Search site

Food imperatives in context of the agriculture, nutrition, and environment nexus




IRRI Representative for South Asia Dr. Nafees Meah is the guest editor for “Food Imperatives”, the 2019 year-end issue of Geography and You (GnY) magazine. The following is an overview of the issue as written by Dr. Meah.




Food systems are at the nexus of food security, nutritional health, ecosystems, climate change, and prosperity. The Green Revolution enabled countries in South Asia to move from food deficit to self-sufficiency, particularly in cereals.  In the process, millions were lifted out of poverty. Despite this, we find ourselves dealing with the “triple burden” of undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, and over nutrition. Levels of stunting in children under 5 years of age and anaemia in women remain shockingly high across South Asia. In addition, climate change is already having an impact on agriculture with increasing frequency of extreme weather events. 
A new paradigm on food systems is essential if we are to deliver on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The year-end issue ‘Food Imperatives’ of the popular journo-magazine ‘Geography and You’, that I had the privilege of guest-editing with contributions from technical experts in related fields, contains a series of articles that sets out some new thinking.

A key natural resource that must be better managed, Sinha et al. argue is improved water use efficiency, that along with crop diversification and better regulation is needed to end the overexploitation of ground water in Northwest India. The Government of India, recognizing the urgency of the challenge of nutrition, has launched a mission mode programme, ‘POSHAN Abhiyaan’, which aims to herald a new era in food and nutrition security, which is described in this issue by Basanta Kar. Whether it succeeds or not will depend on food choices made by people.  Demont et al.  contend that we need to better understand the drivers of food choice and they describe how this might be done. The silver lining, as PK Joshi in this issue illustrates, is how consumption patterns in India are already changing from cereal-based diets towards more nutrition-rich commodities. However, dietary diversification and increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables will be of less value if climate change causes reduced levels of nutrients (see Hemalaltha & Vasanthi in this issue) or they are contaminated with heavy metals (Mayuri). Therefore, addressing food safety is a critical part of the food systems transformation.  Finally, rice being an important staple food in South Asia, research at IRRI is seeking to unlock the potential of rice, as a source of better nutrition for millions of rice consumers (Ahmed et al.).

The arguments and evidence set out by the series of papers in ‘Food Imperatives’ is part of a new discourse that aims to usher a new paradigm on food system transformation, emerging from the concept of ‘planetary boundaries’ that define a ‘safe operating space’ for ensuring stability of the earth system as well as human health.

Dr. Nafees Meah

Representative for South Asia
International Rice Research Institute



Related links:

Geography and You interview with Dr. Nafees Meah