Producing and Eating the Smart Way

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes that bold and transformative steps are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path.  Numerous challenges such as persistent hunger and malnutrition, climate change and environmental degradation, and declining resource availability mean that no less than a transformation of our agricultural and food systems is needed.

The WSDS plenary on Sustainable Agriculture will focus on agricultural technologies and practices that are more sustainable and business models for exclusive growth ensuring farmers to be the major beneficiery.  We chose this specific topic as pardime shift is needed towards diversified agricultural systems with farm mechanization and better usage of natural resources that could result in substantially better food production that is more nutritious.  We must provide to the farmer friendly regenerative solutions that can realize more resilient agricultural practices and provide all citizens on this planet with access to adequate healthy food under changing climatic conditions.  The objective is to make agriculture profitable to the farmer and farm produce to be affordable to the poorest of the poor.  Apart from economic consideration, agriculture should be environmentally friendly with minimum usage of natural resources; non- polluting and not contributing to GHG emissions. 

The latest report on the state of food security and nutrition in the world is quite disturbing as in 2016 the number of chronically undernourished people in the world increased to 850 million from 777 million in 2015.  The reports sent a clear warning signal that the ambition of a world without hunger and malnutrition by 2030 as envisaged by the SDG will be challenging.  Apart from under-nourishment and malnutrition, there are issues related to environmental degradation and pollution that threaten the resource base on which agriculture is dependent; the loss of agricultural biodiversity that is critical to resilience; high greenhouse gas emission that contribute to climate change; inequality  in access to technologies that some time further marginalize small farmers; reducing the availability of natural resources, especially water and inequality in access to nutritious food.

At the onset of green revolution in late 1960s food and agriculture system have become more like an industry.  Agriculture has become input intensive and conventional monocultures leading to increase in yields.   This has come at a great cost to the environment, human health and animal welfare, while doing little to address the root causes of poverty and hunger or to deal with the inherent vulnerability  to climate change.  In fact, in some area of Punjab, good agricultural land has been rendered unfit for  agricultural purpose to increased saliently levels.   The continuous cultivation of the crops, especially in rice – wheat systems, farmers have very little time between harvesting of rice and sowing of wheat, resulting in large scale burning of crop which is residue proving to be threatening to the regional environment.

It is thus important to relook at the crop pattern monoculture to polyculture; crop rotation especially with a leguminous crop, thus disturbing the life cycle of insect pest, diseases and weeds and also ensuring the availability of varying nutrients required by different crops.  Incorporation of agro-forestry trees as a second crop, conservation agriculture; (where crop residue retains much needed moisture and provides freedom from weeds); use of vermicompost and crop of livestock mixture, etc. leads to sustainability.  Farm animals today are considered as insurance of the farmers as in a bad year, they provide much needed finances.  Awareness about the use of natural resources, especially water and fertilizers is gradually increasing.  Use of sprinkler and drip irrigation and subsoil irrigation coupled with precision agriculture technologies can reduce water requirement upto 60%.  Addition of fertilizers through water-wise technologies  ensure that all the externally applied fertilizers becomes available to the plants and is not released to the air as ammonia or percolated down to pollute water.  The seed replacement rate, which is pathetically low in India, is gradually improving, especially with the participation of private sector.  Use of biofertilizers and biopesticides is becoming more acceptable by the farmers as the quality of the products is substantially improved.  Further, farmers are getting trained for on-farm production of vermicompost. Farm mechanization is gradually picking up with support from the Government.  There is a move towards cooperative models so that small farmers for whom owning a big machine may not be viable, can also be benefitted.  Climate smart technologies and use of germplasm which is more resilient to climate change is also gaining popularity. 

Key questions

  1. How sustainable is organic agriculture?
  2. What role energy security & farm mechanization may play to make agriculture more sustainable
  3. How do you view export of premium food items such as Basmati rice.  Is it in some way, virtual flow of water from rice producing countries to the developed economies?
  4. Are Government policies aimed towards making agriculture sustainable (such as providing subsidy on fertilizers, electricity for pumping water etc.) or there is a need to relook at them?
  5. Should we aim at organic food production and go towards safe food production?
  6. How acceptable will be eco-labeling of crops and will people be willing to go towards affordable but fool proof certification system?  Or it should be aimed at pay premium to food produced in a sustainable way.
  7. What role FPO’s can play for better price realization by the farms?
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