The Malthusian concept of population growth putting pressure on finite natural resources and resulting in resource scarcity has been considered simplistic. As Thomas Malthus said, “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man”. In the contrary, a group of economists argue by saying, the high & increasing population would put pressure on food production and that would lead to more technological growths and agriculture intensification. This concept has led to innovation in the area of agriculture and over dependency on modern technology, giving birth to the great ‘green revolution’. Green revolution technology was exploited in many cases and focused very narrowly on the yields(& only economic aspect) and neglected environmental sustainability and other ecological factors. As a result, today, 2.6 billions of people have been affected by 2 billion hectares of land degradation caused by large-scale agricultural practice associated with green revolution. As we see today 70 % of freshwater withdrawal is for agriculture purpose. The aim for higher yield, misuse of fertilisers and pesticides has caused soil degradation, water pollution and has put unhealthy food on our plates. The food that we eat today is not only toxic but also costs us high in terms of natural resource degradation. Although the green revolution has contributed to the reduction of poverty in developing countries, the success is not evenly spread, as rich and large land holding farmers are benefited more whereas the conditions of poor remain unchanged.
At this juncture, the question is, is Agroecological practice, which is a sustainable or environment-friendly method of food production an answer? Agroecological practice is a process learnt from nature, which integrates crops and livestock with the natural environment. For example, crops such as maize, wheat, sorghum, millet and vegetables are being grown alongside trees such as Acacia, Sesbania, Gliricidia etc. These agro-forested trees provide shade, improve water availability, prevent soil erosion and add natural fertilisers to soils. If the approach is understood well and practiced can increase yield up to double or triple the time.
Another example of this concept is, using ducks instead of pesticides in rice cultivation. Ducks eat weeds, weed seeds, insects and other pests and at the same time their droppings provides nutrients to rice plants. It has been a success in some parts of Bangladesh as farmers have experienced 20 percent higher yield without the use of harmful fertilisers and pesticides.
Agroecological practices can be a promising way for sustainable food production. It can produce high yields with less natural resource degradation, protect the environment, promote social and economic development, therefore promoting sustainable development. However, it is complex and requires capacity building of farmers in understanding the whole process. But at the same time, it is also evident in many places that local farmers have a better understanding of local eco-system and with little scientific inputs they can take up this approach and succeed.
Agriculture intensification and industrialised agriculture have failed to keep their promise, rather than meeting the global need for food production, it has been costing us our future. On the other hand, Agro-ecological practice with behaviour change such as reducing the massive global food waste (roughly one-third of the total food produced) can meet the global need for food production.
For more information: Assadourian, E., Prugh, T., Starke, L., Institute, W. and Institute, T.W. (2013) State of the world 2013: Is sustainability still possible?. Washington, DC [etc.]: Island Press.
The World is vastly dependant on agriculture for food production and in a country like India; it is the main source of livelihood for rural population. Since independence, India has experienced a lot of changes and achieved many things in the area of agriculture. One of the most popular changes is the Green Revolution. The green revolution contributed to widespread poverty reduction, averted hunger for millions of people, and avoided the conversion of thousands of hectares of cultivable land for other development purposes. . But the lesser known fact is that it also has left many communities at enormous loss with poverty, food insecurity and different health issues. It was started with keeping in mind the human need, the growing population with their limited land but what it failed to think was about the environment, water, soil and other natural resources and most importantly the sustainability factor. Even though it was human focused it also failed to provide food and better health for all.
Green revolution introduced high-yielding varieties of seeds and increase use of fertilizers and irrigation for more production and it has definitely helped us in many things in short run but in long run it has become a threat to the future of both humans and the earth.
As it requires a lot of irrigation, it is not suitable for all the regions in our country. It is a curse for communities who depend on rainwater for irrigation. Irrigation technologies have been developed which are not sustainable and increased use of underground water will leave us in a tragic state in few years. It is making some communities more vulnerable and susceptible to disasters and water crisis and hence poorer than they were. Green revolution which is not inclusive has increased poverty level of many farmers, as poor farmers could not afford high variety seeds, fertilizers and machinery. It has forced farmers to borrow and left many with huge debts causing suicide and high rates of rural to urban migration.
Due to the heavy chemical fertilizer inputs, land quality has gone down and yield has suffered.
Increase use of pesticide has made pests more resistant to many pesticides causing increase in pest attack.
Due to increase use of chemical pesticides, insecticides and fertilizers we have lost many birds and friendly insects and this can result in long term loss.
Chemicals used in agriculture are contaminating the groundwater and the chemical content in the food has affected general health. Consumption of one or two variety of food may provide us calories but can’t fulfill the requirement of micronutrients which are essential for human beings.
We are losing our vast varieties of traditional seeds due to the introduction of high yield seeds and many traditional crops have disappeared due to high concentration on wheat and rice,
Due to improper technological development farmers have been losing their indigenous methods of adapting to climate change which have made communities more vulnerable and less resilient.
So it is the time for us to think of a better solution. What can give us a sustainable future from which both humans and nature would benefit?
There are a lot of initiatives that have been taken by the government and NGOs, but none of their attempts seem to be solving the problem in recent future. Organic farming has been a solution and it has been implemented in some regions and seems to be successful. Organic farming may solve the issue of pesticides and fertilizers but how far can it solve the issue of irrigation and natural resource management? What can give us a future without compromising with nature?
The Earth is rich and has tremendous capacity to meet the human need and it has been providing too. But since the past two centuries, we have been facing lot of problems and threats from climate. Nature has its own management process but we are trying to manipulate. It is the time to look back at how our ancestors lived their lives and how they adapted to climate and saved the earth for us to live. So it is time for us to go back to the traditional crops which might have the answers to our problems and can save the earth for future generations. There are some traditional crops which have tremendous capacity to adapt to the climatic condition and do not require much input like fertilizer, pesticide and irrigation. One of the categories can be Millet.
Photographs of some types of millets traditionally grown in India:
Millets need very little water for their production. Thus, they do not burden the state with demands for irrigation or power. Millet does not demand for subterranean water and can contribute to sustainable agriculture in our country.
Millets are adapted to a wide range of ecological conditions often growing on very thin soils. It does not demand rich soils for their survival and growth. Hence, they are a boon for the vast dry land areas.
It can provide livelihood to small farmers at the same time focus on ecological preservation. Millet production is not dependent on the use of chemical fertilizers. Most millet farmers therefore use farmyard manures and in recent times, household produced bio-fertilizers. Therefore, they can significantly reduce the huge burden of fertilizer usage.
Grown under traditional methods, no millet attracts any pest. A majority of them are not affected by storage pests either. Therefore, their need for pesticides is close to nil. Thus, they are a great help to the agricultural environment.
Millets are amazing in their nutrition content. Each of the millets is three to five times nutritionally superior to the widely promoted rice and wheat in terms of proteins, minerals and vitamins.
Comparison of Millets with rice and wheat:
All these qualities of millet farming system make them the climate change compliant crops. Climate change portends less rain, more heat, reduced water availability and increased malnutrition. If there is any cropping system that can withstand these challenges, survive and flourish, it is the millet system.
While wheat and rice might provide only food security, millets produce multiple securities (food, fodder, health, nutrition, livelihood and ecological) making them the crops of agricultural security and future of our agriculture.
Millet is the answer which can give us a sustainable future from which both human and nature will benefit. This can be answer for us and our future generations, making a sustainable, rich and healthy planet and millet can be an answer for today and tomorrow…..
Last year we were quite successful in bringing back finger millet in our target area, where 46 farmers harvested finger millet. This year there are around 300 farmers have registered to cultivate finger millet. As the region is drought prone, millet can be an answer for them to solve the issue of food insecurity and malnutrition. It can contribute to livelihood, food security and availability of fodder for animals. Its capacity to grow with minimum water makes it one of the appropriate crops for the region and as there is no need for fertilizer and pesticide it can be the savior for farmers with low economic status. Millet is the answer for this region and can be for our country……. Along with promotion of organic farming, bringing back the millet to the mainstream agriculture can be the best options for Indian agriculture system in the long run.
We had organized a Block level agricultural Exhibition on 19th February. The main objective was to help bridge the information gap among farmers and help them to build a meaningful network with agricultural society and institutions. As many farmers lack knowledge on alternative farming’s, latest technology and government schemes and policies related to agriculture, the programme was very useful for them. Through this, we were able to establish links between government departments/ institutions and farmers.
30 farmers had brought agricultural products for the exhibition.
During the event we had put a stall to sell some readymade finger millet products in order to promote finger millet in the region. Finger millet is one of the traditional crop used to be cultivated in the region before the green revolution in India. After this many Indian farmers gradually stopped millet cultivation and shifted to rice and wheat cultivation. Green revolution helped us to somehow deal with the issue of food insecurity but it left many other communities especially drought prone regions to starve or migrate. Finger Millet can be one of the best agricultural options for this community, because it will contribute to both food security and nutrition in the area.
Last year 46 farmers had restarted finger millet cultivation and this year we have got lot of positive responses from farmers that they are very interested to start finger millet cultivation. As people are forgetting finger millet and its worth, we are trying our best to bring this back to the mainstream agricultural society. Thus, Finger millet being a drought resistant crop would contribute to both of our purposes – food security and nutrition.
Finger millet food stall – selling of Idly, Poori and Noodles
Finger millet biscuits at the stall
During the exhibition we had organized a question- answer session between farmers and scientists from Agricultural Research Center. In this, farmers asked many practical questions to scientists on agricultural development and regarding the problems that they are facing in day to day agricultural activities. The session was very informative and useful for many farmers as it was the best chance for them to have an open interaction with scientists from research institutes.
Scientist from research institute responding to a question
A farmer asking a question
A farmer receiving prize
At the end some of the farmers were awarded by our organisation for their best effort and result in previous year agriculture. The award ceremony was very encouraging for farmers as it was a public recognition for their wonderful contribution to the field of agriculture and food security.
This is a brief post on the event, God willing; I would bring you many more event posts about what we do.
"He brought me to his banquet hall and raised the banner of love over me. Restore my strength with raisins and refresh me with apples! I am weak from passion... His left hand is under my head and his right hand caresses me" - Song of Solomon 2:4-6