Explained: Why Sustainable Agriculture Is The Way Forward For India

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I was talking to my grandfather a few days ago and our conversation went on to discuss various issues of current affairs. One of the issues which captured my attention was related to climate change.

He told me how, in his time, things were so simple and the weather was pleasant that even in the hottest month of June-July, he went walking miles to marry my grandmother. But he said, nowadays things have changed and new system have emerged – all at the cost of environment.

I, from his point of view, sensed that he is not against change. Rather, he believes change is a permanent concept of human life but sustainability needs to be ensured. Whatever we are doing, it is always advisable to stay balanced and align with sustainable approach. The same goes with our livelihood and agricultural patterns.

What Is Sustainable Agriculture?

Sustainable agriculture is that which does not require chemicals, conserves energy and water, emphasises local production, decreases inputs and utilizes resources more efficiently on site, values biodiversity and ecology, and works within our global natural resource limitations. The main advantage of the practice is that it is aligned with natural process and so is healthier for climate, natural resources and human beings among other living beings.

Farmers, hard at work. (Photo: Flickr)

Before Independence, our country used techniques of mixed cropping and use of organic seeds; there was a community resource such as wells and tanks from which water is used efficiently for production thus limiting extraction of groundwater.

But, the new industrial society marked by changes in agriculture such as adoption of modern techniques of green revolution like pesticides, high yield variety seeds, chemical fertilizers. This system caused enormous damage to the environment – depleted groundwater, degraded land and soil by killing the nutrients of soil, and created inequality between farmer groups. Thus, keeping in our mind the pace of environmental damage caused by new technologies, we need to shift towards more eco-friendly and sustainable approach for agriculture.

Methods Of Sustainable Agriculture

There are various methods of sustainable agriculture techniques present today that with innovation and sustained efforts can help farmers to increase their income and reduce environmental degradation altogether. This is in line with India’s goal for doubling farmers income by 2022 and international commitments for sustainable development goals, United Nations Conference to Combat Desertification and to reduce carbon emissions in line with the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change resolution.

One such method is Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) envisaged in the Union Budget 2019-20 for sustainable agriculture. ZBNF is a set of farming methods, and also a grassroots peasant movement, which has spread to various states in India. It has attained wide success in southern India, especially the southern Indian state of Karnataka where it first evolved. 

The movement in Karnataka state was born out of collaboration between Mr Subhash Palekar, who put together the ZBNF practices, and the state farmers association Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (KRRS), a member of La Via Campesina (LVC).

Zero Budget Natural Farming, as the name implies, is a method of farming where the cost of growing and harvesting plants is zero.This means that farmers need not purchase fertilizers and pesticides in order to ensure the healthy growth of crops.

It is, basically, a natural farming technique that uses biological pesticides instead of chemical-based fertilisers. Farmers use earthworms, cow dung, urine, plants, human excreta and such biological fertilisers for crop protection. It reduces farmers’ investment. It also protects the soil from degradation.

The four wheels of zero budget natural farming requires locally available materials:

  • Water vapour condensation for better soil moisture.
  • Seed treatment with cow dung and urine-based formulations.
  • Mulching and soil aeration for favourable soil conditions.
  • Ensuring soil fertility through cow dung and cow urine-based concoctions.

Another method is the integrated farming system (IFS). The salient features of IFS include – innovation in farming for maximising production through optimal use of local resources, effective recycling of farm waste for productive purposes, community-led local systems for water conservation, organic farming, and developing a judicious mix of income-generating activities such as dairy, poultry, fishery, goat-rearing, vermicomposting and others. This builds farmer capacities for adoption of productive, remunerative, eco-friendly and self-sustaining integrated farming systems.

Scenes from the farmer protest at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, last year.

The Case Of Banamali Das

An integrated farmer Banamali Das, a farmer from Gayadham Village of West Bengal has five members in integrated farming. His farm is situated in Sunderban Delta where the soil is clayey and saline. He started in 0.24 acres of land with kind and homestead garden and 0.33 acre of lowland.

In the lowland, he used to grow paddy in Kharif and potato in Rabi. In the homestead, he cultivated leafy vegetables and reared fish in the pond. Cow dung and farmyard manure were used as soil amendments which did not help him earn much so he decided to bring in new approach.

He dug a small pond with a surrounding trench with a boundary for year long irrigation. The outer border he utilised with trees like eucalyptus, neem, etc. He feeds the fish in a pond and he has a cow, hen and duck as livestock. For feeding fish, he uses left our fodder. He himself makes vermicompost by using organic manure. This integration of organic methods and integration of animals and plants helped him earn a good sum of money with little investment. 

What Is A Sustainable Livelihood?

A livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from stresses and shocks and maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets both now and in the future without undermining the natural resource base (Chambers and Conway). One such example is of veganism for reducing adverse impacts on the environment.

We know that the meat industry is a highly water intensive and also it increases carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by producing greenhouse gases. Livestock emissions currently account for 14.5% of global greenhouse gases, greater than transport’s 13% contribution.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a vegan as “a strict vegetarian who consumes no animal food or dairy products; also: one who abstains from using animal products (such as leather).” Veganism is also a moral position that opposes exploiting and otherwise harming nonhuman animals.

This includes what we do directly, such as hunting or fishing. It also includes what we support as consumers, which affects many more animals. Nonhuman animals are routinely killed and made to suffer in farms and slaughterhouses. This happens because there is a demand for animal products, especially food products. Veganism means not consuming these products so animals are not harmed to produce them.

At the heart of veganism is respect for all sentient beings. Vegans see all sentient animals as beings we should respect, not as objects for us to use. But apart from animal cruelty, veganism means much more in today’s world. The concept is meaningful in sustainable livelihood thereby effective for reducing adverse impacts on our environment.

Nowadays, there are a lot more alternatives present in the market as a plant based food which can act as a substitute for meat. Another alternative which is environment friendly is cell-based growing meat in a lab which does not involve the rearing of animals and feeding it for the sake of consuming. Rather, it grows meat through a combination of cells and can be consumed with no harm to the environment. In many countries, technology has already been developed for the same. The vegan diet also helps in maintaining weight and reduced the risk of other food borne diseases. 

Having said that, reducing overconsumption of anything would ultimately help us and the environment in the long run. The onus is on all of us to devise ways and methods for sustainable agriculture and livelihood for a better future with reduced climate adversity. 

Featured image for representative purpose only.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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