Inefficient Agriculture Guzzling Up Urban Water Supplies, Says NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant

Call for Mid-Day Meals Scheme Booster Shot for Water-Efficient Millets and Pulses Across Country

17th December’19, New Delhi: NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant made a strong pitch today for millets and pulses being introduced into mid-day meals in schools across India to bump up demand for the two crops, which not only consume much less water than the highly commercialised, chemical-dependent rice and wheat varieties, but also contribute to the health of the soil and have a positive impact on farmer incomes.

Speaking at the 4th Tasting India Symposium, based on the theme of ‘Making Smart Cities Food Smart’, Kant also called for millets and pulses to be included in a much bigger way in the public distribution system to lay the foundation of “sustainable urban foodscape”.

“In the next four or five decades the process of urbanisation will peak in India. Are we prepared for it?” Kant asked. He pointed out that unlike the U.S.A. in its early phases of urbanisation, India does not have the luxury of abundant and inexpensive land, water and gas. India’s urbanisation process therefore has to be sustainable and innovative with an emphasis on efficient public transportation, better management of food waste and more inclusive growth.

Citing statistics to highlight the gravity of the challenge confronting the agrarian sector, which had negative consequences on the availability of water in our burgeoning cities and towns, Kant said 90 per cent of India’s water resources were consumed by the country’s agriculture sector. And the major share of this water was consumed by just three crops – rice, wheat and sugarcane.

In Maharashtra, Kant said, sugarcane accounts for just 4 per cent of the cropped area, but consumes 70 per cent of its water resources. In Karnataka, rice and sugarcane take up 4 per cent of the cropped area, but guzzle up 70 per cent of the available water.

Punjab uses three times more water than Bihar and two times more than West Bengal to produce the same quantity of rice. And farmers in the state are boring deeper and deeper for water. The water, as a result, is laced with uranium and its impact is being felt in Jharkhand, a state that imports rice from Punjab and is now seeing a rising incidence of cancer.

Green Revolution’s high-yielding varieties, Kant said, though they ensured nutritional security when they were integrated into the country’s agricultural system, had become unviable for agriculture and were negatively impacting the net income of farmers. Millets and pulses, on the other hand, not only ensure biodiversity in our diets and are loaded with nutritional benefits, but also ensure water security and are better for the environment.

“We need to go back to our roots,” Kant said. “Smart people are the base of smart, progressive and healthy cities. And smart people are those who take care of their health and that of others. Smart cities therefore need to ensure healthy, sustainably produced food for all sections of society.”

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