ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Towards a Resilient Farming System

P S Vijayshankar (viju28@gmail.com) is founder member, Samaj Pragati Sahayog, Madhya Pradesh.

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Rural and agrarian issues are being discussed widely in policy circles, newspapers and the electronic media. Still, the diverse solutions proposed by policymakers do not seem to be addressing the deep structural malaise that has set in at the core of India’s agrarian economy. The major growth episodes of Indian agriculture are closely associated with the initiation and spread of the green revolution paradigm and technology. But, it is increasingly becoming clear that this path of high external input agriculture is unsustainable and has placed enormous strain on the natural resource base of the economy (FAO 2017). Satellite-based assessments by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) showed that in northwestern India, the core green revolution area, groundwater depletion accounted for the loss of 109 km3 of groundwater between 2002 and 2008 (Rodell et al 2009). There have also been several studies indicating high land degradation, decline in the levels of soil organic matter and loss of soil fertility in core green revolution areas. Soil erosion has been another major reason for soil fertility depletion and land degradation, taking away 8 million tonnes of plant nutrients every year through a loss of 5.3 billion tonnes of soil (Prasad and Biswas 2000).

All these factors together indicate that the search for solutions to problems that plague Indian agriculture must begin by fundamentally questioning the green revolution paradigm. This alternative path for agriculture takes agroecology as its core, making a decisive shift away from the production-centric approach of the green revolution paradigm towards an ecosystem-centric view of agriculture. From an agroecological perspective, the internal stability or resilience of a farming system is a function of the network of links forged between various components of the system. The green revolution paradigm and cultural practices associated with it break down the internal linkages of the system, making it increasingly dependent on external energy subsidies such as fossil fuels-based chemical fertilisers, pesticides, etc (Alteiri 1995). Building resilience in the farming system is imperative to manage climate vulnerability of agriculture. Climate variations have always been a source of risk for farmers, especially the smallholder farmers operating in the rain-fed tracts of the country. Climate change threatens to affect the distribution of rainfall, both within the monsoon period and over the year. The pathway to building climate change resilience is through developing a balanced and integrated agricultural system, with limited external chemical inputs and a greater emphasis on climate-resilient crops and cropping systems.

It should also be noted that the character of Indian agriculture over the past several years has undergone a significant change. Recent estimates by both the NITI Aayog and the Report of the Committee on Doubling of Farmer Incomes (DFI Committee 2017) on the value of output of agriculture show that staple crops like cereals, pulses and oilseeds still occupy a large share in terms of area operated (77.18%), but their share in total value of output is only about 42%. High value, non-staple crops occupying only about 20% of the total cropped area are now contributing as much as 40% of the total value of agricultural output and their share in cultivated area is growing slowly. The reason for this shift could clearly be due to the vast difference in the average productivity per hectare between the two sets of crops and their relative price movements. The non-staple, high value crops (like tomato, onion and potato) face high climate risk as also high price variations across seasons. Market price plays a major role in determining incomes and profitability of the households engaged in their cultivation.

The papers in this edition of the Review of Rural Affairs try to address these issues, albeit in a limited manner. Shergill’s paper deals with the crisis in Punjab in the post-green revolution period and the falling share of the rural economy in public expenditure in the state. Jatav and Chakrabarty analyse the increasing climate vulnerability in the farming systems in a semi-arid tropic (SAT) region and show that substantial public investment through the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) is needed to protect smallholder farmers for building climate resilience in Telangana. Veluguri et al, in their paper, make an effort, perhaps for the first time in India, to prepare state-level report cards on ecological sustainability of agriculture using multiple indicators. Rajeev and Nagendran identify the factors that determine the adoption of crop insurance using an econometric analysis and assess the potential of the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, in covering risks in farming. The paper points to several weaknesses of the scheme that need to be rectified. The fifth paper by Dutta argues that reform in agriculture is necessary for rural economic development and for protection of agriculture-related livelihoods.

References

Alteiri, M (1995): Agroecology: The Science of Sustainable Agriculture, UK: CRC Press.

DFI Committee (2017): Report of the Committee on Doubling of Farmer Incomes (Ashok Dalwai Committee), Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare, August.

FAO (2017): Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges, Food and Agriculture Organisation, Rome.

NITI Ayog (2017): Doubling Farmers’ Incomes, Policy Paper, 1/2017, New Delhi.

Prasad, R N and P P Biswas (2000): Soil Resources of India: In 50 Years of Natural Resource Management, Indian Council of Agricultural Research: New Delhi.

Rodell, M, Isabella Velicogna and James S Famiglietti (2009): “Satellite-based Estimates of Groundwater Depletion in India,” Nature, Vol 460, No 20, August.

Updated On : 5th Jul, 2019

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