Enough talking. It’s high time we switch to Sustainable Agriculture

Most traditional and conventional farm practices are not ecologically sustainable and we need to act now to put the Agriculture sector and climate change in the right direction. This article talks about how India needs to opt for sustainable development and the time is now!

India has been witnessing a rapid rate of growth and development yet this has raised concerns from sundry quarters as regards its basic texture and health. Experts are calling for ‘sustainable development’ and the term has gained currency in the last few years.

Shaping the development of sustainable agriculture of a country depends heavily on the judicious mix of its available natural resources. For a country like India where nearly two-thirds of the population still lives in rural areas with agriculture as its mainstay for livelihood, the larger objective for the improvement of the agriculture sector can be realized through rapid growth of productivity, but for a country like India, increasing productivity is limited by burgeoning urbanization, industrialization in the context of scare resources. Productivity can be primarily increased by two modes; first, increasing output with more efficient utilization of available resources; and secondly, by increasing output by variation in agricultural input. The first, holds more merit in light of productivity and sustainability. Yet due to ever increasing population, this method may not provide a permanent solution. However, the second method may potentially cause environmental degradation. There is thus an urgent need to tackle issues relating to development of a sustainable agriculture in India.

Development of sustainable agriculture can be discussed under three broad types of farming systems viz. the traditional production system, modern agriculture system and sustainable agriculture system. Further, we can compare them across three dimensions, ecological, economic and social sustainability.

Ecological Sustainability: Most traditional and conventional farm practices are not ecologically sustainable. They misuse natural resources, reducing soil fertility causing soil erosion and contributing to global climatic change. Sustainable agriculture has some major advantages over traditional practices.

Economic Sustainability: For agriculture to be sustainable it should be economically viable over the long term. Conventional agriculture involves more economic risk than sustainable agriculture in the long term.

Sometimes governments are inclined to view export-oriented production systems as more important than supply domestic demands. This is not right.

Focusing on exports alone involves hidden costs: in transport, in assuring local food security, etc. Policies should treat domestic demand and in particular food security as equally important to the visible trade balance. It is a popular misconception that specific commodities promise high economic returns. But market production implies certain risks as markets are fickle and change quickly. Cheap foreign food may sweep into the national market, leaving Indian farmers without a market. As a World Trade Organization signatory, the Indian government is under pressure to deregulate and open its economy to the world market so it cannot protect its farmers behind tariff walls.

The main source of employment for rural people is farming. Trends towards specialization and mechanization may increase narrowly measured “efficiency”, but they reduce employment on the land. The welfare costs of unemployment must be taken into account when designing national agricultural support programs. Sustainable agriculture, with its emphasis on small-scale, labor intensive activities, helps overcome these problems.

Social Sustainability: Social sustainability in farming techniques is related to the ideas of social acceptability and justice. Development cannot be sustainable unless it reduces poverty. The government must find ways to enable the rural poor to benefit from agriculture development.

 Having robust system of social sustainability can bridge the gap between “haves” and have nots”. Many new technologies fail to become applicable in agriculture sector due to lack of acceptability by the local society. Sustainable agriculture practices are useful because it is based on local social customs, traditions and norms etc. Because of being familiar the local people are more likely to accept and adopt them. Moreover, sustainable agriculture practices are based on traditional know-how and local innovation.

Traditional agriculture is more gender oriented, where woman bear the heaviest burden in terms of labor.

Sustainable agriculture ensures that the burden and benefits are shared equitably between man and woman. While conventional farming focuses on a few commodities, sustainable agriculture improves food security by improving quality and nutritional value of food, and also by producing wider range of products throughout the years.

Traditional farming was also driven by the caste and wealth. The rich and higher castes benefitted more, while the poor and lower castes are left out. Sustainable agriculture attempts to ensure equal participation which recognizes the voice and speech of every people.

Sustainable development is the management and conservation of the natural resource base and the orientation of technological and institutional change in such a manner as to ensure the attainment and continued satisfaction of human needs for the present and future generations. Such sustainable development (in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sector) conserves land, water, plant and animal genetic resources, is environmentally non-degrading, technically appropriate, economically viable and socially acceptable.

So, to achieve sustainable agriculture development the optimum use of natural resources, human resources, capital resources and technical resources are required. In India the crop yield is heavily dependent on rain which is the main reason for the declining growth rate of agriculture sector. These uncertainties hit the small farmers and laborers worst which are usually leading a hand to mouth life. Therefore, something must be done to support farmers and sufficient amount of water and electricity must be supplied to them as they feel insecure and continue to die of drought, flood, and fire.

The sustainable development in India can also be achieved by full utilization of human resources. A large part of poor population of the country is engaged in agriculture, unless we increase their living standard, overall growth of this country is not possible. If we keep ignoring the poor, this disparity will keep on increasing between classes. Debt traps are forcing farmers to commit suicides. People are migrating towards city with the hope of better livelihood but it is also increasing the slum population in cities. Therefore, rural population must be given employment in their areas and a chance to prosper. India has been carrying the tag of “developing” country for quite long now; for making the move towards “developed” countries we must shed this over dependence on agriculture sector.

The agricultural technology needs to move from production oriented to profit oriented sustainable farming. The conditions for development of sustainable agriculture are becoming more and more favorable. Now the time is to see the potential and importance of these practices not only for their economic interest but also as the basis for further intensification and ecological sustainability.

Dr. Ashutosh Mohanty presently working as Professor and Director, Disaster Management & Climate Change, Shoolini University, Himachal Pradesh India and served as International Visiting professor for Geo Science Department, Beijing Normal University, China.

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