The concept of sustainable agriculture gained prominence since the publication of the Brundtland Report in 1987. Sustainable Agriculture involves the processes that would enable to meet the current and long term societal needs for food, fiber and other resources, while maximizing benefits through the conservation of natural resources and maintenance of ecosystem functions.
Principles of Sustainable Agriculture:
The three main principles of sustainable agriculture are:
- Environmental sustainability: through e.g. protecting, recycling, replacing and maintaining the natural resources base such as land (soil), water and wildlife
- Economic sustainability: through e.g. improving soil management and crop rotation which raise yields
- Social sustainability: through upholding social justice and cultural cohesion
Benefits of Sustainable Agriculture:
- Environmental Protection: Sustainable Agriculture emphasizes on methods and processes that improve soil productivity while minimizing harmful effects on the climate, soil, water, air, biodiversity and human health.
- Saving Energy: It emphasizes to minimize the use of inputs from nonrenewable sources and petroleum-based products and replace them with those from renewable resources
- Food security: It seeks to ensure that the basic nutritional requirements of current and future generations are met in both quantity and quality terms.
- Economic profitability: It not only ensures sustainable increase in agricultural production but also reduces the agricultural sector’s vulnerability to adverse natural conditions (e.g. climate), socioeconomic factors (e.g. strong price fluctuations) and other risks.
- Economic and social equity:
- It seeks to ensure long-term employment, an adequate income and dignified and equal working and living conditions to people involved in agriculture value chain
- It also focuses on local people and their needs, knowledge, skills, socio-cultural values and institutional structures.
Different Methods of Sustainable Agriculture:
- Crop Rotation: It involves the systematic planting of different crops in a particular order over several years in the same growing space. It helps in maintaining nutrients in the soil, reducing soil erosion, and preventing plant diseases and pests.
- Planting cover crops: Cover crops are planted during lean season times when soils might otherwise be left bare. These crops protect and build soil health by preventing erosion, replenishing soil nutrients, and keeping weeds in check, reducing the need for herbicides.
- Biointensive Integrated Pest Management (IPM): It emphasizes the prevention of pest problems with crop rotation; the reintroduction of natural, disease-fighting microbes into plants/soil, and release of beneficial organisms that prey on the pests. Chemical pesticides are not used.
- Agroforestry: It involves the growth of trees and shrubs amongst crops or grazing land. Agroforestry systems can combine both agriculture and forestry practices for long-lasting, productive, and diverse land use.
- Permaculture: The concept of permaculture was developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 70s and early 80s. It is the design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems.
- Organic Farming: It is a type of farming which avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetic inputs (such as fertilizers, pesticides, etc.) and to the maximum extent feasible rely upon crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, off-farm organic waste, mineral grade rock additives and biological system of nutrient mobilization and plant protection.
- LEISA (Low External Input sustainable Agriculture): It uses low synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Yields are maintained through greater emphasis on cultural practices, IPM, and utilization of on-farm resources and management.
- Zero Budget Natural farming: The phrase ‘Zero Budget’ means without using any credit, and without spending any money on purchased inputs. ‘Natural farming’ means farming with Nature and without chemicals (FAO). It is a set of farming methods first introduced in Andhra Pradesh.
- Biodynamic agriculture: It considers farm as a living system. The system puts great emphasis on the integration of animals to create a closed nutrient cycle, effect of crop planting dates in relation to the calendar, and awareness of spiritual forces in nature.
- Conservation Agriculture: Conservation agriculture is a farming method that largely forgoes tillage and involves permanent organic mulch cover and extended crop rotation.
Issues with sustainable agriculture:
- Organic farming and food security: Switching to organic farming typically leads to a sharp drop in yields compared with intensive farming with rising world population; there is a growing debate over our ability to sustain the population. Therefore, organic farming alone will not be able to feed the world in its present form but will instead have to be combined with other sustainable production methods.
- Feasibility of conservation agriculture for soil management: The absence of ploughing as in case of conservation agriculture requires changes to weed management, use of herbicides and also special machinery for sowing. Smallholders in developing countries face a challenge to adopt conservation agriculture. Thus such practice has been concentrated predominantly in North America, Europe and Australia.
- Issue with small land holdings: Many scholars, environmentalists advocate that cultivation based on small holdings is more sustainable and less polluting than intensive, industry-based production models. However, environmentally harmful farming methods are not only characteristic of industrial or intensive large agricultural businesses; smallholders can also damage the soil and the environment due to lack of knowledge and access to modern sustainable techniques.
- The debate on use of HYV seeds: High yielding hybrid seeds have been known to pose threat to not only human and environmental health but are also economically unsustainable for farmers. However, given the growing concern over food security, these seeds are crucial to enhance productivity.
- Use of chemical pesticides: To completely do away with chemical pesticides may not be a feasible idea given the growing incidences of pest attacks and consequent loss of crop. The amount of chemical pesticide used should be kept to a minimum, and less harmful agents should be used.
Sustainable Agriculture in India:
- National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture: It is one of the 8 missions outlined under National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC). It aims at enhancing agriculture productivity especially in rainfed areas focusing on integrated farming, soil health management, and synergizing resource conservation.
- Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY): The scheme aims at promotion of commercial organic production through certified organic farming y involving group of farmers (cluster farming)
- Network Project on Organic Farming of ICAR: It aims at evaluating the relative performance of location-specific, important cropping systems under organic and conventional farming, and assesses agronomic efficiency of different production systems.
Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative: It is a method of sugarcane production using less seeds, less water and optimum utilization of fertilizers and land to achieve more yields.
System of Rice Intensification (SRI): It is an agro-ecological methodology for increasing the productivity of irrigated rice by changing the management of plants, soil, water and nutrients. It is a low water, labor-intensive, method that uses younger seedlings singly spaced. Kadiramangalam System of Rice Intensification, a variant of SRI, is practiced in Cauvery delta region in India.
- Rising population and degraded ecosystems have increased resilience on intensive, conventional (use of HYV seeds, chemical fertilizers) and deforestation.
- 2. There is lack of capital among the large sections of agricultural community (small and medium farmers) for transition to sustainable agricultural production.
- There is lack of access to information and technology to improve agriculture practices, processing and marketing agricultural products.
- Lack of economic incentives to switch to sustainable farming which makes farmers apprehensive of the returns.
- There is inadequate public policy and basic infrastructure to promote adoption of sustainable agricultural practices.
The Indian government should strive to achieve goal of sustainable agriculture at war footing through policy changes and support to various stakeholders in light of the mounting climatic challenges and food security issues. This would make India self-sufficient and climate secure in the longer run, while enabling economic, environment and social sustainability.