The Sustainable Development Policy Study Unit of the Centre for Policy Studies conducted a half day workshop on Sustainable Agriculture on 6th April, 2019. The workshop had 51 participants. While most participants were from IIT Bombay, some came from far away places such as IIT Dharwad, and Prayas, Pune.
The abstract of the presentations at the workshop is given below:
a) Policy Incongruence: Economic Instruments and Sustainable Agriculture presented by Prof Rajeswari S. Raina (Shiv Nadar University)
We begin this talk with a simple illustration; the ways in which we, in the Revitalizing Rainfed Agriculture (RRA) Network went about generating evidence to convince policy makers that a regionally differentiated policy and locally appropriate public investments (not subsidies) were necessary to revitalize rainfed agriculture and ensure sustainable development. Revisiting our (misplaced) faith in ‘evidence based policy making’ and the ‘theorization of the role of agriculture’ in economic development, we briefly explore the multiple meanings of agriculture in rainfed India, and in the global agricultural development arena. In particular we ask how the productionist and environmental concerns about sustainable agriculture figure in the agricultural policies and policy instruments. Ranging from farming systems (FS) approaches, natural resource management (NRM) approaches, diversification and intensification, low external input sustainable farming, organic agriculture, agroecological systems, climate smart agriculture, till the recent sustainable intensification of agriculture (SIA), the post-green revolution period (from the 1970s till date) in India, as in many other parts of the world, is marked by policy incongruence. Economic history reveals how the colonial enterprise, and later (20th century) the newly independent developing and the developed countries managed the congruence between their productionist and environmental concerns through appropriate international division of labour, trade, fiscal and financial policies, and more recently by re-inventing ‘political boundaries’ for sustainable intensification of industrial agriculture that has already violated (perhaps beyond repair), four planetary boundaries (out of nine critical boundaries). Sustainable agriculture will remain an ethereal aspiration, or will remain confined to niche agro-ecological systems and spaces, as long as this incongruence between economic instruments and environmental basis of agricultural production, distribution, and consumption activities continues.
b) Risk, Returns and Sustainability presented by Prof. Srijit Mishra, Nabakrushna Choudhury Centre for Development Studies, Bhubaneswar
In the 1960s, India faced food shortages, and it is said that it had a ship-to-mouth existence. It is in this backdrop that the green revolution, with an emphasis on rice and wheat, was introduced. This paved the way for input-intensive production. Under this, the interventions were on seeds that facilitated greater yields, access to water through irrigation, and provisioning fertilizers that were subsidized. In addition to these, there was procurement of rice/wheat through assured minimum support prices, and these grains were distributed to the public through fair price shops. Concurrently, the state also set up research & extension for agricultural purposes through public funding. These interventions led to an increase in production. This increase, under normal circumstances, gives positive net returns to the farmer even after accounting for costs that the farmer incurred. However, compared to the situation prior to intervention, the rate of increase in costs has been higher than the rate of increase in production. It is this that can lead to net returns being negative on account of adverse shocks or other factors that make farming risky. Understanding and addressing risks will play an important part in any effort to engage with tackling the larger crisis in Indian agriculture. The risks can be because of multiple reasons, that include weather uncertainties, market fluctuations, input effectiveness, labour availability, credit-related concerns, and absence of appropriate forward and backward linkages, among others. Is it possible to develop a cropping pattern that is location specific and is resilient to weather uncertainties, in that it minimizes the risks linked to weather uncertainties? Can the exposure to markets (for inputs as also outputs) be minimized? Can the quality and effectiveness of inputs (seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides, among others) be assured? Is it possible to address labour shortages either through technological interventions or by providing adequate returns to labour so that we can make use of the demographic dividend? How does one facilitate credit to agriculture that is adequate, timely and serviceable? Is it possible to come up with an appropriate supply chain management system from farm to plate to strengthen the forward and backward linkages? Addressing these will require a multi-pronged approach, but some of these require an agronomic practice that is linked to the local agro-ecology and socio-economic conditions. Further, it should on the one hand attempt to reduce input costs for the farmer, and on the other hand increase knowledge-intensive investments. Some interventions that address some of these are the Andhra Pradesh Zero Budget Natural Farming and the Odisha Millets Mission.
c) Mainstreaming Sustainability in Agriculture – A Maharashtra Experience presented by Prof. Milind Sohoni, IIT Bombay
Dichotomies have been part of the grand narratives in Indian agriculture, e.g., big vs. small farmers, cash crops vs. cereals, upstream vs. downstream, organic vs. chemical etc. Moreover, all of these have been interpreted as facets in the central dilemma (or the “wicked” problem) of choosing a compromise in three apparently irreconcilable objectives of sustainable development – efficiency, equity and the environment. The objective of this talk is to show how these dichotomies actually play out in the field, at least from the perspective of water. We show how farmers decide on crops, and on managing water, and describe the conditions of uncertainty and asymmetry of information, scientific as well as of agency. We show the poor presence of the state, the paucity of planning, and the absence of an accountable and practical science of water as hindrances to social comprehension, community thinking and collective action. We show that there is a different set of agency axes, that of the state, community and science, which has a better explanation how these dichotomies operate and what can be done. We also argue that improvements along these three axes of agency will help resolve the “dilemma” of sustainability.