Despite institutional efforts, integration of agriculture and nutritional development has not taken place in Bihar.

This raises serious questions about the increasing rate of malnutrition and deficiency of iron, zinc and related micronutrients. Modern agriculture demands a significant push for a nutrition-based diet and diversification of crop-based farming.

A State wise index on nutrition awareness for 2023 indicates that Bihar ranks at the bottom. It ranks high in the country for number of stunted children under the age of 5. In terms of number of overweight women and children, it ranks second after Jharkhand.

Bihar is among the top five States with highest percentage of women children who suffer from anaemia. Among various dimensions, pulses, milk and egg serve as excellent source of protein and their availability and consumption must be understood.

The intakes of protein and calories in Bihar (per capita, per day) are higher than the national average. However, during 2004-05 to 2011-12, the per capita calorie consumption decreased from 2,096 kcal to 2,010 kcal, and it is now below the necessary 2,155 kcal per person per day.

Nutritionally speaking, Bihar’s per capita consumption of other foods derived from animals falls below the minimum levels advised by the ICMR. Compared to the recommended 180 eggs per person per year, there are just 25 eggs available per capita per year as on 2021.

Outlook on pulses

According to the Economic Survey (2021-22), total pulses production in Bihar is under four lakh tonnes, and is stagnating or even declining. Bihar’s total pulses consumption requirement is 9.75 lakh tonnes.

The major procurement agency, NAFED had shut its operations in Bihar for procurement of pulses for the last decade. Last year, it had set a target of procuring about 43,000 MT for use in Integrated Child Development Programme (ICDP) and midday meal schemes.

Inefficient marketing system and poor procurement framework have always been the obstacles in Bihar.

For paving the way towards nutrition rich Bihar, pulses have an important role to play. At a block level, clusters must be developed with installation of dal mill facilities while maintaining economies of scale with robust base line surveys. Efforts must be made to attract the start-ups/entrepreneurs/FPOs/FPCs to form such nutritional chains for development of innovative products which can find their way into the outlets of secondary cities to metro cities and subsequent export markets.

A devoted price portal must be developed to grab real time price fluctuations especially for such innovative products while facilitating e-trading across States.

Such models can ensure sustainable livelihoods for the growers and at the same time address nutritional deficiency.

The writer is a faculty member at Dr. Rajendra Prasad Central Agricultural University (RPCAU), Pusa, Samastipur. Views expressed are personal