Consciousness: The need of the hour in agriculture
India’s Green Revolution was transformative in increasing the productivity of agriculture manifold, and enhancing the nation’s food security to address the looming threat of famine – and for this we should be terribly grateful. However, in more recent times, we have realised that the Green Revolution came at an incredible long-term cost.
The sustainability of agriculture is under severe threat. So much so that the two primary ingredients for agriculture – soil and water – are so degraded and depleted, that without something radical, the entire agricultural system sits on the brink of collapse.
What if the solution was not so complicated? Perhaps we need look no further than mere farmer ‘consciousness’ – so prevalent in India’s rich and diverse spiritual roots – as the answer to sustainability in agriculture.
What do we actually mean when we say consciousness? Defined as ‘the state of realizing or noticing that something exists,’ consciousness simply implies awareness. The need of the hour is to drive home to farmers the unsustainable nature of their water use and agricultural practices, and show them that there is another way – one which means both water and soil will still be around for use by their children and grandchildren.
Beginning with water, according to recommendations by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, we need to educate, and demonstrate to farmers key ways to reduce the demand on water in agriculture. Here are some ways in which the importance of this issue can be imparted.
Enhancing irrigation infrastructure & management, and increasing irrigation efficiency
Just like micro irrigation can save costs in terms of water and labour for farmers, whilst saving water, boosting productivity, improving quality and profits. Lift irrigation is a collective innovation to help small and marginal farmers access water for irrigation. Participatory groundwater and irrigation management are proven approaches that empowering farmers to better monitor, manage and use scarce water resources.
Helping farmers improve water supply management
Farmers should be encouraged to adopt agricultural practices that reduce runoff and increase the infiltration and storage of water, like farm bunds, trenches and khadins. Water harvesting and storage systems, like farm ponds and small check dams, help increase water availability and agricultural production.
Improving productivity and understanding the water cycle
Raising yields is the single most important source of increased crop water productivity. By simply addressing soil degradation, and taking an informed, technical and natural approach to application of inputs, farmers can boost yields and cut input costs.
As for managing water resources, practices like water accounting or auditing helps communities (including farmers) to understand how much water there is, where it is, how it is used, and whether current patterns of use are sustainable in the future.
Water pricing is an option used internationally to communicate water scarcity - charging higher water prices to reflect scarcity conditions can encourage farmers to manage their water deliveries with greater care. In stark contrast, farmers in states like Punjab are provided free electricity to pump groundwater, which has led to severe depletion.
India is expected to be the most populous country in the world by 2050. In order to meet the growing needs of its expanding population, the country is compelled to produce more than 210 million tonnes of food grains per year. Improving agricultural productivity, while conserving and enhancing natural resources, such as soil and water, is an essential requirement for farmers to increase food supplies on a sustainable basis.
Farmers are at the centre of any process of change related to natural resources and need to be educated, encouraged and guided along the way, to minimize the impact of agriculture on the environment. In this way, simple awareness – consciousness of farmers – can turn this situation around.
Edited by Akanksha Sarma