Need for sustainable agriculture practices

India’s food security programs provide affordable grain access to more than 800 million people

India's food security programs are among the largest in the world and cover more than 800 million people in the country by providing affordable access to grains. Thereby significant progress has been made in improving food and nutrition security. For instance, stunting among children less than 5 years has declined from 48 per cent to 38.4 per cent between 2005-06 and 2015-16. All these programs are being implemented so that vast swathes of people will not die of starvation. But will anyone agree to allow intensive farming within limited land and labour force using harmful chemicals to ensure food security and to jeopardise environmental sustainability (ES)?

We all will agree to produce crops that are perhaps drought resistant or can fix their own nitrogen or resist diseases and pests without use of pesticides and overall can ensure ES. Is it possible to adopt this agricultural practice where accelerated urbanisation and corresponding human activities are triggering tremendous land use changes and restricting availability of farm land?

In this piquant situation, there is emergent need to minimize the conflict between food security and ES based on critical appraisal of present unsustainable agricultural practice.

To prevent unsustainable agriculture practice, the National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA), in collaboration with other Missions under the National Action Plan on Climate Change, is striving towards mitigating the impact of climate change and sustaining agricultural productivity. Under NMSA, more than 62 million soil health cards are being issued to farmers for providing crop-wise nutrient management recommendations and enabling them improve soil fertility as well as crop productivity by promoting organic farming. However, the major problems related to intensive farming based on synthetic chemicals such as pollution, desertification and climate change are not properly addressed.

Numerous regulatory agencies all over the world have not clearly declared the possibility of environmental hazard due to use of these chemicals. Scientific truth behind this intensive farming has been manipulated simply to maximise the profit of agro-chemical producers globally at the expense of human health and environment.

Organic farming is presently emerging as an alternative agricultural system or integrated farming system prohibiting the use of synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, synthetic fertilizers and growth hormones.

In many countries including India, dedicated people are conserving and exchanging local traditional seeds to maintain a huge genetic pool. Traditional seeds for vegetables and cereals are also preserved, grown and sold throughout the respective country though not in large scale. The traditional agriculture by using indigenous seeds, judicious land management particularly agricultural diversification practices (multi-cropping and crop rotations) can easily reduce the yield gap and enhance soil water retention.

Despite the benefits, several key challenges have slowed the growth of organic agriculture. One of the major impediments is that agro-chemical industry tries to convince the small farmers as observed in many villages that organic farming requires 'rocket' science and cannot be effective to ensure profit. Increasing public awareness about the value of organic farming and conducting research to explore the barriers and opportunities to organic farming are essential in overcoming the challenges.

Additional innovative agriculture practice is imperative to fill the gaps in the scientific understanding of the benefits of organic farming.

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