In 2015, the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were unanimously backed and supported by governments all over the world. The ‘’End of Hunger” SDG focuses on promoting sustainable agriculture. One of the SDG’s 2030 target is to ensure full implementation of sustainable food production systems and resilient practices to double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers. This also entails maintaining the genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants, farmed and domesticated animals.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has highlighted that future agricultural growth will be impacted by climate change. This phenomenon leads to increase in frequency and intensity of extreme events such as drought, heavy rainfall, flooding and high maximum temperatures. Water scarcity and dry regions are likely to increase significantly by the end of the century. Besides, greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, including due to burning of crop fields and residues, are a principal contributor to climate change. Hence, there is a dire need to initiate a paradigm shift in agricultural development approaches and practices to mitigate the effects of climate change and make agriculture sustainable.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) defines Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) as an approach that helps guide actions needed to transform and reorient agricultural systems to effectively support development and ensure food security in a changing climate. It takes into consideration the diversity of social, economic and environmental contexts, including agro-ecological zones. Implementation requires identification of climate-resilient technologies and practices for management of water, energy, land, crops, livestock, etc at the farm level. It also considers the links between agricultural production and livelihoods. Testing and applying different practices are important to expand the evidence base and determine what is suitable in each context.
Foreseeing the future risks of climate change, the Government of India is implementing the National Mission of Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA), one of the eight missions under the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC). Parallelly, the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) envisages “Per Drop More Crop”, that is, promoting micro/drip irrigation to conserve water. There is also a push to cluster-based organic farming through the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY). The mission of these programmes is to extensively leverage adaptation of climate-smart practices and technologies in conjunction with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and state governments.
Haryana is taking great strides toward sustainability by scaling up implementation of the “Climate-Resilient Agricultural Practices - Climate-Smart Villages” Project. It seeks to make 75,000 farming families in 250 villages of 10 paddy/wheat-growing districts more resilient against climate change. The project was earlier piloted in 27 villages of Karnal district, where interventions in managing water, weather, nutrients and carbon energy were successfully adopted. This was done jointly by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), National Innovations in Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA) Project under the aegis of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Department of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, Government of Haryana.
According to the Haryana State Action Plan on Climate Change (HSAPCC), crop season shifting, temperature alterations, increased requirement of water for irrigation, over-exploitation of groundwater resources, declining organic matter in soil, multiple plant nutrient deficiencies, etc have been affecting productivity in the districts. There is also evidence of large yield gaps, especially ‘management yield gaps’ (crop loss due to poor management in farmers’ fields) in crops such as wheat, paddy and maize.
The scaled-up project proposes adoption of sustainable agricultural practices in model fields on community lands. These include zero tillage, raised bed planting, direct seeded rice, crop residue management and cropping diversification (horticulture, bee keeping, mushroom cultivation, etc). Besides, site-specific nutrient management, laser levelling, micro-irrigation, seed/fodder banks, ICT-based weather advisories and knowledge sharing will also be implemented.
Similarly, Rythu Sadhikara Samstha, a not-for-profit organisation fully owned by the Government of Andhra Pradesh, has launched a plan to transition six million farmers cultivating eight million hectares from conventional synthetic chemical agriculture to zero-budget natural farming by 2024. The latter began in Karnataka and aims to end reliance on loans and promote alternative farming. Climate-resilient projects have also been implemented in Punjab, Odisha, Karnataka and Bihar.
The biggest challenge in all these projects is understanding the “why” and “how” of barriers to adoption of smart farm practices by small farmers, women, poor and the marginalised. Boston Consulting Group (BCG), in its September 2018 report, It’s Time to Plant the Seed of Sustainable Growth in Agriculture, highlights that as the demand for more nutritious and safer food rises, the onus is on farmers to implement new practices to produce higher quality crops. Thus, use of technologies in farming inputs and equipment such as cloud computing and sensor-driven automation is the way forward. But this has to be accompanied by, the report states, the avoidance of “one-size-fits-all” solutions supported by educational advisory programmes for farmers who neither have access to the latest technologies nor the money to buy them.
In the private sector, the collaboration of Big Basket, India’s largest online grocery store, with Cropin, a mobile-based information services provider, has resulted in climate-smart practices. Cropin’s artificial intelligence uses satellite data to gather weather and field conditions and provides customised crop advisories to the company’s 1,500 small farmers through SMSs and its field scientists. Big Basket also uses the platform to support farmers in planning field operations, recording application of inputs and assessing expected yields.
There are, of course, several policy challenges that also need to be addressed to back adaptation of such climate-smart practices across the country. According to a 2017 background paper published by the Department of Administrative Reforms & Public Grievances, Government of India, Agriculture – Doubling Farmers’ Income, there is a need to inculcate more awareness in handling temperature-sensitive agricultural produce and strengthening of cold-chain facilities. A 2017 report by the Committee on Doubling Farmers’ Income highlights the need to fine-tune the gap between current agricultural practices and required advisories. Currently, the Kisan Call Centre Services, Kisan Suvidha mobile application and Common Service Centres are supplementing the efforts towards farmer extension services initiated by the Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA), a flagship farmer-oriented programme to Improvise various skills not only in agriculture but also in other allied departments like Animal Husbandry , Horticulture, Fisheries and Sericulture.
As we propagate climate-smart agricultural practices in India, few last-mile delivery mechanisms need to be strengthened, more so to achieve the sustainable agriculture-related SDG targets by 2030. Firstly, sensitisation of the district administration, especially with regards to setting up model fields on community lands to demonstrate smart practices, is a must. They also need to be sensitised about specific technologies that support timely weather forecasting and market intelligence advisories. Secondly, ICAR (through its network of Krishi Vigyan Kendras and agricultural universities), along with the private sector, needs to qualitatively measure district-wise climate-smart adaptation measures. Analysis and scaling of such measured sustainable agronomic practices should form the benchmark for convergence of schemes in this area of immense future relevance, especially for small and marginal farmers.
(The writer is an IAS officer posted as Joint Secretary, Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers’ Welfare, Government of India. The views expressed are personal.).