On the road to Climate Resilience: Sustainable Agriculture in India

On the road to Climate Resilience: Sustainable Agriculture in India

Published on :- August 30th, 2022

For centuries India has primarily been an agrarian society. Agriculture gives employment to half of India’s population and is a major source of the nation's livelihood. Since Indian agriculture is predominantly rainfed, conservation of natural resources in conjunction with development of rainfed agriculture holds the key to meet the growing demands for food grains.

In 2014-15, National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA) was formulated to make agriculture more productive, sustainable, remunerative and climate resilient by promoting location specific integrated/composite farming systems, soil and moisture conservation, comprehensive soil health management, efficient water management practices and mainstreaming rainfed technologies.

Organic farming is one of the key practices of sustainable agriculture. In 2021, ~2% of India’s total cropped area was under organic farming. India’s area under organic farming increased by 26% (9.4 Lakh Hectares) during the period 2018-21 and organic produce has increased by 30% (802 Tonnes) during the same period.

However, Organic farming practices have not been uniform across the states of India. ~38% of India’s total area under organic farming is in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Only 6.52% of Madhya Pradesh’s gross sown area is organic. Sikkim tops the states with half of its total gross sown area under organic farming, despite lower area under farming.

Organic farming practices also ensure that the soil is free of chemicals and soil health is managed sustainably. Soil health has a direct impact on the crop production, nutrition levels and the environment. In 2015, the GoI introduced a scheme to issue Soil Health Cards (SHCs) to all farmers to help them understand soil status of their farm holdings and in turn take appropriate measures to improve production. Approximately 120 million SHCs were issued to farmers during the 2017-19 cycle. As of today, 90-100% of farmers in most states are covered by the Soil Health Card scheme.

Level of nutrients (Macro and Micro), pH value of soil and the amount of organic carbon in the soil are some key parameters which determine the health of the soil. Soil health test report (2019-21) shows that 70% of the tested soil samples in India are Moderately Alkaline, 45% have low levels of Nitrogen, 25% were found to have low levels of Phosphorous, 17% had low levels of Potassium and 33% of the samples had low organic carbon levels.

On the positive side, more than 50% of the tested soil samples were found to contain sufficient levels of Micronutrients.

Since agriculture in India is predominantly rainfed, efficient use of water is critical. India has adopted technologies like micro irrigation for better water management. The area covered under micro irrigation has been on a rise since 2015 , despite a dip in the last 2 years. By 2019-20, ~1,171 thousand hectares of area was covered under micro irrigation.

Drip and Sprinkler are the two major types of micro irrigation in India. In 2020-21, 34% of India’s total area covered under micro irrigation was in Karnataka with more than 75% being Sprinkler. Drip irrigation is prominent in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat and North eastern states.

Agriculture Inputs are major contributors to environmental health and agriculture sustainability. While chemical fertilisers and pesticides are required to arrest infections, their use can be minimised to control adverse effects on the environment. In recent years, there has been a steady growth in indigenous fertilisers such as manures, vermicompost and biofertilisers. In 2015-16, total organic fertiliser production was approximately around 250 Million Metric tonnes, which increased to 350 million tonnes in 2017-18 (40% increase).

Today, 3/4th of India’s organic fertiliser production is from Farmyard manure and vermicompost. In 2017-18, more than half of India organic fertiliser production was from the top 3 states - Bihar (29%), Gujarat (15%) and Jharkhand (12%).

With increase in scale of production, agriculture waste residue becomes another major problem. Effective waste management of crop residue is required to ensure there are no ill effects to the environment.

In the last 7 decades, crop residue in India has increased by 500%. In 1950-51, only 79 million tonnes of crop residue was generated, however by 2017-18, this has increased to 516 million tonnes. Some of the factors contributing to substantial increase in crop residue generation can be attributed to increase in production and yield, lack of food grain management (Ex: storage) etc.

Though burning of crop waste is not an efficient method to manage crop residue, this is one of the most common methods adopted by many. With the increase in the crop residue, the amount of waste managed by burning has also increased - more than 500% increase in the last 7 decades.

According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), India generates on an average 500 Million tonnes (Mt) of crop residue per year. The majority of this crop residue is used as fodder or fuel for domestic and industrial purposes. However, there is still a surplus of 140 Mt out of which 92 Mt is burned each year.

NMSA has laid the foundation for sustainable agriculture and the government has initiated a lot of new schemes and benefits to encourage farmers to adopt sustainable agriculture. If agriculture in India has to be climate resilient and meet the food grain and nutrition demands for its growing population, then sustainable agriculture is the clear path forward.

For more data driven reports on Sustainable Agriculture in India - Click here.

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