Farmers grapple with many challenges, from extreme weather events to heat stress and wildfires, making agriculture increasingly unpredictable due to a changing climate. In light of this, it is imperative for governments to support farmers in transitioning their practices to boost resilience and significantly reduce their dependence on fossil-fuel-based chemicals.
Agriculture is the primary livelihood for approximately 58 percent of India’s population, while other natural resource-based industries form the bedrock of the country’s economic growth. These sectors, encompassing field crops, horticulture, livestock, fishery, and poultry, align closely with several United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including eradicating hunger, improving nutrition, and taking action on climate change.
According to government estimates, India’s food production stood at 291.95 million metric tons (MT) in 2019–20, with a target of reaching 298.3 MT for 2020–21, marking a 2 percent increase over the previous year. Despite progress, a significant portion of India’s population, nearly 14 percent or 189.2 million people are undernourished, as reported in the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2020. The Global Hunger Index 2020 ranked India 94th out of 107 countries.
To keep pace with the country’s population and income growth, food production needs to double by 2050. Small and marginal farmers are pivotal in ensuring India’s food security and achieving the SDGs. The ambitious goal of “zero hunger” by 2030 also requires a comprehensive, multidimensional approach to promoting sustainable agriculture and food systems nationwide.
Speaking of sustainable agriculture, can agriculture alone contribute toward climate action? Well, let’s discuss . . .
What is Organic farming?
Organic farming represents a sustainable agricultural approach characterized by using ecologically derived pest controls and biological fertilizers, primarily sourced from animal and plant wastes, as well as nitrogen-fixing cover crops. When compared to conventional farming methods, organic farming provides several environmental advantages: it relies on fewer pesticides, curbs soil erosion, reduces nitrate leaching into groundwater and surface water, and promotes the recycling of animal waste within the farming ecosystem.
However, these benefits come with inevitable trade-offs. Organic farming typically results in higher consumer food costs and yields lower crop outputs. Research has indicated that organic crop yields can be approximately 25 percent lower on average than conventionally grown crops, although this discrepancy can vary depending on the specific crop in question.
The challenge for the future of organic agriculture lies in maintaining its environmental benefits, boosting crop yields, and reducing costs to make organic produce feasible to meet the challenges posed by climate change and a growing global population.
Organic Farming Methods In India
The principal organic farming methods include crop rotation, green manures and compost, biological pest control, and mechanical cultivation. Organically, it is done to release nutrients to crops for increased sustainable production in an eco-friendly and pollution-free environment. The aim is to produce a crop with a high nutritional value, and various organic farming methods are practiced:
Crop Diversity: Though it helps environments thrive and protects species from extinction, this method is rarely used, and little research is invested to investigate the potential in agriculture and organic farming.
Crop Rotation: This crucial agricultural practice involves planting different crops in distinct areas yearly to preserve soil health and combat soilborne pests. This method prevents soil depletion by varying nutrient demands and structures, keeping the soil fertile, and disrupts pest life cycles, making it harder for them to establish and multiply. Continuous cultivation of the same crop in one spot can lead to nutrient exhaustion and increased pest populations. Crop rotation is a sustainable strategy for maintaining robust soil, enhancing nutrient utilization, and controlling soilborne threats, ensuring more resilient and productive farming systems.
Soil Management: The soil experiences nutrient depletion and decreased quality following crop cultivation. Organic farming advocates the implementation of natural methods to rejuvenate soil health. This approach emphasizes the utilization of beneficial bacteria in animal waste, which aids in rendering soil nutrients more bioavailable, thereby enhancing overall soil quality and fertility.
Livestock: Organic agriculture emphasizes the importance of maintaining a balanced diet for milch animals, incorporating a combination of green and dry fodder and suitable supplements. This holistic approach contributes to the overall well-being of the animals and the farm. The farms provide an ideal environment for these animals, offering fresh air, nutritious food, and ample exercise. Using these healthy domestic animals enhances farm sustainability.
Green Manuring: Uprooting dying plants and incorporating them into the soil to enhance nutrient content is a process that utilizes green, undecomposed plant material as a natural fertilizer. Typically, green manuring entails cultivating leguminous plants in the field, allowing them to grow sufficiently, and then integrating them into the soil to enrich their quality.
The government can recognize the role of agriculture in mitigating climate change, but it is crucial for NGOs throughout India to guarantee that efforts are made to enhance the environment.
The Top Rural Development NGO In India?
S M Sehgal Foundation (Sehgal Foundation), operating since 1999, is working toward enhancing the well-being of rural communities in India. As India’s top sustainable rural development NGO, the mission involves reinforcing community-driven development efforts to foster positive social, economic, and environmental transformation. The vision is to empower every individual in rural India, enabling them to lead lives marked by security, prosperity, and dignity.
Abdul Improves Livestock Nutrition
A livestock farmer from Nuh, Haryana, faced difficulties when his income decreased during COVID-19 pandemic’s second wave due to irregular labor work. Dependent on livestock rearing, he realized his cattle needed adequate nutrition from local fodder. In July 2021, Abdul attended a meeting organized by S M Sehgal Foundation and learned about balanced animal nutrition. He received an animal nutrition kit, including mineral mixtures, and deworming tablets, and was also trained on proper feeding and milking practices. After a month of providing balanced nutrition, Abdul’s milch animal’s milk production increased by three liters per day, and his cattle conceived again within sixty days of delivery. This intervention significantly improved his livestock’s health and productivity, ensuring a more stable livelihood for Abdul.
“By selling the surplus quantity of milk at INR 40 per liter, I can earn approximately INR 3,600 more per month.”
The Effectiveness Of Micronutrients In Agriculture
Hasin, a farmer in Haryana’s Nuh region, previously struggled with low yield and limited income from his four-acre farmland, mainly cultivating pearl millet, wheat, and mustard. In April 2021, a CSR-supported initiative by S M Sehgal Foundation commenced in his village, focusing on enhancing farmers’ knowledge in sustainable agriculture practices. Training sessions introduced modern farming techniques, including a tailored package of practices (PoP) with crop-specific balanced nutrients for improved productivity and income.
Soil testing revealed deficiencies in essential micronutrients, necessitating the preparation of a PoP kit containing vital elements including calcium, potash sulfate, zinc, sulfur bentonite, and more, in addition to urea and DAP mixtures. Following implementation, Hasin observed significant improvements in the quantity and quality of mustard crops compared to the control plot. Additionally, the demo plot experienced fewer pest infestations, whereas the control plot suffered from termite damage and wilting of plants.
The Sustainable Guar Project
A collaboration between S M Sehgal Foundation and Ashland LLC launched in Sriganganagar, Rajasthan, to introduce agricultural development and water management innovations to enhance the lives of local farmers. Starting with 250 farmers across ten villages in 2021–22, the project’s success has led to an expansion plan to incorporate 1,600 farmers annually, with a target of 5,000 farmers by 2025. The initiative focused on educating farmers about regenerative and climate-resilient agriculture, emphasizing the Package of Practices (PoP) for guar and other crops, promoting balanced nutrition, reducing cultivation costs, and boosting profitability.
Guar, a water-efficient and nitrogen-fixing crop, is encouraged for crop rotation to maintain soil health and diversify crops. Farmers use guar for personal consumption and also sell the seeds. Given guar’s high nutritive value and market demand, farmers have embraced its cultivation. This comprehensive initiative offers inputs, training, and innovative agricultural practices, fostering holistic and sustainable development in the farming community.