With the advent of technology, mankind has achieved a lot over the years. After World War 2 there was a surge in population and the need for the food supply was immense. In order to fulfill the gap between demand and supply of food for the population, the concept of ‘Green Revolution’ was introduced in the late 1960s. It encouraged the use of hybrid seed variety, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and newer methods of cultivation including mechanization to achieve greater yield. As time went along, the consequences of the Green revolution were inevitable. Excessive use of fertilizer, herbicide, and pesticide resulted in depletion of soil health. Their usage has also destroyed the local ecosystem, polluted rivers, and jeopardized the health of workers and newborns.
Now, what is Sustainable agriculture?
The concept of Sustainable agriculture was adopted in the 1970s; it was adopted because yields from modern commercial agriculture reached a plateau and environmental problems had arisen due to excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticide residue in food chains. Also, the soil health was compromised which became difficult to be revived.
Sustainable means something that can be maintained at a certain rate or level. Sustainable agriculture uses methods in which we do not pollute or over-exploit the components of the environment and agricultural production remains on a suitable level for a very long period of time. It can also be seen as a collection of activities that incorporate biology, economics, engineering, chemistry, urban growth, and many others. The motive of sustainable agriculture is to achieve better environmental health, economic prosperity, and social and economic equity. It is one of the best options for agriculture when compared with other conventional forms of agriculture. It is a holistic approach towards agriculture; where socio-economic equity plus environmental health both are at equilibrium. It is that form of agriculture that produces enough food to satisfy the needs of the present generation without eroding the ecological assets of future generations and the productivity of life-supporting systems. Here the ecological balance is given more importance as organic matter is used as the main source of nutrient management. It encompasses many types of non-conventional farming, also referred to as organic, alternate, natural, low-input farming, etc. Practices like crop rotation, multi-level cultivation, integrated animal husbandry, and minimal tillage are involved.
Need for Sustainable Agriculture
In recent decades, the Indian economy has diversified and seen considerable expansion, but some major issues have also begun to arise, such as the decrease in agriculture’s contribution to overall GDP, among others. Currently, as high as 70 percent of the total rural households still depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood where around 82 percent are small and marginal farmers. The major challenges faced by the country’s agriculture sector are increased dependency on water supplies, desertification, and soil erosion. Thus, the current time needs alternatives that are friendly to both farmers and the climate. The transition from ‘green revolution’ that led to increased productivity to ‘green methods’ that will lead to agricultural sustainability is the enormous change needed in the agricultural landscape.
The basic aim of Sustainable Agriculture has been mentioned below:
1. Satisfy human needs (food, fiber, timber, etc) without overexploitation.
2. Most efficient use of nonrenewable farm resources by the integration of non-renewable resources.
3. Control environmental pollution.
4. Integrated system of animal-plant production.
5. Maintain the economic viability of farm operations and to enhance the quality of life of farmers and society
To achieve a sustainable agriculture ecosystem, we need to work on the following things
1. Increase area under organic cultivation – As of 31st March 2020 total area under organic certification process (registered under National Programme for Organic Production) was 3.67 million hectares (2019-20). This includes 2.299 million hectares of cultivable area and another 1.37 million Hectares for wild harvest collection (source: APEDA). Madhya Pradesh has the largest area covered by organic certification among all states, followed by Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Odisha, Sikkim, and Uttar Pradesh. In 2015 Sikkim became the first 100% organic state in the world by bringing more than 75000 hectares of land i.e its entire cultivable land under organic certification. There is huge potential for India to increase the area under organic cultivation. The Ministry of agriculture has deployed several schemes to promote and encourage farmers to adopt organic farming.
2. Reduce the use of chemical fertilizer – Limiting the use of fertilizer, using alternatives such as bio-fertilizers may help to maintain soil health.
3. Reduce the use of pesticides – Limiting the usage of pesticides, adopting integrated pest management systems can be beneficial to both farmers and the environment.
4. Resource use efficiency – Using less to grow more i.e using irrigation techniques like micro-irrigation for water conservation, using alternative farming techniques like hydroponics which utilizes 90% less water than traditional agriculture. Setting a solar-powered system to reduce the load on electrical energy.
5. Minimize wastage losses – Harvest and post-harvest losses make up to 40% of total food wastage. These losses can be minimized by adopting better harvest practices, improved storage facilities, practicing value addition of crops, etc.
6. Land use efficiency – To increase yield per acre, increase productive use of land which can be achieved by using alternative farming techniques like aquaponics, hydroponics. Hydroponics setup can be placed from small areas like balcony, windowsill, terrace to large acres; even in barren lands with limited water supply. Hydroponic fodder systems can be used to produce more fodder in small areas.
Promoting soil quality, minimal water consumption, lower levels of emissions, and reinforcing the local economy are common interests of people employed in sustainable agriculture.
Growing your own food
Growing our own food either in our backyards, terraces, or other such vacant places has been practiced for a long time either as a hobby or to meet the food requirement of a family especially in rural areas. This practice became more popular again in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the access to fresh produce was limited, their availability was affected due to shortcomings in transportation, etc. Also, the fear of possible surface contamination was there. The people who took up this hobby then seem to be enjoying it now. Sustainable agriculture helps to reduce the pressure on land to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population.
‘Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.’ – Hippocrates
Your food choice matters
An obvious lack of incentives is a significant obstacle to the adoption of sustainable agriculture, especially for small or marginal farmers. Many advantages are not obvious or readily noticeable, and it takes a good amount of time to see improvements such as lower rates of soil and nutrient depletion, increased soil composition, and higher levels of beneficial microorganisms in the soil. Whereas in the case of traditional/ conventional agriculture the advantages are clearly visible. Usage of pesticides & herbicides helps kill the pests, rodents, and weeds effectively, better yield by using chemical fertilizers but its long-term effects on soil health and ecosystems around it are hidden.
When we make a food decision as a consumer, it does make a difference. When you buy food at a grocery supermarket that sources its supply from a farmer who practices sustainable farming techniques you are indirectly sending a message across the value chain that this is the kind of produce you would buy in the future, the market will try & adapt to it. Together, we will have an immense influence on how we produce food. Sustainable agriculture is best in every aspect as the food tastes better; it is better for the atmosphere and better for local neighborhoods. Sustainable agriculture, therefore, provides the opportunity to increase food production, reduce dependency on external resources, and reduce environmental degradation.
Rajamani, Asokan. (2018). Sustainable Agriculture through Organic Farming in India.