Agriculture is a cause and a solution to environmental problems such as biodiversity loss and climate change. However, sustainable agriculture has the potential to mitigate climate change and strengthen resilience to the impacts of climate change. Therefore, the vision for sustainable agriculture is significant for the world in which food is nutritious and accessible to everyone and natural resources are preserved to maintain ecosystem functions to support current and future human needs.
On 28 October 2021, World Food Trust organized a one-day seminar on 'Sustainable Agriculture and India's Food Security' at Silver Oak, Habitat World, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. The event witnessed the active participation of central and state governments and academicians, and representatives from the sectors, including FSSAI, NIFTEM, BIS, National RainFed Area Authority, Meghalaya Basin Development Authority (MBDA), among many others. Eminent speakers joined the discussions and shared their expert knowledge with the audience for a result-oriented approach to lead India towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals and total food security before 2030.
In an opening remark, Dr Ashok Dalwai, chief executive officer of the National Rain Fed Area Authority, explained the trends, opportunities, and challenges to overcome and achieve sustainability goals. He said, "We need sustainable technologies to increase the yield for the growing populations.” He emphasized the significance of deploying new technology to bring new crop varieties, "We have varieties that are responsive to low use of inputs, and the use of genetic technologies, physiological interventions, etc., made it possible. In India, many people are suffering from malnutrition, vitamin and mineral deficiency. With the help of science, we can develop varieties that give us food and nutrition. These fortified varieties not just contain the basic carbohydrates but contain more iron and all other kinds of nutrients that are required."
He further explained nutrition security for the people, income security for the farmers, and sustainability for the ecology. "Food security and nutritional security have to be defined in terms of availability, accessibility, and affordability. Produce more to make it more affordable. The food system has to connect to the demand center (supply chain), and there is a need to create a competitive marketing environment." He calls the farmer "Brahma of Food" and according to him, the major share has to go to the farmer because he is the one who is producing it.
More crop for the drop
G Ashok Kumar, additional secretary and mission director, National Water, highlighted the importance of water in agriculture and elaborated the meaning of Sahi Fasal. He explained, "Sahi Fasal campaign was launched to nudge farmers in the water-stressed areas to grow crops that are not water-intensive, but use water efficiently; healthy and nutritious; economically remunerative; and are environmentally friendly. We are creating awareness among farmers on appropriate crops, micro-irrigation, soil moisture conservation, and crop diversification, such as weaning them away from water-intensive crops like paddy and sugarcane to crops like corn and maize that require less water. Further, on the other side assisting policymakers in framing policies that make effective pricing of inputs (water and electricity); improve procurement and market for these alternate crops; which eventually leads to an increase in farmers' income."
Speaking of the 'Catch the Rain' tagline, he added, "Catch the rain, where it falls, when it falls. It is the most economical, most energy-efficient, most eco-friendly campaign we have. Store rainwater wherever you can." This campaign started to push the states and stakeholders to create appropriate rainwater harvesting structures.
Food security and nutrition
Vivek Arora, principal lead FFRC – FSSAI, enlightened the audience with FSSAI's eat right initiative, its key functions and elaborated on the importance of Eat Safe, Eat Healthy, and Eat Sustainable. He also stressed that to conserve the environment, there is a need to bring in more technologies to improve efficiencies in agricultural practices.
He added, "We should also look at adopting big data and analytics which will not only mitigate the risk of climate change to the farmers but would also ensure the modern and efficient methods of production based on the evaluation of the changing consumer demands. Blockchain technology is one such technique that can be used for traceability and transparency along the food chain.” Further, he demanded a collaborative approach between the stakeholders, including the government, producers, international bodies, and consumers, to improve food security, safety, and nutrition.
Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, director-general, National Mission for Clean Ganga, made a brief presentation on water resources management in the Ganges. According to him, the future of sustainable agriculture or food security is not possible without water.
Sampath Kumar, chief executive officer, Meghalaya Basin Development Authority (MBDA), presented a case study to explain the authority's significant activities and their work done so far. According to him, the authority pays special attention to water conservation and its optimum management.
In a virtual presentation, T Vijay Kumar elaborated on three main issues - farmers' livelihoods, human health, and planetary health lessons. According to him, sustainable agriculture is the agriculture of the future. He added, "Govt of AP had a vision that all farmers gradually transit from the conventional agriculture to sustainable or climate-resilient agriculture or natural farming. We have multiple emergencies; on one side, we have farmers' distress which is made worst by climate change. Farmers are the frontline soldiers facing the climate change, and the highest risk in their livelihood comes from climate change. Moreover, the current agriculture system is continuously increasing their cost of cultivation."
He also highlighted the issue of soil depletion and said, "We are losing 5 billion tons of soil every year. India is losing 23% of the top soil, and it is an emergency situation. We need to opt for effective agriculture practices for building soil than losing soil to reduce water stress."
SM Husain, former chairman, Central Water Commission, emphasized the optimum management of water resources in his presentation.
Vinod Seshan, Ex SPD of ARIAS society mentioned that the state had strengthened its cluster-based production approaches. “There are many institutional reforms brought at the admin level at the agricultural department. Assam is an agricultural state, and it has brought a more market-oriented production perspective to its production value chains. We have identified and prioritized various value chains in the field of agriculture and horticulture," he added.
Dr Chindi Vasudevappa, VC- NIFTEM, explained about NIFTEM and said, "NIFTEM is the brainchild of MoFPI, Government of India that caters to the needs of various stakeholders such as entrepreneurs, food processing industry, exporters, policymakers, government, and existing institution. We are working for the industry and are trained to build in capacity, critical manpower that can address the needs of the industry, especially in food processing. Moreover, our curriculum is designed in a way that addresses the needs of the post-harvest and food processing industry."
The full-day conference also included presentations of Suneeti Toteja, scientist-E, standardization head, Food and Agriculture Bureau of Indian Standards, where she briefed on BIS and the major activities of the standards. Alok Adholeya, former program director, Sustainable Agriculture, TERI, enlightened the audience on seed coating of microbes to reduce post-harvest losses, enhanced productivity, and carbon sequestration potential. Arvind Kumar, governor, World Water Council, and founder president – India Water Foundation delivered a virtual presentation on enabling business in agriculture via ecosystem-based adaptation for sustainable food security. In addition, the seminar also included presentations from foreign co-operations such as Brazil India Cooperation, and Belarus. Amlan Bhushan, director, Global Outreach, India China & America Institute, Decatur GA, delivered his thoughts on enhancing the result-oriented frontiers, community engagement, and corporate-funded programs and showed the way forward.
The seminar served as a good networking platform for the industry stakeholders, identifying solutions and issuing a call for action at all agriculture and food system levels. Aziz Haider, head of Communications at the World Food Trust, concluded the day with a vote of thanks to all the participants and the audience.