It’s time to herald ‘Integrated farming system,’ a novel and all-encompassing ideology which aims at making agricultural processes sustainable. This arrangement offers a win-win situation for both farmers and consumers.
The Green Revolution, unleashed in the late 1960s, succeeded in achieving food security for India. For that, we must thank the two architects of the movement, ace statesman C Subramaniam and renowned scientist M S Swaminathan. They thought through dynamic investments in new seeds, cultivation technology and irrigation practices.
Today, the road ahead will be bumpy due to emerging challenges such as climate change, natural degradation of resources and harvest-related losses. These issues point to the urgency of achieving higher agricultural productivity, value addition and resilience. ‘New Agriculture’ is the need for sustainable and remunerative agriculture.
SMART FARMING FOR SMALL FARMERS
A blend of primary, strategic and applied research that mix the modern and traditional knowledge, are necessary for the emergence of a vibrant agricultural research system. By strengthening research mechanisms, training human resource and scaling-up technology, agriculture could become a dynamic livelihood-securing sector. We must consider aspects of efficiency, precision, clustering, diversification, mechanisation and market intelligence towards ‘smart farming for small farmers.’
FOOD ADEQUACY AND RISING DEMANDS
Globally, despite adequacy of food, over 815 million people go hungry. A significant challenge in sustainable development is to ensure food and nutritional security for the growing population which is projected to hit ten billion by 2050. In India, rising population and per capita income are pushing up the demand for food sources. It means that we must enhance productivity per unit area.
The share of water for agriculture is declining on account of industrial and municipal demands. The cultivable area in the country has remained 140mha for the last four decades, of which only 44.7 per cent are irrigated. For an agriculturally dominant nation, current farm power availability is a small 1.7 kW/ha compared to 7+ kW/ha in Korea, 14+ kg/ha in Japan and 6+ kW/ha in the US.
The demand for agricultural commodities is rising at a much higher rate than the growth in population and dietary patterns are shifting from low-price to high-price calorie foods. By 2026-27, the annual demand trends predict rise by 1.3 per cent for cereals, 3 per cent for pulses, 3.5 per cent for edible oil, 3.3 per cent for vegetables, and 4-6 per cent for fruits and livestock products over the base year 2011-12.
CHALLENGES AND WAY FORWARD
The most pressing issues are non-availability of quality water, genetic resource conservation, managing climate change, enhancing input-use efficiency and friendly policy environment. The social dimensions of farming for developing economies pertain to youth moving away from villages or ‘urban’ migration, which is impacting the skill and energy inputs into farming. Remunerative agriculture has to consider both specialty agriculture and secondary agriculture. Enhancing input-use efficiency, effective soil-water management, integrated pest management, mechanisation of farming, proper handling and storage of the products are some of the aspects to be considered for an efficient ‘seed to market’ agriculture.
Crop and livestock is the predominant farming system in India and the livelihood of 117 million marginal farm holdings revolves around it. Integrated farming, with diversified combinations of crop and livestock, must be implemented. With over 500 million livestock population, their contribution, ranging from milk to organic manure, has not gone unnoticed. Several notable efforts have been taken for conservation of indigenous cattle breeds and incentivising dairying.
Efforts in horticulture have paid off manifold generating a win-win situation for both farmers and consumers. A few other avenues assuming commercial significance are vegetable farming, floriculture and agro-forestry. With aquatic resources in terms of over 8000 km of coastline, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, ponds and tanks, the potential for food production from the waters is high and technologies have enabled high fish production levels. New methods of cultivation such as cage farming with due seed and feed support have resulted in bounteous increments in productivity levels.
Small farms are often subject to weather vagaries like flood, drought and other natural calamities making this venture risky. Over the last five decades, the National Agricultural Research & Education System has notified 2227 varieties of cereals, 836 pulses, 750 oilseeds, 117 forages and 397 commercial crops. An integrated ‘farming system’ that integrates all forms of agriculture that are specific to the ecological regions of the country needs implementation. In doing so, we must shed a definite focus on the rainfed agriculture that supports 40 per cent of foodgrain production and 66 per cent of livestock production as it is one of the forerunners for future growth in agriculture. This vibrant system envisions the more effective use of resources, accelerated dissemination of technologies and promoting efficient governance in R&D.
WHY ‘IFS’ IS THE ANSWER
Integrated Farming System (IFS) is considered a powerful tool and holds the key to ensuring sustainable income, employment and livelihood for small and marginal farmers who constitute 85 per cent of total operational holdings. Vertical expansion in small farms is possible by integrating appropriate farming system components. The challenge lies in transforming cropping into farming systems for raising the standards of life of farmers. Synergising the land, water, human, animal and solar energy is the need of the hour to develop climate-resilient and profitable multi-enterprise models. Cluster-based demonstration of successful IFS models through farmers’ participation will pave the way for its large-scale adoption.
Increase in annual foodgrain production from a level of 50 million tonnes in 1950 to 275 million tonnes presently is evidence of the sustained capacities of the farm sector. Also, the produce from horticulture, livestock, fisheries amounts to over 700 million tonnes of various food. Research continuum in development and infusion of technologies has resulted in a significant increase in the farm productivity that has placed India among the leading producers of wheat, rice, pulses, sugarcane, milk, eggs, fruits, vegetables and fish. A significant contribution of science and technology-led output growth is the reduced annual cost of production in the range of 1.0-2.3 per cent during the past three decades in the case of cereals.
According to the latest available data triennium 2014-15, the index of intensity of cropping for the country has remained at 141 per cent. It is here that the yield improvement has to be noted, that is from around 1.0 tonne/hectare to 2.4 tonnes/hectare in case of rice and four-fold in case of wheat, from 0.8 to 3.0 tonnes/hectare. The area under rice cultivation has increased only marginally; it was around 40 million hectares in 1980-81 and 44 million hectares in the year 2015-16. These indicate the increasing production levels due to productivity enhancements, attributable to technologies, seeds, fertilizers and pesticides, labour, infrastructure support, credit and policies. A third of the Total Factor Productivity could be attributed to technologies emanating from agricultural research and further, the returns on investments in case of Agricultural R&D have been shown to be more than 13 to 1.