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Diet diversification — a new field for farmers

Our Bureau

Hyderabad , Feb. 6

AS crispy potato chips and pizzas make their way more prominently onto the dining table of urban homes in India from multinational food majors, the small farmers are up with both a big opportunity and a threat.

With diversification in diet patterns, especially in urban areas from the traditional cereal base, the fast foods, supermarkets and the large food outlets are proliferating, calling for a shift from subsistence farming to one that is commercial in nature.

In short, as Indian diets change with globalisation, agriculture needs to integrate with the global food markets. Simultaneously, the agriculture production systems need to meet the demands of the diversifying food habits of the urban populace.

Making these comments, Dr Prabhu Pingali, Director, and Yasmeen Khwaja, Economist, at the Agricultural and Development Economics Division of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), warned that the diversification in urban diet patterns taking place in the country could well spell difficult times ahead for the small and marginal farmers.

A crucial issue for the survival of the small farmers is their ability to sell their products to large supermarket chains, which are sprouting up in cities. It is critical that small farmers were guaranteed access to the procurement systems of supermarkets, Dr Pingali said while delivering a keynote address at the 17th National Seminar on Agricultural Marketing, organised by the Indian Society of Agricultural Marketing (ISAM).

Indian producers can use the opportunity provided by globalisation to gear up production to both world and domestic markets. Given the high costs of transporting and storing imports of fresh produce, there is a clear potential for domestic suppliers to develop production systems that meet the demands of large food outlets.

After a relatively slow start, supermarkets are beginning to move into the market. FoodWorld is the largest supermarket operating in South with 80 outlets and plans to have 100 more. Dr Pingali said the exposure of farmers to international competition could be seen as a very real opportunity to supply world market with foods for which India enjoys a comparative advantage. For example basmati rice. Indian agriculture was responding to the changing domestic demands and the effects of globalisation, he felt.

The development of rural sector to provide non-farm and wage employment may become necessary as agriculture becomes more commercialised. If the rural sector is not adequately developed to meet the growing numbers of small farmers who find it increasingly difficult to operate in the competitive environment, a situation of unprecedented rural to urban migration flows is on the cards.

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