It is challenging for agricultural systems to support a growing and healthy human population due to market volatility, land degradation, pests, and climate change. In the past, government bodies and institutions often evaluated outcomes in terms of total production or food calories. The focus of long-standing global and national programs was to increase national output through various measures. Recently, policies and programs have sought strategies to alleviate malnutrition and food insecurity in agricultural households by promoting nutrition-sensitive agriculture. The range of nutrients required to maintain a balanced diet and lead an active, healthy life is increasingly receiving more attention, including diet diversity.
UNDERSTANDING CROP DIVERSIFICATION
Identification of crops and kinds that might be suitable for various regions, communities and farmer preferences is necessary. Crop diversification involves producing varied crops locally rather than just one dominant crop in a given region. Growing different crops on the same area of arable land can help increase farming productivity throughout the year.
This strategy can be implemented in various ways, including adding additional crops as intercrops, predecessor or successor crops, modifying the number of crops (multi-cropping), making changes to the cropping system, and adopting a new, integrated cropping pattern with new agronomical techniques. Experts recommend such crop diversification techniques as a viable approach to enhance dietary diversity and nutrition.
FARMERS CAN REAP SEVERAL BENEFITS FROM NUTRITIONAL DIVERSITY
Farmers’ ability to assume risk and secure their income can be improved by diversifying their crops to produce more lucrative ones, including fruits, vegetables and plantations. Crop diversification boosts food security and allows farmers to create extra produce for market sales. Farmers that diversify their crops may be able to sell new goods, food, and medicinal plants in domestic and foreign markets. For farmers in developing nations, breaking away from the monoculture of conventional staples can have significant nutritional advantages.
On the premise that not all crops will experience low market prices at once, diversification can also control price risk and boost the farming industry’s profitability. Crop diversification can multiply farmer income and provide food and nutritional security for the country, notwithstanding several hurdles.
BUILDING DIVERSIFIED AGRIFOOD SYSTEMS
Building diversified, environmentally beneficial agrifood systems requires many different elements. The need of the hour is to find crops and cultivars that adapt to various environments and farmer preferences. Government departments and institutions must provide funds, resources, and training to smallholder farmers so they may grow a wider variety of nutrient-dense plants, including underutilized traditional and indigenous foods. These initiatives need to be supported with adequate policies for skill development to support the crops and varieties among rural livelihoods.
Crop diversification is greatly supported by agroforestry, often known as the integration of trees into the cropping system. Agroforestry can provide non-wood items such as food, feed, fruits, fiber, fuel, fodder, fish, flavor, fragrance, floss, gum, and resins to ensure food and nutritional security. This approach can foster prosperous, resilient agricultural settings across all ecologies and sustain livelihoods. From food production to our plates, we must step up efficient operations along the alternate food value chain, including processing, packaging, and handling.
Diversifying food crops can enhance the nutritional outcomes in areas that are performing poorly. An emphasis on crop-neutral policies is required concerning price support, input access, other infrastructure, value chains, and market connections that promote various food systems. The gaps related to resource-use effectiveness, sustainability, market logistics, regional demand-supply imbalance, and farmer income requirements should all be addressed concurrently.
Healthy biodiversity and vibrant ecosystems are essential for the success of our agrifood systems. Educating decision-makers and government representatives at all levels about the importance of nutrient-sensitive food systems is essential. To meet the objectives of nutritional diversity, it is crucial to raise awareness of the connection between crop diversity and dietary diversity.
Moving toward more sustainable and varied production systems should go hand in hand with encouraging consumers to adopt a more broad and well-balanced diet that includes a range of locally produced foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes. The Indian government has prioritized nutrition-sensitive agriculture, particularly crop diversification, through supporting “traditional” crops like millets. United Nations’ Food And Agriculture Organization (FAO) is supporting nations that link the post-2020 global biodiversity framework with the day-to-day experiences of family farmers, small-scale producers, foresters, Indigenous Peoples and local communities, among others around the world.