Sustainable farming, the only way out

Green fields In every sense?   -  K_K_Mustafah;K_K_Mustafah -

Climate smart agriculture as well as proper management of soil and water need priority attention

A discussion on Indian agriculture is fraught with the possibility of it being redirected to issues not necessarily connected to agriculture. Yet, considering the dependence of our population on it, agriculture needs to be brought centre-stage.

The prime challenge is sustainability. What are some of the issues related to it?

Some issues

Consider land degradation. According to ICAR’s reports, a staggering 37 per cent of India’s total geographical area of 328.73 million ha is affected. A staggering amount of soil gets degraded annually. This is an irony considering the fact that a big amount of our fiscal budget is spent on defending our soil even as we lose the very same soil to rain and wind!

Similarly, our water resources are also getting degraded. Only about 47.6 per cent of the net sown area is irrigated. Groundwater, which accounts for almost 60 per cent of the irrigated area in the country, is under severe strain. Subsidies for electricity consumed in agriculture have led to wasteful use of both energy and groundwater. This has led to depletion of the water table and deterioration of water quality.

Further, in the face of competing demands for groundwater due to population growth and industrialisation, the share of agriculture in available water resources is expected to fall from the current 83 per cent to 68 per cent by 2050.

Adverse climate change is also a risk to sustainability. It leads to drop in yield and lower quality produce, and increases incidence of attacks by pests and insects.

The figures emerging from Network Programme on Climate Change, ICAR, paint a disturbing scenario. A reduction of 4.5 to 9 per cent in agriculture yields is expected in the medium term (2010-2039), and over 25 per cent in the long term (2040 and beyond) if no corrective measures are taken. What this means for India’s GDP growth in the medium term is a hit of up to 2 per cent per annum.

Sustainable agriculture must involve measures for soil conservation, water conservation and irrigation, and mitigation of the adverse effects of climate change. Large-scale afforestation, encompassing commercial forestry, farm forestry, social forestry, captive plantation as also adoption of community-based forest management practices are needed.

Watershed development and management facilitates soil and water conservation.

Other measures for water conservation include rainwater harvesting, construction of check dams, farm ponds, and irrigation-efficient technology such as drip and sprinkler systems. In the long run, we have to revisit unsustainable crop patterns from the water-usage point of view.

We must swiftly adopt climate smart agricultural practices as spelt out by the FAO. This calls for using renewable sources such as bio fuels and solar; nitrogen-smart nutrient management, organic farming; carbon smart practices ( agroforestry, horticulture, livestock management); weather smart extension services (ICT-based agro advisories) and so on.

Schemes galore

The good news is that we have a well-defined array of schemes for almost all the threats crippling agriculture. The Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sichayee Yojana aims to extend the coverage of irrigation and improve water use efficiency. The Micro Irrigation Fund focuses on “more crop per drop”. The Long Term Irrigation Fund has the potential to bring an additional 76 lakh ha area under irrigation.

The Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana incentivises States to draw up plans for their agriculture sector more comprehensively, taking agro-climatic conditions, natural resource issues and technology into account. The Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana is a comprehensive insurance scheme that covers the damage caused by natural calamities. Schemes like Dairy Processing and Infrastructure Development Fund reduce the dependence of farmers on agriculture. The Rural Infrastructure Development Fund has channelised ₹2,87,129 crore under various tranches since 1995-96 into rural India’s infrastructure requirement pool till date.

The list of what has been done is impressive, but is dwarfed by the list of what remains to be done. The solution lies in seamless implementation of the programmes. To achieve this, all the stakeholders should converge their resources — technical, financial, managerial — to convert the challenges into opportunities.

And above all, do it with a commitment to make agriculture truly sustainable in every sense of the word.

The writer is the chairman of NABARD

Published on August 18, 2017

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