ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Food and Nutritional Security and Rural Livelihoods

Biodiversity in and around Farmlands

Farmlands and farm practices are increasingly getting homogenised due to the all-pervasive intensification of agriculture. Often blurred in this production maximising system is the biodiversity in and around farms—both wilderness and agricultural—that dots farm neighbourhoods. Unfortunately, unlike biodiversity associated with more recognisable landscapes, such as protected areas and nature reserves, loss of biodiversity in and around farms due to agricultural intensification has not gained as much attention as it deserves. This paper highlights the potential roles that it can play to address challenges of food and nutritional security and securing rural livelihoods by drawing upon specific case studies across India and elsewhere.

India is primarily an agrarian economy. An overwhelming majority of the country’s population is engaged in food production and allied activities. Employing over 50% of India’s workforce, “agriculture, forestry and fishing” contributes to a fifth of the country’s economic output in gross domestic product (GDP) terms (India Economic Survey 2018). Agriculture remains the dominant land-use form in India increasing from 92 million hectares to 140 million hectares between 1880 and 2010 (Tian et al 2014). This expansion of agriculture and other land-use forms has placed immense pressure on biodiversity, particularly in forests and grasslands/scrublands. In fact, agricultural expansion and the ensuing land-cover homogenisation remains the major cause of biodiversity loss, water depletion and large-scale environmental pollution, particularly in many tropical countries, including India (Aditya et al 2020; Norris 2008; Rockström et al 2009; Balmford et al 2012). Over 45% of temperate forests, 50% of savannahs, and 70% of grasslands in the tropics have been depleted due to agriculture (Balmford et al 2012). Globally, between 1992 and 2015, area under agriculture increased by 3% (~35 million ha) from the conversion of tropical forests (IPBES 2020). Compared to all other human activities, agricultural expansion alone resulted in the highest number of species extinctions (Butler et al 2007). The gross irrigated area in India expanded fourfold from 22.6 million hectares in 1951 to 95.8 million hectares in 2013–14 making it the largest in the world (Douglas et al 2009; Modak 2018). While such agricultural intensification seems inevitable for meeting the country’s food security, land-cover homogenisation caused by intensive agriculture has rapidly eroded agrobiodiversity and remains a perpetual threat to the remaining biodiversity. The loss is not confined to biodiversity but extends to the traditional use cultures, and knowledge associated with this diversity (Dweba and Mearns 2011; Aswani et al 2018).

Ironically though, biodiversity—the anti-thesis of intensive agriculturalisation—forms the basis of all sustainable food production systems. From providing pollinator, pest and diseases mitigating services to maintaining soil health and fertility, biodiversity is intricately linked to enhancing productivity and sustaining it. Besides, in countries such as India, with a large proportion of the small landholders, often less than 0.8 hectares, biodiversity has been an important source of nutrition as well as off-farm, off-crop livelihoods. In this context, incorporating biodiversity-based models of agriculture might not only ensure a sustainable intensification of agriculture (increased yield without causing substantial environmental impact and without conversion of non-agricultural land) but could also help augment nutritional security and rural livelihood opportunities. Here, we describe the concept of bio­diversity in and around farms (BIAF) and highlight its importance in enhancing agricultural productivity and demonstrate how biodiversity can simultaneously be conserved and utilised in meeting food and nutritional security and in supplementing the livelihood requirements. We also discuss the need to conserve BIAF through policy interventions that in the long run would converge with the larger sustainable development goals.

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Updated On : 14th Dec, 2020

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