India is a predominantly agricultural economy with 66.7% of its population engaged in some or the other kind of farming. With a population of over one billion, this should be a good news and India should have been a major exporter of food grains, yet the country is deep embroiled in an agri-crisis of its own. A look at a few statistics and we will know how grave the concern is.
To put things in perspective, more than 40% of the world’s malnutritioned kids live in India and about 15% of the population is severely undernourished. Even with all its agricultural lands, India barely manages to produce 2177 kg of rice (one of its principal crops) per hectare, lagging way behind non-farming countries like China and Brazil with their yield rates of 4263 kg per hectares and 3265 kg per hectare. Even the cereal yield per hectare in the country is as low as 2981 kg per hectare, even lesser than the US.
If we have to put these figures into a more understandable format, then as per the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation’s report, about 190 million people in India go hungry every day. Food security is thus one major problem that the country faces.
How did it Happen
There are multiple reasons to which the slow growth of the Indian agriculture production can be attributed. While the inefficient rural transportation, the lack of awareness about the best agriculture practices, limited accessibility to modern agricultural equipment and shrinking agricultural land due to urbanisation are some big one, the major reason still lies with the short term solutions that the Green Revolution brought in.
In order to increase the overall food production in the country, the farmers were introduced to the concept of chemical based insecticides and pesticides. The caveat however was that these needed to be used in moderation or otherwise they would contaminate the soil, the water and eventually lead to a lower yield in the future. But, seldom does it happen that short term gains are overlooked for a better future by people who are starving to death. The same happened in India too and insecticides and pesticides along with chemical fertilizers started being used aplenty. The green revolution was there, people were getting adequately fed.
The usage of these chemicals however, became a part of lifestyle. The organic sustainable farming methodologies which the farmers earlier used were lost and it all resulted in brainlessly stuffing the soil with chemicals of all kinds. The result- soon the land started facing a reduced yield and the nearby water bodies got heavily contaminated as well. Thus, it wasn’t the land based farming that was taking a hit, the water bodies and hence water based farming got hit as well. This resulted in a vicious circle of putting in more chemicals for improved yield, contamination, reduced yield, and so on and so forth
India’s agri crisis is just one major example of how not engaging in sustainable solutions can have long term implications. However, luckily, India as a country has been endowed with innumerable resources and people who are hardworking and innovative enough to find solutions. This blog, touches the three major sustainable changes which if made in the agricultural process flow can provide a significant relief to India’s grave agricultural crisis.
The Solutions to Look At
Biodegradable Mulch Films
The very first sustainable mode which we would discuss here will be of the usage of biodegradable mulch films. A mulch film, by definition is a layer of protective material which is applied to the soil in order to conserve its moisture and fertility.
Most of the mulch films which are being currently used are made of polyethylene. Since, they are non biodegradable, they put on an extra overhead of disposal on the farmers. Other than that, these films need to be removed manually well within time as well. A bit of delay and these would end up damaging the soil quality and thus the crop yield. A biodegradable mulch film on the other hand gets absorbed by the microorganisms. Plus, since it eventually gets absorbed, it boosts the nutrients further as well as saves the cost of disposal and effort for removal.
Countering the Water Challenge
Another major issue which a lot of Indian farmers face is the lack of adequate water for their crops. Draughts are specially common in the Maharashtrian region of Vidarbha and Marathawad with innumerable farmers having had committed suicide because of that.
While strong rain harvesting systems have been set up for that, yet the seasonality of the rains became a huge issue in itself. However, a sustainable solution to this was found by Shirish Apte in the form of Malguzari tanks.
Malguzari tanks were actually an intricate part of the Maharashtrian agriculture system. There were certain issues with the Government taking over these tanks and then sitting over them without doing anything which resulted in a lot of trouble. However, Shishir Apte, an Ex-Engineer with the Minor Irrigation Division helped the cause. He started restoring the first such tank with local support in 2008. The tank was eventually ready by 2010. The rejuvenation resulted in recharging the groundwater levels and also helped increasing the agricultural output. Since these tanks are virtually ponds, the fish production boosted decently enough so as to support the local population’s consumption. The employment levels were also increased because of this.
The magnitude of the good results was such that the district administration restored another 21 Malguzari tanks and the state government is trying to replicate the model across the state.
Warehousing & Distribution
In addition to soil and water management and to a great extent seed management too, another major trouble at hand is the warehousing and distribution management. As per a study by CIPHET, up to 67 million tons of food gets wasted every year- a quantity equivalent to the entire food grain consumption of Bihar. In addition to this, perishables such as fruits and vegetables sometimes spoil in the storage itself. It is pretty obvious thus, that even if we just bring down food wastage, a lot of India’s agricultural crisis could be resolved. Sustainable innovations such as tarpaulins and efficient insulation solutions such as cellulose and sheep wool fibres can reduce the perishables from rotting faster and reduce the energy consumption in the cold storages.
A firm, BASF has been pioneering such cutting edge solutions for not just warehousing but also other steps in the agricultural supply chain.
(At BuzzOnEarth, we feel that all of us have some or the other story about sustainability and it is from these stories that the solutions come out. If you know of someone who has such a solution or if you have one such too, do get in touch with us and we would be happy to help)