Speaking about sustainable agriculture, NITI-Aayog Vice-Chairman Rajiv Kumar said: “Embracing sustainable agriculture could not only lead to better incomes for farmers but also have multiple environmental benefits.”
There is a need to rethink current agricultural practices, he said, and added, “Our focus is on promoting sustainable agriculture, especially natural farming, in India. This would benefit small and marginal farmers.”
It is also suitable in drier regions of the country as it requires lesser water, he said in a statement.
Asserting that India needs mainstream sustainable agriculture, CEEW CEO Arunabha Ghosh said, “We need a fundamental rethink of how we grow food and what we eat.”
Sustaining agriculture has the potential to help diversify farmers’ sources of food and income, make farming climate-resilient, optimise use of natural resources and re-build ecosystems. It also offers a vital alternative to input-intensive farming, he said.
“We must investigate more and follow the science,” he said and noted that for sustainable agriculture to scale, policymakers must support long-term comparative assessments of sustainable practices and conventional farming, and increase budgetary allocation to promote practices and methods that have the most promise.
According to the CEEW study, organic farming has garnered the most policy attention among the eight sustainable agricultural practices receiving budgetary support under various central government programmes.
However, it currently covers only 2.8 million hectares (ha) – or two per cent of India’s net sown area of 140 million ha.
Natural farming is the fastest growing sustainable agricultural practice in India and has been adopted by around 800,000 farmers. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) has achieved a coverage area of 5 million ha after decades of sustained promotion.
Agroforestry and rainwater harvesting, which have received significant attention in national programmes, cover 25 million ha and 20-27 million ha, respectively.
Abhishek Jain, Fellow and Director at CEEW and an author of the study added, “It is imperative to broaden the national policy focus from food security to nutrition security and from merely chasing yields to valuing total farm productivity. It would not only reward farmers better, but help elevate the role of sustainable agriculture in India’s nutrition and farmers income security.”
The CEEW-FOLU study recommended investing in capacity building and facilitating information exchange among farmers because most sustainable agricultural practices are knowledge and skill-intensive.
Also, re-aligning government support to reward agricultural outcomes like annual farm productivity and resource-use efficiency would incentivise adoption of sustainable agriculture.
Further, focus on rainfed areas would be particularly important to enhance farmers’ incomes and resilience in a changing climate.
Finally, it would be crucial that national and state-level agriculture information systems such as the agriculture census capture and integrate data on prevalence of sustainable agriculture practices. This would help raise awareness and scale up sustainable agriculture in the country.
The study is based on an in-depth review of 16 sustainable agriculture practices and systems such as organic farming, natural farming, integrated farming systems and conservation agriculture.
It also included a primary survey with 180 civil society organisations promoting sustainable agriculture, as well as 40 plus consultations with stakeholders such as the government and agriculture institutions.