Hear from Dr Biplab Nandi – A senior Officer in FAO of the UN

Dr Biplab Nandi has a PhD in Biochemistry from  the  University of Calcutta. He held several key positions in the Government of India. Currently he is a Senior Food and Nutrition Officer in FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) at its Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand. He is also the Secretary, ANFN (The Asia-Pacific Network for Food and Nutrition). His areas of operations are Food Security, Nutrition and Food safety.  Dr Biplab Nandi is also a poet with collection of poems in Bengali and enjoys most in listening to Tagore songs. Sreeparna Lahiri from Medhajournal interviewed Dr Nandi.

1. Your areas of operation deals with Food security, Nutrition and Food safety in FAO.  Please tell us about your experience while working as a senior officer in FAO?
This has been an enriching experience working in the Asia-Pacific Region which has as many as 43 member countries, most of which are in developing phase. Working in the areas of food security and nutrition with poorest of the poor as beneficiaries of the FAO projects have been a real challenge. However, this has offered a tremendous insight into the ground reality of the plight of the poor people and their expectations. The people of the region need a lot of support to achieve household food and nutrition security.

2. FAO was formed in 1945 , to alleviate poverty and hunger by promoting agricultural development, improved nutrition and the pursuit of food security – access by all people at all times to the food they need for an active and healthy life.  What are FAO’s efforts in eliminating malnutrition and hunger in the poorer nations? Has FAO successfully achieved this task so far? Do you see FAO playing a major role in India (India being a fast growing developing nation) or is the Indian government with the current rising economy, taking adequate measures to alleviate poverty and hunger by promoting agricultural developments?
FAO has been addressing the aforesaid issues keeping in view its core mandate. It recognizes that knowledge is the power and accordingly it has evolved as one of the most sought after Knowledge Organizaions in the UN system. It convened the International Conference on Nutrition (ICN) jointly with WHO and the World Food Summit (WFS) in 1996. In 2008 FAO organized a High Level Conference on Soaring Food Prices. All these are considered as Government level platform to discuss and come up with doable recommendations so that all member countries of FAO can initiate suitable actions for which FAO can play the role of a catalyst. Even though all out efforts are being made to make the people free from undernourishment and hunger, the figures have recently gone up from the last two years due to a variety of reasons. This calls for more concerted action at all levels both national and international
3. What is sustainable agriculture? As per FAO statistics more people are likely to live in urban dwelling since 2007, how can FAO work with the local government to ensure supply of safe, nutritious food for everyone?  Can this lead to reduction in agricultural produce and lead to food insecurity? Not all supermarket chain food products are high in food value and can be labeled as “junk foods” and can lead to obesity, diabetes epidemics. How is FAO ensuring that with increase in urbanization they can ensure safe and nutritious food?  Is sustainable agriculture answer to this crisis?  What has FAO done about food wastage and grain wastage? What more could be done to ensure a cap on this?
Sustainable agriculture is in the agenda of FAO. It believes that agriculture is the driving force for all development in the developing countries in Asia and elsewhere. Unless sustainability is there the agriculture sector cannot be seen as a public goods of long term value. FAO’s activities therefore, center around diversified production of foodstuff which can meet the need of a balanced nutrition of the people. This is not an easy task and it needs full cooperation and involvement of all the stakeholders including solid public-private partnership. The experience shows that in some countries such approaches have been a great success while not so in others. The reason being among others, the degree and quality of participation and involvement of local people and beneficiaries. FAO has a separate division to look into the aspects of sound grain storage practice.
4. Can agricultural biodiversity and genetic diversity help in rural sustainability and food security?  How can we establish strong links between rural communities and urban consumers, so that sustainable rural economies could bloom?
Yes, biodiversity is key to achieving food security. Particularly the research on underexploited traditional foods keeping the biodiversity component in view will pay a great dividend in eliminating food insecurity. Improving rural livelihoods is again another mandate of FAO, which aims at less crowding in urban cities. However, this is a global challenge since the entire world is experiencing the phenomenon of rural push and urban pull.

5. In a recent United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, said rising food demand in emerging economies like India and China has led to a 54 per cent rise in prices in the past one year even as World Food Security Summit here is hotly debating the issue vis-a-vis biofuels. ‘As rising demand for food resulting from economic growth in such countries as China and India has combined with droughts and high energy prices, the basic cost of food has climbed 54 per cent in the past 12 months,’ UNCTAD’s Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi said at the summit.  There has been a global drive towards alternative fuel such as biofuel/bioenergy (example corn oil for biofuel).  Can this drive result in global food insecurity and what could be some possible solution?  How is FAO handling climatic change threats that could possibly lead to food insecurity and increase global hunger?

FAO in its last Summit held in March 2008 recommended that more research is needed to come to a conclusion as to which one is to appreciate i.e, crops for food energy or for fuel energy. It is expected that more balanced analysis of data will come out shortly which can then take a balanced view in this important matter.  

6. With access to global market and supermarket chain, it is profitable to the developed nations.  To meet the high market quality, a higher investment is required by the developing nations, how is FAO helping out these developing nations?  Could fair trade policies help smaller agriculture based businessmen from the developing nations?  What relevance does FAO have in today’s world where it is a ‘Marketplace’ increasingly controlled by for-profit multinational chains & big businesses? In other words, what is FAO’s ‘market-share’ in order to make a difference? Western countries like US increasingly express skepticism about the relevance of multilateral forums like UN itself ?
Marketing is a strategy, which should be seen as a mechanism to offer a win-win situation for all those involved including the clients/consumers. FAO has a division to look into such aspects. Micro-credit and its role are also positively recognized by FAO. Therefore, it will not be worthwhile to provide any blanket comment against any particular stakeholder for that matter. FAO always assist the poor to ensure that their products are gainfully utilised for the purpose of marketing. However, it also recognises the importance of consuming the foodstuff as per the requirement of the family before they are put into the market chain.

7. One of FAO’s initiative is knowledge sharing?  How has FAO achieved this knowledge sharing at the grass root level or with the non-scientific population?  Do you think internet and modern technology has helped in this initiative?  Could the independent internet knowledge sharing forums help in this initiative further to reach out to the non-scientific population?  
As mentioned before, FAO is seen as a knowledge organization. So all means of dissemination of knowledge are welcome and within the agenda of the Organization. It is actively involved in this process. However, more is expected keeping in view the low capacity of accessing the information by the disadvantaged sections of the population. Alive to this issue FAO is making efforts to develop/enhance the capacity of the poor, both rural and urban, so that they can derive benefit out of the modern day technology. FAO has indeed accepted the challange.

8. How do you see yourself utilizing your wealth of experience and knowledge post retirement from your FAO role?
To contribute to the society in a modest and humble way

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