Continuing environmental degradation and its effect on the functioning, diversity, and resilience of ecological systems, though a matter of serious concern from quite some time, is gaining attention only now. Under such conditions, respect for local ecosystems and the need for moving towards more sustainable agriculture practices seems imperative. Sustainable forms of agriculture are being discussed in various international debates. It figures prominently in the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, being held currently. Sustainable agriculture, is gaining global attention, as never before.
Agriculture as a sector has a unique position in the context of climate change. It is a sector which contributes to climate change, gets affected by climate change and is also a part of the solution for the climate change crisis. All this depends on the way we farm.
While conventional agriculture adds to GHG emissions, farming based on agro-ecological principles has a great potential in making the farm and the soils as carbon sinks. Some of the approaches include increasing biomass (and carbon) by incorporating trees in farming systems, adopting farming practices that increase the organic matter content of the soils, the choice of livestock etc. Such type of farming is productive, resilient and sustainable. A greener agriculture has the potential to substantially reduce agricultural GHG emissions by annually sequestering nearly 6 billion tonnes of atmospheric CO2.
Green agriculture can contribute to increased food security, income generation for poor farmers and be transformed from a major emitter of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) to one of net neutrality and, possibly, a GHG sink. A review of 286 best-practice projects across 12.6 million farms in 57 developing countries found that adopting resource-conserving practices (such as integrated pest management, integrated nutrient management, low-tillage farming, agro-forestry, aquaculture, water harvesting and livestock integration) resulted in average yield increases of 79%, while improving the supply of critical environmental services. (UNEP, 2011).
Green and sustainable solutions
Agriculture has a tremendous potential to alleviate poverty. The livelihoods of the poor, particularly in developing economies, are intricately linked with fragile environments and ecosystems and a transition towards green agriculture can contribute to eradicating poverty. Smallholders are already practicing sustainable approaches and showing that these approaches can ensure sustainable food production and long-term survival of communities.DDS which has been working with the dalit women in Andhra Pradesh has shown that poor communities can produce and manage food production and distribution and also protect the ecosystems by practicing sustainable ways of farming. With their capacities strengthened to work as an organised community, these 5000 empowered women and their households have successfully come out of poverty.
Social organisation strategies used by farmers to cope with the difficult circumstances, are a key component of resilience. (Nicholls and Altieri, p34). Farmers when organized, guided and supported can chart their own development and progress. The organic farmers of Sirkazhi have proven this by following practices and processes that are environmentally sound, socially inclusive and economically profitable, thus, moving towards a green economy. Decentralized seed production programs by local communities, is seen as an adaptation strategy to address the crisis of seed availability during the changing climatic conditions. (S. Sridhar et.al p.10)
CDM projects are considered as a revenue generating option for small farmers while generating environmental benefits through carbon sequestration. However, initial experiences show that several projects have only secondary objective of promoting sustainable development in host countries. (S. Sharma, p.14)
Small farmers have been finding ways to reduce the energy costs in farming. Communities in Mahadevsthan in Nepal have successfully used the hydram technology for lifting water in a school (L. Shresthacharya, p.16). Now, this technology is identified as one of the appropriate technologies for the micro-irrigation in Nepal, which is expected to enhance livelihood opportunities such as animal husbandry, farming, and kitchen gardening. Similarly, a solar powered sprayer serving various purposes and reducing dependence on fossil fuels, is becoming popular among farmers and communities in Tirunalveli district in Tamil Nadu (David, p.25)
An enabling environment
There is an abundance of successful experiences, yet often these experiences have remained localised. Up-scaling has been a major challenge and continues to be so. It requires both investments and enabling policy support.
Agricultural policies continue to encourage farming that is dependent upon external inputs and technologies. Without the necessary support and policy environment, smallholders may not be in a position to prioritize sustainable approaches. Government policies creating disincentives for smallholders to care for natural resources lead to disastrous results. Also, investments in various areas are needed to promote green agriculture. Investments in farmers capacity building, institutional research and upscaling and diffusion of sustainable green practices and technologies are needed. These investments would have multiple benefits and enable a smooth transition to greener agriculture. However, it must be emphasised that green investments alone will not automatically address all poverty issues. A well thought out pro-poor orientation is also necessary.
We come across many examples of successful green initiatives when people work in harmony with nature. In the long term, this is the only way we can achieve sustainable solutions for alleviating hunger and poverty.
UNEP, Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication – A Synthesis for Policy Makers, 2011, http://www.unep.org/greeneconomy
IFAD, Sustainable smallholder agriculture: Feeding the world, protecting the planet, 2011, www.ifad.org; www.ruralpovertyportal.org