Published: 07th February 2018
Care more about the food on your plate and where it comes from
Work for a food and agriculture scientist happens in a lab for experiments, laboratories and greenhouse laboratories for research, and out in the field
Henry Kissinger, the Secretary of State during late Richard Nixon's presidency of the US, was fond of saying, "Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control people." Food has always been important to human life and, given the ground reality of India, it is emerging as the most vital element. Even the latest poll results of Gujarat have driven home one important lesson to the ruling BJP. If not for its huge loss of votes in Saurashtra and Kutch, the agricultural belt of this industrial state, the party would have raked home a huge majority.
Whatever avocation one is engaged in, at the end of the day when you come home, it is the food that is on your plate that matters and it is the farmer who puts that food on your plate. There is much talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Information Technology (IT), but, it is the food on your plate that keeps you going. That is why I see immense employment potential unfolding in the agriculture and food sector.
The aim: This profession is dedicated to experimenting and surveying food production, preservation techniques and study of soils and crops.
It will be through a massive interlinking of the food sector, both in the production and consumption patterns, with the medical profession (both research and advisory) to give society ways of leading a healthier lifestyle. To ensure food and nutrition security, there is a growing need for a multi-sectoral approach. In this connection, the experience of Malaysia needs to be considered. The country now has the most overweight and obese people in Asia. Several years ago, Tee E Siong, Malaysia’s leading nutrition expert, decided to organise a study of local diets and lifestyle habits. The research produced several peer-reviewed articles and these papers are vetted not only by scientists, but also corporates like Nestle. Among the published articles, there was one which concluded that children who drank malted breakfast beverages — a category dominated in Malaysia by Milo, manufactured by Nestle — were more likely to be physically active. The industry funds research projects, pays scholars a consulting fee and sponsors major nutrition conferences at a time when sales of processed foods are soaring. In Malaysia, sales have increased by 105% over the last five years.
Next comes the area of soil and water management. More than 35% of India’s soil is degraded, and groundwater heavily polluted, rendering it non-potable. This is due to excessive contamination by nitrate residues, thanks to the unbridled application of chemical fertilisers (primarily urea). There is a tremendous opportunity to establish a nation-wide chain of expert soil and water testing laboratories which can test the soil for fertility and water for portability, and render advice. Two other sectors which have potential are agricultural products and minimising wastage in fruits and vegetables. Next to China, India is the biggest producer of vegetables, but, contrary to China, India loses more than 35% of its produce due to a lack of proper post-harvest handling. The employment potential is immense.
The goal is to improve both quantity and quality of crops and food consumption patterns, among other things. The scientists also convey their findings to the concerned authorities, scientific community or even lawmakers
Indian planners have to go beyond the beaten track of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and loan waiver syndrome to take India forward. Can our youth rise up to this great challenge? Therein lies the biggest opportunity for them.
(After a BSc (Agriculture) and MSc (Agronomy) from Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore, a PhD from Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, in 1960, 1962 and 1965 respectively, and a Post Doctoral research in State University of Ghent, Belgium (1966-1971), Professor K P Prabhakaran Nair served in the positions of Senior Research Officer and Associate Professor, Senior Professor and Head of Departments in various universities. He has won international and national awards, including the Swadeshi Sastra Puraskar of the Swadeshi Science Movement of the GOI and is the only Asian scientist named to the prestigious National Chair of The Science Foundation, The Royal Society, Belgium. He has been invited to several workshops and conferences and is known for his revolutionary soil management concept, now known as The Nutrient Buffer Power Concept.)