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Sustainable Agriculture Practices and Farming Methods in India

Sustainable Agriculture Practices and Farming Methods in India


  • GS 1 || Geography || Indian Economic Geography || Agriculture

Why in the news?

After the publication of the Brundtland Report in 1987, the idea of sustainable agriculture has gained traction. Sustainable agriculture refers to the processes that enable us to meet current and future societal needs for food, fiber, and other resources while optimizing benefits through natural resource conservation and ecosystem function maintenance.

Principles of Sustainable Agriculture:

  • Environmental sustainability is achieved by safeguarding, recycling, removing, and preserving natural resources such as land (soil), water, and wildlife, among other things.
  • Economic viability: by enhancing soil conservation and crop rotation, for example, yields can be increased.
  • Social stability is achieved by promoting social justice and cultural harmony.

Benefits of Sustainable Agriculture:

  • Environmental Protection: Sustainable agriculture focuses on practices and processes that increase soil productivity while reducing negative impacts on the atmosphere, soil, water, air, biodiversity, and human health.
  • Energy Conservation: It focuses on reducing the use of nonrenewable inputs and petroleum-based goods and replacing them with renewable resources.
  • Food security: It aims to ensure that current and future generations’ basic nutritional needs are fulfilled in terms of both quantity and consistency.
  • Economic profitability: It not only guarantees a sustainable rise in agricultural production, but it also decreases the agricultural sector’s exposure to adverse natural conditions (e.g., climate), social factors (e.g., large price swings), and other risks.
  • Economic and social equity: It aims to provide people employed in the agriculture value chain with long-term jobs, a sufficient income, and dignified and equitable working and living conditions. It also concentrates on the needs of the local population, as well as their expertise, skills, socio-cultural values, and institutional structures.

Different Methods of Sustainable Agriculture:

  • Planting cover crops: During the lean season, when soils might otherwise be left bare, cover crops are planted. These crops protect and improve soil quality by reducing the need for herbicides by preventing erosion, replenishing soil nutrients, and holding weeds at bay.
  • Agroforestry: Growing trees and shrubs among crops or grazing land is referred to as agroforestry. For long-term, sustainable, and diverse land use, agroforestry systems may combine agriculture and forestry practices.
  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM) with a Biointensive Approach: It stresses the use of crop rotation to avoid pest problems, as well as the reintroduction of disease-fighting microbes into plants and soil, and the release of beneficial organisms that prey on pests. Pesticides of any kind are not used.
  • Permaculture: Bill Mollison and David Holmgren created the idea of permaculture in the 1970s and early 1980s. It is the development and conservation of agriculturally viable ecosystems with natural ecosystem diversity, stability, and resilience.
  • Crop Rotation: It entails planting a variety of crops in a specific order over many years in the same growing space. It aids in the preservation of soil nutrients, the reduction of soil erosion, and the prevention of plant diseases and pests.
  • LEISA (Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture): This method employs minimal synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Yields are sustained through a greater emphasis on cultural practices, integrated pest control, and the use of on-farm tools and management.
  • Organic Farming: This is a method of farming that uses crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, off-farm organic waste, mineral grade rock additives, and a biological system of nutrient mobilization and plant defense to the greatest extent possible, rather than synthetic inputs (such as fertilizers, pesticides, etc.).
  • Conservation Agriculture: Conservation agriculture is a farming system that includes permanent organic mulch cover and extended crop rotation. It largely avoids tillage.
  • Biodynamic agriculture: The farm is seen as a living system. The framework places a high value on animal integration to establish a closed nutrient cycle, the impact of crop planting dates on the calendar, and knowledge of spiritual forces in nature.
  • There is no budget. Natural farming: The term “zero budget” refers to farming without using credit or spending money on purchased inputs. Natural farming entails farming in harmony with nature and without the use of pesticides (FAO). It is a set of farming techniques that were first used in Andhra Pradesh.

Issues with sustainable agriculture:

  • Small-scale farming: Many academics and environmentalists argue that small-scale farming is more sustainable and less polluting than intensive, industry-based development models. Environmentally destructive farming practices, on the other hand, are not limited to industrial or intensive large agricultural operations; smallholders can also damage the soil and the environment due to lack of knowledge and access to modern sustainable techniques.
  • Soil management feasibility of conservation agriculture: Since conservation agriculture does not use ploughing, it necessitates improvements in weed control, herbicide use, and sowing machinery. Conservation agriculture is difficult for smallholders in developed countries. As a result, such activity has been mostly concentrated in North America, Europe, and Australia.
  • Use of chemical pesticides: Given the rising incidences of insect attacks and crop damage, fully eliminating chemical pesticides might not be feasible. Chemical pesticides should be used sparingly, and less toxic agents should be used instead.
  • Organic farming and food security: As compared to intensive farming, switching to organic farming usually results in a dramatic drop in yields. With the world’s population expanding, there is a growing question about our ability to support the population. As a result, organic farming alone will be insufficient to feed the planet in its current form, and will need to be combined with other forms of sustainable production.
  • The controversy around the use of HYV seeds: High yielding hybrid seeds have been known to endanger not only human and environmental health, but also farmers’ economic viability. Given the growing concern about food security, these seeds are important for increasing productivity.

Challenges involved:

  • Intensive, organic (use of HYV seeds, chemical fertilizers) and deforestation have become more resilient due to the population and deteriorated habitats.
  • A significant portion of the agricultural population (small and medium farmers) lacks resources to move to sustainable agricultural production.
  • There is a lack of knowledge and technology to develop agriculture methods, processing, and selling agricultural products;
  • There are no financial incentives for farmers to switch to sustainable farming, leaving them afraid of the financial benefits;
  • There is insufficient public policy and basic infrastructure to encourage farmers to adopt sustainable agricultural practices.

Initiatives taken by government for Sustainable Agriculture in India:

  • ICAR’s Network Project on Organic Farming: This project compares the agronomic efficiency of various production systems and evaluates the relative performance of location-specific, important cropping systems under organic and conventional farming.
  • Paramparagat Krishi VikasYojana (PKVY): This scheme aims to promote commercial organic production by involving a group of farmers in certified organic farming (cluster farming)
  • National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture: One of the eight missions identified in the National Action Plan on Climate Change is the National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture (NAPCC). It focuses on integrated farming, soil health management, and resource conservation synergy to improve agriculture productivity, especially in rainfed areas.
  • Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative: This is a method of sugarcane production that uses less seeds, less water, and optimal fertilizer and land use to increase yields.
  • System of Rice Intensification (SRI): This is an agro-ecological method for raising irrigated rice production by altering plant, soil, water, and nutrient management. It’s a labor-intensive, low-water approach that uses single-spaced seedlings. In India’s Cauvery delta zone, the Kadiramangalam System of Rice Intensification, a variant of SRI, is used.

Way Forward:

In light of mounting climatic challenges and food security concerns, the Indian government should aim to achieve the objective of sustainable agriculture on a war footing through policy changes and support to various stakeholders. In the long run, this will make India self-sufficient and climate safe, while also allowing for economic, environmental, and social sustainability.

Mains oriented question:

Sustainable agriculture is an innovative form of farming but what are the pros and cons associated with it. Explain. (200 words)