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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