India has quite a distance to go in reaching the 2030 sustainable development goals (SDGs) chalked out by the United Nations. Among those goals are enhancing farmers’ income, nutritional security and ensuring sustainable food and farm systems.
As part of achieving the objectives on the agriculture front, Government think-tank, Niti Aayog, and FAO have brought out a set of thematic papers presented at the National Dialogue on Indian Agriculture towards 2030 in January 2021 as a book. The 10 papers in the book, Indian Agriculture Towards 2030: Pathways for Enhancing Farmers’ Income, Nutritional Security and Sustainable Food and Farm Systems have been presented by eminent agricultural and economics specialists including Ramesh Chand, who has edited the book too, Ashok Gulati, Pramod Aggarwal, Siraj Hussain and Promod Joshi among others.
The papers have stressed the need for changes in Indian agriculture, improving the status of women farmers, strengthening agri-marketing, making optimal use of water resources, attracting more investments in the farm sector, bio-fortification of crops and food replacements. The experts have stressed on mandatory use of ICT and digitalisation for realising the goals.
The feature of the papers, brought as a book, is that each presentation has a distinct angle and argument in taking the country’s agriculture towards 2030. The papers must not be seen as a presentation but as a policy roadmap or guide to achieve a set of SDG goals.
Ramesh Chand is forthright in terming agriculture as a victim and contributor to climate change. It must adapt to the consequences of change by reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, he says, calling for a transformative vision to achieve the goals.
More efficient agri-marketing
Ashok Gulati, former Chairman, Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, and one of the three members appointed by the Supreme Court to study farm reforms, probably, makes the best case for the changes in his paper ‘Transforming Indian Agriculture’. According to him, Indian agriculture needs to attract capital and the best way would be to make agri-marketing more efficient. He has strongly advocated a reduction in the area under paddy (rice) and the adoption of irrigation-saving technologies through innovations and incentives.
S Mahendra Dev and Vijay Laxmi Pandey of Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research in their paper, “Dietary Diversity, Nutrition and Food Safety” have dealt with malnutrition and nutritional security. The authors see saving post-harvest losses and introducing fortification and bio-fortification of crops as a way to improve nutrition among the masses.
Experts such as Pramod Aggarwal of Borlaug Institute and others think that replacement foods such as plant-based meats, focus on the circular economy and solar energy can help “Managing Climate Change Risks in Agriculture”. This presents an “immense opportunity” to raise food production, they argue.
There are others like Mihir Shah of Shiv Nadar University and PS Vijayshankar of Samaj Pragati Sahayog who hold the Green Revolution responsible for sowing the seeds of today’s grave farm crisis. Their views are frank and forthright given the depletion in soil fertility in Punjab and Haryana, where farmers reaped great success with the Green Revolution.
In their ‘Symbiosis of Water and Agricultural Transformation in India’ papers, the authors call for breaking the groundwater-energy nexus and ending the mindless extraction of groundwater. Besides, they have suggested the introduction of water-saving seeds and technologies, besides participatory irrigation and groundwater management.
Entomologists such as NK Krishna Kumar of the Entomological Society of India and S Vennila of the National Research Centre for Integrated and Pest Management, ICAR, in their paper ‘Pests, Pandemic, Preparedness and Biosecurity’ stress on monitoring wet markets that deal with wild animals in Congo, Wuhan and other places to mitigate a potential threat to sustainability.
Need resilient outcomes
The book has papers calling for an omnibus policy review of Indian agriculture to ensure total sustainability and chalk out transformation plans through the presentation of Ravi Prabhu of CIFOR-ICRAF. Advocating ‘Transformation Agroecology-based Alternatives for a Sustainable and Biodiverse Future,’ Prabhu, along with three others, say plans have to deliver inclusive, productive and resilient outcomes.
In dealing with ‘Science, Technology and Innovation,’ RB Singh of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, RS Paroda and M Dadlani in their article ‘Science, Technology and Innovation’ have insisted on a pathway to innovation from research for various schemes to make a national impact. Farmer-centric and demand-driven plans and the continuation of science-technology innovation are key to Indian agriculture.
Siraj Hussain, former Agriculture Secretary, and Seema Bathla of Centre for the Study of Regional Development, JNU, have dealt with ‘Structural Reforms and Governance Issues in Indian Agriculture’ in detail, particularly highlighting the issues under a federal system. For them, marketing reforms can help make a change.
Investment in agriculture could be a way in ‘Remandating Indian Agriculture’ Pathways for Transformation,’ say Pramod Joshi, formerly with International Food Policy Research Institute, and Shyam Khadka, a former FAO official. Their call for a multi-pronged strategy includes a higher allocation of funds and coordination between different policies and programmes to achieve the SDG targets.
The book can be downloaded for free and will be a handy one for policy-makers, administrators, scientists, agricultural universities, NGOs, agri-processors, corporates and farm management personnel.