strategy is to ensure that PoPs for specific regions and for non-staple
crops are created and made available to farmers, and that the criteria for seed
selection are based on nutritional content rather than aroma and taste. The
second strategy is to increase engagement with farmers so they fully understand
the economic benefits of adopting PoPs.

In many cases, farming practices and
technologies are documented by field-level functionaries in a decentralized
manner, but are not disseminated to farmers through effective channels. Consequently,
farmers do not always have all the information and resources they need to make
decisions. To address this constraint, the following recommendations were
proposed:

  • Bring credible functionaries from the field into
    the government fold to ensure smallholder inclusion and build their capacities.
  • Increase research on regionally appropriate
    technologies, and promote these technologies to increase their adoption.

Theme 3: Household dietary diversity

Over the years, Odisha has
witnessed low levels of dietary diversity among its population, partly due to seasonal
food deficits and price shocks. Further, dietary diversity faces the hurdle of
local perceptions, as many people consider paddy a prestigious food and minor
millets a poor man’s food, and are therefore less likely to consume millets. Certain
cultural norms, which differentiate between foods for women and men, also affect
household dietary diversity. Recommendations proposed to address these
challenges include the following:

  • Encourage households to build and maintain kitchen
    gardens with different varieties of fruits and vegetables to address seasonal food
    deficits and minimize the impact of price shocks.
  • Launch behavior change campaigns to promote the
    consumption of nutritious and diverse foods. These campaigns should be women
    centric, given the important role that women play in determining household
    diets.

In conclusion…

It is clear that Odisha’s policy environment needs to change
significantly if it is to become an integral player in India’s agrarian economy
and address the challenge of malnutrition with urgency and open mindedness. Policies
will need to create an environment where farmers are supported and properly
incentivized to diversify the crops they produce. Perhaps when this happens, it
will finally mark the beginning of an “agriculture renaissance” in the state.

By Siddharth Chaturvedi

Siddharth Chaturvedi (sc2857@cornell.edu) is a Senior Program Officer for TCI-TARINA, based in New Delhi, India.

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