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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TARINA Consortium Partners

BAIF Development Research Foundation
CAIR India
Cornell University
Emory University
Grameen Development Services
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
Tata Trusts
Tata Institute of Social Sciences(TISS)