India’s agricultural roots run deep, dating back approximately 10,000 years. Ancient Vedic texts describe the acts of plowing, irrigation, and harvesting fruits and vegetables. In those days, plants and animals were considered holy and they were worshiped by the Indian people. Interestingly enough, this is largely still the case today. The Hindu religious tradition, practised by the majority of Indian people today, recognizes the vital role that plants and animals play in sustaining mankind.
Given this history, what does the future of agriculture in India look like? It was barely fifty years ago that that chemical farming methods, including pesticides, insecticides, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were introduced in India. Prior to that, methods were largely organic and natural. Then, in the 1960s and 1970s, the Indian government wanted to focus on using agriculture to boost the country’s economy and they encouraged farmers to adopt high-yield methods dependent on genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Unfortunately, these methods simply haven’t been sustainable. As the developed world has realized the many faults of chemical farming methods, so too has India.
Problems with Chemical Farming in India
- Pests have grown resistant to the effects of pesticides.
- In many areas, soils have been completely depleted of nutrients, making the land infertile.
- Middlemen selling packages of hybrid seeds, fertilisers, and insecticides supplied by corporations sell them to the villagers on credit with exorbitant interest rates. Farmers are then forced to use the profits from crops to repay them, perpetuating a cycle of debt and creating despair for farmers when their crops are damaged by weather.
- Many farmers are illiterate and unable to read the instructions on the pesticides. They apply the pesticides in excessive concentrations.
- Many farmers are uneducated and lack a knowledge of how pesticides work. They increase the dosage of the pesticide to try to combat pests that have become resistant.
- Grazing animals become ill after eating pesticide-treated crops.
- Crops dependent on chemicals have slowly become less resistant to the effects of weather and disease.
The result is a disastrous situation for farmers. But luckily, there is an alternative. Many farmers have already started adopting more sustainable methods. This article relates the story of a farmer named Malliah who shifted to chemical-free farming about fifteen years ago and gives a good overview of some of the many problems farmers face.
The Future of Agriculture in India
As in the story above, it seems as though the effects of chemical farming might naturally force farmers to seek alternatives. So what might some of these alternatives look like? Well, the agricultural systems designed in the article have three characteristics. They are:
1. Economically and Environmentally Sustainable
There will be no future of agriculture in India if systems are not sustainable. We are running out of the resources to grow food for ourselves –this is a global crisis. The shift to sustainable farming methods much focus on conserving resources and adapting the crop to the environment, while still maintaining or increasing crop yields. This would ensure that farmers have a viable income and the produce is enough to feed a country with a growing population. Aquaponics might be the solution we’re looking for, as it uses significantly less land and water than traditional farming methods. Farmers wouldn’t have to pay for chemicals to treat their crops and crop yields would be increased.
2. Smartly Designed
An smartly-designed agricultural system would involve a number of different components working symbiotically in order to increase efficiency. Aquaponics systems are a good illustration of how organisms can complement each other. Fish and plants are grown together, but they also need each other to grow, with excrement from the fish serving as the perfect source of nutrients for plants. In that way, the outcomes complement each other and the result is a self-regulating system that requires little external input from the farmer. Although it has taken science and technology to perfect this technique, in a way it is just a sophisticated way of mimicking nature.
When we say “holistic,” we mean that the solution works in every area. The problem with many of the current methods used is that they only serve one purpose. For instance, the goal of pesticides is to prevent pests from destroying the crops. Are pesticides cost-effective for farmers? No. Are they good for the environment? No. Are they good for humans? No. Are they an ethically good solution to the problem of pests? No, not really. Is the overall impact of pesticides positive? Definitely not. When the original goal of preventing pests is removed, there are virtually no benefits to using pesticides.
The agricultural problems we face today are multi-faceted. Ultimately, the solutions we choose to solve these problems need to focus on accomplishing more than one thing. Such is the case in an aquaponics – a source of hope for the future of agriculture in India.