(25th Sep 2019) The Hindu Editorials Notes- Mains Sure Shot
Note: there is another article on U.S-Taliban peace talks and its implications for India. It has already been dealt with in the editorial of 21st August, 2019.
Question – what is agroecology and can it shed a new life into India’s agricultural sector? Discuss (250 words)
Context – National Academy of Agricultural Sciences sent a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi opposing Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF).
What is agroecology?
- Agroecology as the term suggests deals with agriculture and ecology.
- It simply means promoting agricultural practices that sustain the ecology of a particular agricultural land.
- It advocates site-specific study of agro ecosystems and recommending practices that are best suited for that particular site.
- Agro ecologists study questions related to the four system properties of agroecosystems: productivity, stability, sustainability and equitability. As opposed to disciplines that are concerned with only one or some of these properties, agroecologists see all four properties as interconnected and integral to the success of an agroecosystem (an ecosystem on agricultural land).
- Agro ecologists study these four properties through an interdisciplinary lens, using natural sciences to understand elements of agroecosystems such as soil properties and plant-insect interactions, as well as using social sciences to understand the effects of farming practices on rural communities, economic constraints to developing new production methods, or cultural factors determining farming practices.
- They seek to promote agricultural practices that do the least harm to the environment and ecology and also maximise benefits to the farmers.
- Though not completely opposed to technology, it believes in improving soil and plant quality through the use of local resources rather than battling nature with chemical inputs and enhance ancestral knowledge and customs.
- Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) promoted by Subash Palekar is one of the recommended agroecological practices.
How is it different from organic farming?
- Agroecology studies a variety of agro ecosystems (agricultural ecosystems) and devises ways to sustain it. It is the science and practice of applying ecological concepts, principles and knowledge to the design and management of sustainable farms. While organic farming is an agricultural method.
- The field of agroecology is not concerned with any one particular agricultural method, be it organic, conventional, intensive or extensive.
Benefits of agroecology:
- Since it recommends site-specific practices, it has the potential to double food production within ten years.
- Being site-specific and basing its recommendations after an interconnected study of the four properties – productivity, stability, sustainability and equitability, it increases ecological resilience i.e. capacity of an ecology to overcome unforeseen situations like volatile weather conditions.
- Further it also enhances fertile landscapes, increases yields, restores soil health and biodiversity, promotes climate resilience and improves farmers’ well-being.
- Though the practice has several benefits and is supported by many agricultural scientists, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, farmers’ groups and several NGOs, the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences has sent a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi opposing Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF).
- The reason being that farming in India, as in most other countries, is largely under the control of powerful lobbies with vested interests like producers of fertilizers and seed companies. These lobbies perceive large-scale transitions to agroecology as a substantial threat to their influence on farming systems. If farmers take to natural farming their business will be in danger.
- As a result of industrial farming, friendly insects are no longer part of the agricultural landscape, water pollution is rampant, depleted soils are commonplace and plunging groundwater tables have become the norm. Yet the farmers are reluctant to move to more sustainable agro ecological practices with the uncertainty over profits.
- Also many scientific researchers worldwide are funded by industrial corporations who issue specific guidelines to scientists to not go against them else they would withdraw funding. For example, in Britain, when public hearings were held in the early 2000s to discuss genetically modified (GM) crops, corporations threatened to pull grants from scientists on the committees if they voted against GM.
Specific case study of ZBNF in India:
- Amidst the ongoing debates and letters if we focus on the ground reality of ZBNF since it was adopted in Andhra Pradesh then we can see that the developing experiment is showing success largely because farmers are supporting it.
- The practice may not be all zero budget, may not be fully successful everywhere and will need to be adapted to India’s various agro ecological zones.
- The funds for the Andhra model (₹16,500 crore) are reportedly going mostly to train farmers but this is very small in comparison with huge subsidies for the Green Revolution and the numerous lobbies it has spawned.
- So, while the lobbies are criticising Mr. Palekar and his methods, the real attack is on agroecology, for the threat it poses to entrenched institutions.
- The success of the Andhra Model of adopting ZBNF must be kept in mind, in spite of the lobbies opposing practices like ZBNF.
- The agricultural system in India is highly subsidised, a large chunk of government spending goes to it. If the farmers shift to these methods it will not only help the farmers who won’t have to take hefty loans before every cropping season and the environment, it will also leave more money with the government to spend in other sectors.
- And as said being site-specific, following these practices farmers may even double their incomes and India’s food security could sow new beginnings.