Investments in anticipatory research, crucial after pandemic: Experts at MSSRF conference


Chennai, August 10, 2020: There is need for a shift in the approach to agriculture, keeping in mind the situation of the pandemic and how to focus on anticipatory research, especially on the food systems. This was the summary of the session on ‘Global and national policies for sustainable food systems and a balanced diet’ – the concluding session of MSSRF’s virtual consultation on ‘Science for Resilient Food, Nutrition and Livelihoods: Contemporary Challenges’ organized on August 7, 8 and 10.

In his talk, Dr Ismail Serageldin, Emeritus Librarian, Biobliotheca Alexandrina said that since the pandemic, it was important that, the needs of all women and children especially those who are most marginalized, are met. He emphasized on the role of science, technology and innovation in building up a world beyond COVID-19.

Dr David Nabarro, WHO Special Envoy on COVID-19 & SUN Lead Group member, London, emphasized on a framework for an inclusive food and nutrition system that will contribute to balanced diets. The virus provokes multiple challenges across ethical, policy and programmatic decisions and it is more urgent than ever to focus on future food systems. The emergence of a systems approach, need to involve multiple actors and institutional priorities are the three-systems framework for sustainable, resilient, people-centric, nutritious and climate-adapted agriculture.

Dr Trilochan Mohapatra, Director General, ICAR and Secretary DARE, Government of India, in his talk referred to MSSRF as “an institution of global reputation” and the annual conference as an opportunity to “deliberate on issues of national and global relevance”. Speaking about the record foodgrain production he emphasized on mainstreaming of ‘nutri cereals’ or millets that can be considered the crops of the future for climate resilience. The millet harvest of 47 million tons in 2020 was a landmark and what was needed now was for startups to link production with markets. He also said that the government will be focusing on more conservation agriculture practices in the future.

Dr Renu Swarup, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, in her talk said this conference had set the tone for many policies and for the coming year as well was bringing agriculture and nutrition issues on centre-stage, with national and global leaders in this space. Focus was needed on science, technology and innovation aspects, she said. We need to have technology disruptions and focus on adoption of technologies, asking how we can connect them better to farmers. Also thought was needed on investments in research especially in an economic crisis and COVID-19 as priority, should be thought through. She lauded the concept of nutri-gardens set up with Prof Swaminathan’s guidance with four centres in different parts of India. Models such as nutri-gardens and Kisan Hubs are good models to be scaled up and with different state governments for a clearer policy intervention on this, she said.

Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, President Emeritus, the World Food Prize Foundation said there would be more deaths from COVID-19 in the US than from World War II. He spoke of the need for collaboration in order to solve the world’s biggest problems similar to what had happened in the case of Norman Borlaug and Prof Swaminathan to solve the world’s food problem and similar collaboration beyond politics was needed to resolve the existing huge problems of hunger and malnutrition.

In his concluding remarks at the event, Prof M S Swaminathan, Founder MSSRF said that there was need for anticipatory research and local solutions. Whether it was stubble burning in Punjab or market linkages during crisis, focusing on community-level technologies and solutions would make a difference.

Dr R V Bhavani, Director Agriculture, Nutrition and Health Program, MSSRF presented the key highlights of the conference across the different sessions on agrobiodiversity, gender, climate change, value additions and special lectures on soil health and science communication. A number of eminent experts had presented their views on these themes, in addition to the inaugural session by the Vice President of India and the Principal Scientific Advisor to the Govt of India and these were summarized.

In his closing remarks – Executive Director MSSRF, Dr K S Murali spoke about how Professor’s guidance had helped in the organization of the conference. Thanking special guests and speakers, he spoke of the need to take forward the recommendations for appropriate action.

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