India can utilise its storehouse of information on traditional foods to tap the global market for functional foods and nutritional products, Dr. V. Prakash, Director, Central Food Technology Research Institute (CFTRI) said here on Monday.

Delivering a talk on ‘Food and Nutritional Insecurity in the changing scenario of global warming and economic recession’ at a plenary session on the second day of the 97th Indian Science Congress, he said

Indian traditional foods constituted a treasure house of information on nutrition that could be exploited for future markets. “Of the more than 3,000 traditional foods in India, only 100 are in existence today.

The country’s power in traditional formulations has not been utilised well to find solutions for health and wellness.” Science, he said, could play a supportive role in the effort.

Dr. Prakash highlighted the need for a better interaction between universities and national laboratories in India. “There are more MoUs than interaction between universities and national laboratories,” he added.

Action Plan

Outlining an action plan to combat food and nutritional insecurity, he identified technology refinement, use of renewable energy, up gradation of skills, bio-energy technology and establishment of small grid clusters. Prevention of food loss, job creation by industries, improved food distribution and value addition are also important, he added.

Underlining the need to adapt food production to climate change, he called for a better understanding of mineral nutrition and plant growth response to the phenomenon.

“As much as 42.8 per cent of an average Indian family’s monthly expenditure is on food,” he pointed out. The 20 per cent increase in food inflation over the last year has affected accessibility of food.

Overpopulation, loss of topsoil, rising temperature, decline in productivity and water shortage are major challenges that have worsened the situation.

Mr. Prakash called for the establishment of organised food processing centres with the involvement of farmers, growers and producers.

“Primary processing constitutes the key to combat farm losses as we face less productivity and lesser production.” He stressed the need for a global partnership of knowledge and networking to address food and nutritional insecurity.

He also highlighted the importance of food safety through regulatory and monitoring mechanisms. International trade has played a key role in improving food safety standards, he observed.

Fortified salt

Delivering the P.C. Guha memorial lecture, Dr. Malavika Vinodkumar of the Chennai- based Sundar Serendipity Foundation said trials of multi-mineral fortified salt were on in different parts of the country to bring down the incidence of malnutrition and low birth weight.

“Fortified salt is the most economical way of delivery of multi-nutirents compared to tablets and syrups. It will reduce morbidity and health care costs and improve cognitive effects and work capacity.”

Noted agricultural scientist Dr. M.S. Swaminathan who chaired the session said affordability was an important criterion in food and nutritional security. Proposing a life cycle approach to nutritional security, he stressed the need to involve local bodies and district administration and adopt a community food security system based on local diet and traditional foods. A food-cum-fortification approach is best suited for the effort, he added.

Calling attention to the mismatch between production and post-harvest technology, Mr. Swaminathan called for linking the two. He also proposed the creation of a network of nutritional clinics and nutritional self-help groups throughout the country.

Mr. Swaminathan presented the B.C. Guha memorial award to Ms. Vinodkumar.