Succeeding with gainful productivity
To ensure that "Agri-value Chains" are more responsible and linked to Sustainable Development Goals all the stake holders from policy framers to farmers should promote and adopt responsible agriculture value chains in India. It also infers that today these value chains, on the whole, are neither aware nor responsible nor fully aligned with sustainability goals.
Before we proceed into the deliberations let's first understand the concept of "Value Chain". In simple words, a value chain can be defined as the whole series of activities that create value at every step. Similarly "Sustainability" usually infers a review of all the aspects of productivity, i.e. maximise output with minimal waste of input resources, including energy, water, fertilisers, etc.
In simple terms, it means judicious use of resources and simply producing more out of less. We should discuss more about how to get more crop per drop, reduce chemical usage and even how to bring solar power into agriculture or how to reuse the waste that ensues. However, I would like to state that these activities are ongoing aspects that most agriculturists are aware of and is intrinsic to agri-business operators. These are optimising aspects, and are also well covered by many ongoing programs and interventions of both the Central and State Governments, which are regularly scaled up – depending on available resources.
In simple words, a value chain can be defined as the whole series of activities that create value at every step. Similarly "Sustainability" usually infers a review of all the aspects of productivity, i.e. maximise output with minimal waste of input resources, including energy, water, fertilisers, etc
. In simple terms, it means judicious use of resources and simply producing more out of less. We should discuss more about how to get more crop per drop, reduce chemical usage and even how to bring solar power into agriculture or how to reuse the waste that ensues. However, I would like to state that these activities are ongoing aspects that most agriculturists are aware of and is intrinsic to agri-business operators. These are optimising aspects, and are also well covered by many ongoing programs and interventions of both the Central and State Governments, which are regularly scaled up – depending on available resources.
Then what is the perspective for change? Here, I would like to share another perspective towards agri-business value chain systems; I wish to highlight an aspect that was largely ignored in the rush to produce more. That was the produce itself - the final output from farms. For long, we utilised all means to ramp up our production and we measured productivity as production per unit of land or livestock, output against unit input. The production from our farms - be it milk, various meats, food grains, or fruits and vegetables - was commonly viewed as an achievement in itself. But why do we produce all this food, produce more, off our farms? What do we wish to achieve? The aim at the end is that more food can reach consumers.
The production from our farms was commonly viewed as an achievement in itself – that was fine while farms produced for local consumers who were within reach. However, when production increased even more, farming became non-sustainable in all its forms. Because more was produced than could be absorbed locally and market access was found missing. Today, farming or productivity in itself cannot be seen as a successful science experiment where success is measured merely at the farm-level productivity. It is now a commercial activity and more needs to be done to bring value to producers and that value can be realised only by making available more of the produce to more consumers. Today, farming is a not a mere life-sustaining activity rather it has transformed into a big commercial activity where producers are keen to take it to new levels by putting up plants for processing their produce but the numbers are very few and, therefore, lots of improvements are required in this area to bring value to producers. If we choose to make the business of agriculture responsible as well as sustainable then we need to change our matrix immediately and start measuring success in terms of "gainful productivity" and "value-added economic activity". We need to measure in terms of delivery till the last mile and not merely output at the farm gate.
Let us analyse the other dimension of the production system that is the food loss. It is the first signal to watch out for. If globally, including India, we reportedly incur food loss averaging from 20 per cent to 40 per cent of the food produced, we are making agriculture non-sustainable in the first instance. It is imperative to link agriculture to markets to make it an economically sustainable activity so as to align it with the Sustainable Development Goals.
Amongst the whole list of actions that can be taken to make agriculture and associated businesses more responsible, we need to have priorities: what in that whole list will have a transformative impact and what will have an incremental change? The first priority should be improving production delivery management. This alone can ensure that the input resources, do not get wasted when food is lost in the supply side of the cycle.
The second priority would be managing of the root cause of the production process. Management of our farm animals and our soil in a sustainable manner should be our utmost priority. Without fertile soil and healthy animals, we have no food. For example, look at solar powered pumps to irrigate the soil or to water the livestock. These pumps work when the sun is high in the sky. However, plants benefit more from watering before the sun rises. Further, free solar power may cause indiscriminate water usage leading to lot of wastage and also depleting the water table. We can see what free energy to run tube wells has done to the soil of few northern States in the country.
On the food loss front, we have to think afresh. The FAO had put out a report that food loss, if accounted independently, would be the third largest greenhouse gas contributor after USA and China. Every ton of fresh food wasted, adds about one and a half tons of CO2 to our greenhouse effect. In India, if we are losing about 100 million tons of food (this is less than 20 per cent of what we produce), it decomposes into 160 million tons of CO2 detrimental to the environment and would accelerate climate change.
The Government of India is cognisant of the various repercussions of food loss and has specific interventions to strengthen agriculture through developing better market linkages. India has even set up a dedicated body like National Centre for Cold Chain Development (NCCD), which serves as a think tank to the Government on the subject of cold-chain. NCCD advices all the stakeholders on cold chain development for perishables especially where the losses are highest to begin with.
Our first priority should be to handle what we produce better, and change perceptions so as to measure in terms of "gainful productivity" or "production delivered". Reducing food loss has a direct and immediate impact on reducing resource wastage and making the agriculture value chain responsible and sustainable.
The second priority should be to address the aspects of health of all sources of agriculture. This will infuse longevity and value into agriculture. Besides these two priorities, there can be a rainbow of specifics that can be and should be deliberated on public platforms. However, we should keep in mind the set of Sustainable Development Goals that required to be stitched together and the necessity to identify some priority action items.
In my humble opinion, the key that cuts across all Sustainable Development Goal targets is the development of efficient delivery management systems for our agriculture produce. This means efficient supply chains that will take food to people far and wide, reduce hunger, generate income to farmers, balance inflation, make production sustainable and feed economic growth to cut across all Sustainable Development Goals.
We must not forget that the primary motive of agriculture is to feed people. Therefore, we cannot overlook inefficiency in handling the produce and must ensure that farm output reaches consumers without food loss. As global citizens, we all need to take up mitigating food loss on a war footing as a priority agenda item