Resilient Agriculture
Systems for Sustainability

India’s population of 1.3 billion is around 18 per cent of the worlds. It is further estimated to reach 1.6 billion by 2030. Clearly, Indian agriculture systems have a huge responsibility to ensure secure access to food by everyone of its citizens, now and for the future.

Agriculture systems being heavily resource-intensive, interact with natural resources and environment at a large scale. Around 50 per cent of India’s total land area is under agriculture, using around 90 per cent of the total water withdrawals in the country. Agriculture sector is the third-largest consumer of power in India. It accounted for 19 per cent of the total power consumption in 2011. Apart from the high use of resources by agriculture systems, agriculture also contributes to 19 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions in India. India’s greenhouse emissions are the third largest in the world (Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, 2007). Agriculture is one of the sectors that not just contributes to causing climate change but also faces one of the worst impacts from the same due to variability in weather conditions that can disrupt crop cycles.

As elsewhere in the developing world, in India, small farmers’ livelihoods are being threatened due to accelerating climate change impacts, liberalisation and privatisation of Indian agriculture. India had over 138 million farm holdings as per the Agricultural Census, 2011. Of this, about 92.8 million were marginal farm holdings i.e. having individual operational land holding of less than 1 hectare while another 24.8 million were small farm holdings with individual operational land holding size of less than 2 hectares. Therefore, the marginal and small farm holdings together accounted for a whopping 85% of the total farm holdings in India in 2010-11 (Government of India, Agricultural Census, 2011). Entire dependency on monsoon and with inadequate access to inputs like quality seeds, fertilizers, irrigation water, improved technologies, information and credit; these small farmers face problems of a non-viable ecosystem with limited access to market and reduced profit margins.

Recognising the importance of building sustainable agricultural systems in India, the watershed development programme was initiated in the 1970s at a national scale. The programme is implemented by the government of India and state government departments with involvement of consortium partners including non-government organisations in different phases. The main aim of the recently revised integrated watershed management programme (IWMP) is to enhance rural livelihoods and wellbeing, build ecosystem services, recognise the value of well managed water and land resources. This concept ties together the biophysical notion of a watershed as a hydrological unit with the social aspects of community and its institutions for building resilience in agriculture through sustainable management of land, water and other resources.

It is imperative that agriculture systems in India ensure that the basic nutritional requirements of the present and future generations are met while maintaining productive capacity of the natural resource base.

S. N. Pandey

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