Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Is technology the answer to India's failed food system?


Recently, in my biology class, we were talking about the agricultural boom-especially in developing nations of India and China. But here is the thing. Malnutrition is nothing new for many Indians. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute’s 2011 Global Hunger Index, the upshot of this perennial problem is that about 60 million children in India are underweight and malnourished, while 21 percent of the population as a whole general is malnourished. This is the paradox of plenty in India’s food system. Spurred by agricultural innovation and generous farm subsidies, India now grows so much food that it has a bigger grain stockpile than any country except China, but still, one fifth of the country is malnourished. Indeed, one in eight people are hungry, over a billion tons of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. That means much of the food produced is never actually consumed. Vast amounts of food get spoiled in the field or damaged in processing or transit or discarded due to spoilage or exceeding shelf life. Thus, it is critical to monitor the safety and efficiency of India’s food supply chain.
How can India overcome this? Well, although not a complete answer, technology is the key to solve this puzzle. Information technology can help greatly in solving issues related to hunger, and through innovative initiatives like India Food Banking Network (IFBN), India can bring together technology, logistics, IT, and the involvement of the local community to feed their own community. Fortunately, a smarter global food system – one that is more connected, instrumented and intelligent – is at hand. By using track and trace technology, including 2D and 3D barcode and radio frequency identification (RFID) which allows us to track food from farm to plate. A smart IT system based on open standards can allow farmers and their trading partners to access and share information on food including farm of origin, the type of feed used, date of harvest, and the like. Such a system can help differentiate a grower’s agricultural exports in the marketplace – a smart business decision. Certainly, India needs to make significant progress in lowering levels of hunger and under-nutrition. Technology can be a facilitator to that.

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