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Traditional Food Systems in Odisha – A Critical Relook

Traditional Food systems in Odisha include the Rice-Fallow; Millets-based mixed cropping-fallow, Rice-Pulses-Fallow; and Rice-Pulses-Vegetables cropping systems. These cropping systems have stood the test of time and extreme weather events across centuries. Not much have changed in the cropping pattern of the state over the last three decades.

However, these cropping systems are now under extreme stress due to climatic and also non-climatic variabilities. The area under cultivation is systematically reducing in the state and farmers are no longer interested to continue their primary occupation and are willing to move out in search of gainful employment in various towns and cities.

Agriculture is no longer remains a profitable option for most rural poor communities and rural youth. Distress migration is on the rise especially during the last two decades. Women, children, elderly and other vulnerable groups face the adverse impacts of sudden food shortages and climate shocks. Women eat least and last and are overburdened with household chores and work in the fields and even markets.  

Odisha is largely a rural and an agrarian economy. Close to 83 percent of its people live in rural areas and about 61.8 percent of its workforce is employed in agriculture. This workforce contributes to about 18 per cent to the state’s GDP. Odisha accounts for 3 per cent of India’s agricultural GDP. In the 16 years since the beginning of this century (2000/01 to 2016-17), Odisha’s agricultural GDP nearly doubled in real terms, clocking an average annual growth rate of about 4.5 per cent, higher than the all-India average of 3.1 per cent. 

Odisha produces about Rs.75,800 crore worth of agricultural and allied output. More than half this value is generated from four products: paddy, meat, milk and brinjal. Paddy accounts for 24.4 percent of the value, meat 11.3 per cent, milk 9.1 per cent and brinjal 6.8 per cent (total share of vegetables is 25.3 per cent). The average income of an Odisha farmer was Rs. 7,731 in 2015-16. The incomes were Rs. 1,062 in 2002-03. In the 13 years between 2002-03 and 2015-16, Odisha farmer incomes grew the fastest in the country and even faster than the growth witnessed by the agricultural GDP of the state. 

SAMRUDHI- Agricultural Policy, 2020, Odisha 

It aims to give thrust to this great momentum that the state has witnessed in the last few years. The Policy is focused on farmers’, sharecroppers’ and landless agriculture households’ social and economic well-being, aims to actualize the vast untapped potential of agriculture in Odisha while ensuring the growth process is environmentally, economically and technologically inclusive, scalable and sustainable. Instead of reforming the agriculture sector in silos and taking a piece-meal approach to reform, the aim of this policy is to coherently and progressively undertake simultaneous reforms. The broad strategies include: 

  1. Creating an ecosystem interlinking inputs, production and markets. 
  2. Focusing on sustainable increase in yields of paddy and diversification to high value agriculture (HVA).
  3. Encouraging efficient and ecologically sensitive use of inputs, mainly water, land and soil. 
  4. Promoting processing, including cleaning, grading, etc., for better value capture.
  5. Creating value-chains, particularly of vegetables, livestock: dairy and poultry. 
  6. Encouraging aggregation of farmers in Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs). 
  7. Reducing wastage by promoting pre and post-harvest management. 
  8. Adapting to climate change – techniques, technology and management. 
  9. Leveraging the power of data and technology for planning and monitoring. 
  10. Leveraging central government schemes. 

Climate Change and Odisha Agriculture 

  1. Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology (OUAT) along with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and CGIAR institutions like the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) will develop climate-resilient varieties of crops suitable for the 10 agro-climatic zones of the state. 
  2. Local seeds that are more climate resilient and have high yield potential will be identified and encouraged. 
  3. Promotion of flood-tolerant varieties in flood-prone areas and drought resistant varieties in drought-prone areas and salt-tolerant varieties in salinity-affected areas will be undertaken. 
  4. Climate-smart seed delivery is envisaged in this Policy. A crop contingency plan will be prepared with a ‘seed reserve’ policy in areas of repeated calamity stress. 
  5. In the case of poultry, low-input technology birds suitable to the local climate will be promoted for livelihood support to landless, small, and marginal farmers.
  6. As a focus, the extension machinery of the state will promote the adoption of water-conservation practices like the use of precision agriculture techniques, energy-friendly irrigation pumps, micro irrigation, climate-smart technologies, internet of things (IoT), and use of technology in animal husbandry to monitor animal behavior, health, production and markets, wherever possible.
  7. Participatory water security management (groundwater and surface water sources) will be promoted in alignment with the identified production cluster approach. 
  8. Awareness generation, appropriate use of water and community management will be taken up through participatory rural appraisal (PRA) exercises, training programmes, and simulation games. 
  9. Attention will be paid to projects for drainage where water logging is frequent and problematic. 
  10. Performance of Water User Associations (WUAs) will be reviewed and a conducive eco-system will be built to enable them to improve water use efficiency in the states. 
  11. Participatory Watershed Management will be prioritized. 
  12. Focus on sub-surface water storage in addition to rainwater harvesting, rainwater conservation will be stressed particularly in rain-fed regions. 

Current Food Systems in Odisha – Some Ground Realities

  • Food systems are inherently tied with soil, culture and traditions of agrarian communities. Most food systems are primarily for subsistence and a majority of the small and marginal farmers rely on Millet-based or Paddy farming systems. Agriculture is mostly practiced during the Kharif season (June to September). Mixed cropping/farming systems are in practice in most hilly districts of the state, where more than one food crop is cultivated on the plots, especially in the medium and uplands. Paddy remains the major crop in the state. 
  • Rice-Fallow food systems are common in most districts if the State. Farmers also cultivate vegetables and greens where there is assured source of irrigation. Rabi cultivation, mostly of pulses and oilseed is confined to a few locations which have residual moisture for a few months and have some systems of providing life-saving irrigation at critical stages of crop growth. 
  • A majority of the forest dwellers also depend on the forest, especially the Non-timber forest produce (NTFPs) and wild food plants like fruits, tubers, berries for food and livelihoods for almost two to three months. Hunting and gathering is still seen in most particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) in the state. 
  • Odisha, due to its geographical location, is a climate hotspot and faces many natural disasters like recurrent drought, floods, cyclone etc., Most of the inland and southern districts are eco-fragile zone. 
  • Most of the traditional food systems are climate-resilient and have stood the test of time over centuries. However, due to deforestation, mining, industrialization and heavy anthropogenic interferences (human and livestock), the area under cultivation has reduced considerably in most hilly districts in the state, with associate loss of biodiversity. Extreme weather variabilities and Climate change impacts are visible and felt now by local communities. 
  • Sudden spike in temperatures by 3 to 4 degrees celsius, high intensity and short duration rainfall, diurnal temperatures, hail stones, long dry spells and drying of streams, natural springs, tributaries and distributaries and river are some of the realities. 
  • Community level institutions and systems are collapsing at a fast rate like the “Goudo system” (community level grazing systems), “Kutumbh panthi” (community Grain banks), sacred grooves. Community level seed conservation, exchange and storage systems are increasingly becoming redundant or have collapsed. Desi/indigenous varieties of seeds are mostly available with the big farmers. Many indigenous seeds have either become extinct or their numbers have decreased considerable over the last two decades. Most agrarian communities have now shifted to cultivation of improved and hybrid seeds for cereals, pulses, oilseeds and vegetables. 
  • Soil and water conservation is minimal or non-existent in most agrarian communities. Heavy soil erosion and surface runoff is witnessed during the monsoon season. Due to the erosion of the top soil, it is no longer suitable to cultivate most food crops. As a result, most of the land remains fallow or left barren after the monsoon season. 
  • Farming/Agriculture is no longer a viable option for most youth now. There is a significant decrease in the number of cultivators in the state. Increasingly, most of the cultivators are turning agricultural workers and agricultural workers have shifted to casual workers. There remains a big shortage of agricultural workers in most districts of the state. They prefer to take up other engagements and migrate out of their villages for gainful employment for almost 6 months in a year. The average annual income for a farmer in Odisha is among the lowest in India. The average monthly income of an agricultural household in Odisha is the second-lowest in the country, following Jharkhand. According to Union Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Minister, a farmer family in Odisha earned ₹5,112 per month from July 2018 to June 2019.  
  • Household level food and nutritional security remains a challenge for most rural households in the state. The average food secure months vary for 4-5 months in a year. Anaemia and Child malnutrition issues remain a challenge in the state. Every second women is anaemic and every third child is malnourished in the State. The daily dietary diversity has reduced significantly over the years. There is less diverse food in the food plates of most rural households now. 
  • Monoculture and cultivation of cash crops like cotton and eucalyptus is on the rise in the state. These have led to more dependence on private companies for agri-inputs like seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. 
  • Indigenous Traditional knowledge (ITKs) and traditional wisdom has eroded significantly. This is not passed on to the next generation any longer due to many socio-cultural issues and lack of interest among the youth to look at farming as a viable livelihood option. 
  • Community coping mechanisms to natural disasters and sudden shocks are minimal in the state. For example, only a few large farmers have gone for crop insurance schemes either public or private. There is little awareness on these insurance schemes and its importance for resource-poor small and marginal farmers.
  • Emergence and proliferation of diseases pests and new forms pests has been recorded over the last two decades. This is primarily attributed to extreme climate variabilities like high temperatures and high humidity conditions, erratic rainfall, cultivation of hybrid seeds, monoculture, etc. Biological control methods have become redundant and farmers are using excessive chemicals and pesticides to enhance their production and productivity.
  • Most agricultural produce are perishable and have a limited shelf life. Post-harvest technologies and value addition in most agriculture and NTFP value chains remain to basic and minimal levels. Local communities do not have access to institutional finance, improved skills, information on market prices and markets. 
  • Human-animal conflicts are seen on the rise due to changes in natural habitats and faulty developmental priorities focusing on profits and infrastructure development. 
  • Distress sale of most agriculture produce, especially vegetables and NTFPs is a reality in most districts of the state. This is attributed towards the inefficient procurement and Minimum Support Price (MSP) policies of the Government. Middlemen and traders take a lion’s share of the profit from most agricultural and NTFPs. Farmers continue to survive under constant stress and low incomes. 

New Avenues and Opportunities 

  • Demand for organic food is on the rise, especially in the urban centres, especially by the middle class consumers preferring healthy diets to prevent lifestyle diseases like diabetes, high BP etc. 
  • There is a spike in demand for organic food in the international markets, especially the middle-east and the USA. More organic food outlets have opened and are on the increase, especially in urban centres, malls and shopping complexes.
  • Buy-back arrangements between agro-companies directly from the farmers and their organizations.
  • Increased access to institutional credit and finance through various bank linkages. 
  • Thematic trainings and exposure facilitated by NGOs, State Livelihoods Missions, Forest department, Agriculture and Farmers Welfare department and other developmental actors have significantly enabled farmers and their organizations on entrepreneurship and staring small businesses. 
  • Infusion of capital, value addition equipment for women’s groups and Farmers organizations by State Missions like Mission Shakti, State Livelihoods Mission etc.
  • Access to market information on rates, procurement centres and daily prices have opened up new avenues for informed marketing. 
  • Increased marketing linkages facilitated by ORMAS, TRIFED etc.
  • Patents and Organic certification opportunities. 
  • Digital marketing platforms are opening up new markets both domestic and international. 
  • Increased quality control awareness and enforcement systems both at individual and Government levels. 
  • The government of India and State Governments have now designed policies and programmes to support natural farming and organic agriculture including value addition, food processing, and marketing. 
  • Farmer producer organizations (FPOs) are now being promoted and supported by NABARD and other nationalized banks. 
  • Private sector actors including companies and foundations are now interested in the supply chains and investing in agricultural and NTFP value chains. NGOs and institutional donors are now more active in conservation, preservation and sustainable management of indigenous food systems and marketing. 


The Food systems in the state need to be climate-resilient and based on the fast-changing realities of extreme weather events and climate change issues. These have a bearing on the sustainability of the farming systems and livelihoods of over 70% of the country’s population. The Odisha Agriculture Policy does present a comprehensive, coherent and progressive road map of reforms for Odisha’s agricultural sector.

The thrust on 360-degree approach where holistic, simultaneous, and broad-based reforms are undertaken in the entire farming ecosystem of Odisha, is likely to position the state’s farmers on a high growth trajectory going forward. It will be crucial to provide input support, access to institutional finance and strengthen farmers’ groups and organizations on crop management systems and practices. Market linkages will be very important to get a good price. It will be crucial for the public, private and civil society actors to join hands and work towards the agricultural development of the State and support sustainable and dignified rural livelihoods.

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