Challenges and Opportunities for New Entrants in Agriculture in India

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Organic FarmingDespite increasing urbanisation (unfortunately horizontally expanded) as well as rural population’s influx to the cities, agricultural population in India grew by 50 percent during the last three decades after 1980. At the time of independence, in 1947, more that 50 percent of national income as a contribution of rural manpower, 70 percent of country’s population was due to agriculture sector in India. Nowadays, when, Indian agriculture sector’s contribution to national income has declined to around 25 percent, more than 50 percent of the labour force still depends on agriculture. On the other hand the service sector, despite growing fast and contributing more than 50 percent to national income, has not come up with effective employment opportunities. Till now with growing population in India, the new entrants seek opportunities in agriculture due to establishment of national and regional centres for rural development and rural innovation funding. On the other hand the old agricultural practitioners generally express dissatisfaction and consider farming as a profession full of challenges due to ever increasing uncertainties (regarding monsoon disturbances, droughts, floods etc).

The nature of farming is worth considering at this point. Some people believe that the running intensive farming practices, utilising high quantities of chemical fertilisers and insecticides, despite being polluting to the environment are still cost efficient and so worth following. Some others think that organic farming practices, utilising natural or compost manure and natural neem leaf juice for insecticidal purpose, should be immediately followed and organic crops be selectively grown on appropriate lands. Some persons are in favour of implementation of proper land use policy with maintenance of at least 33.33 percent area of country under dense forest cover for the sake of soil conservation, the prime requirement of cost effective natural traditional farming (that means 100 percent organic farming).

Is Organic Farming a Challenge in India?

Organic FarmingThe horizontal urban development in India took place mostly on the forest-pasture tract undergoing conversion to residential, industrial or economic zones since the initiation of 20th century after enforcement of land acquisition laws by British rulers. The land conversion did not stop, rather it accelerated after independence because the government did not plan for infrastructure with wide road, multi-lane and multi-story building systems. The European continent, Asian countries and Japan followed vertical urban development keeping the forest-pasture tract almost unaffected. India and Japan, despite having almost similar population density of 330 persons per sq. km, considerably differ in dense forest maintenance. In Japan, there is 25 percent land under wild fauna and flora cover and around 43 percent land under cattle and grass cover; around 68 percent total land is under dense forest-pasture cover. On the other hand Indian data for land under forest cover is 22 percent. In fact only 5 percent land in India might be regarded under dense forest cover, because the 17 percent so called forest tract belongs to scattered biodiversity or is employed in different use (say dams, canals etc) or is a wasteland. Utilising one-fourth land as cropland in comparison to India, Japan is capable to attain two times cereal yield per hectare. But it does not mean that Japan’s enhanced farm yield is solely due to soil conservation. In fact Japan’s per hectare consumption of chemical insecticides is much more than that of India.

The Europe continent has almost uniformly 40 percent land under forest cover, and therefore presents a nice picture of soil conservation driven farming with reduced consumption of chemical insecticides. But it does not mean Europe practises 100 percent organic farming. Japan, despite possessing 68 percent land under forest cover, practises intensive farming and European agriculture is selective organic farming in nature. In such a situation to practise traditional farming or 100 percent organic farming in the 21st century for a country like India seems really a challenging job. But it is true that selective organic farming has been successfully practised in the country.

Organic Farming: Opportunity for New Entrants

Organic FarmingThe cost effective organic farming demands dense forestation in India, at least on 33.33 percent land (as per forest policy too) with first priority to mountains. It is possible if land conversion is reversed in favour of forests and pastures and entire infrastructure scenario is altered to vertical urbanisation with constructions of wider roads and multi-story (say 50 to 100 storied) buildings. If agricultural tract is reduced to half, it would be easy to bring more than 40 percent of land under dense forest cover (as in Europe) in the country. Currently such a land conversion reversal seems hypothetical. But increasingly frequent monsoon disturbances, floods, droughts, landslides and earthquakes perhaps can bring a turning point in the country to consider this valuable land use plan from hypothetical to actionable. If the administration is anyhow determined to establish dense forests on the land vacated due to earthquakes or landslides, the organic farming in India is indeed the opportunity for new entrants in agriculture, because they are not presumptuous in this context. However the rigid mindset of conventional farmers, who have been practising intensive farming for decades, is the challenge in the way of land conversion reversal. The new entrants in agriculture can accept this challenge because they know that even currently running limited or selective organic farming, although not so cost efficient, is still hopefully productive. It is often said that in the last fifteen years no organic farmer committed suicide. All of the 0.25 million farmers committing suicide in this period were those who had been practising intensive farming.

Experiences of Organic Farmers

The experiences of organic farmers in India can serve as a guideline for new entrants in agriculture. One of the noteworthy experiences of forty two years in organic farming in India belongs to Narayana Reddy who now operates a training centre at his village Doddaballapur for people interested in practising organic farming. He avers that scientific recommendation of using chemical fertilisers in farms is a myth. According to him there is always shying away from sharing knowledge like nitrogen fixation responsible for converting atmospheric nitrogen to ammonia. It is worth mentioning that his four acres of land yields 20 tonnes of sapota, around 6000 coconuts, 10 tonnes of papaya, 7-8 tonnes of banana and 20 tonnes of vegetables.

Natural Calamities

The real challenges for new entrants in agriculture are so-called natural calamities like monsoon disturbances, floods, droughts etc. Such an unfortunate situation in India is due to land misuse with horizontal expansion of cities and continuous contraction of forest tract. The rigid mindset of conventional farmers practising intensive farming and agricultural scientists’ recommendation of using chemical fertilisers and insecticides are also challenges. But in fact real opportunities exist in organic farming using animal urine, dung, compost manure and natural insecticides like neem leaf juice. However excellent cost efficient organic farming demands proper land use policy with maintenance of dense forest cover on at least 33.33 percent land of the country.

Forestry, Animal Keeping and Agriculture: Complimentary Professions

The new entrants in agriculture in India can well initiate with and farmers realising saturation in formal agriculture business can diversify to forestry and animal keeping professions. All three professions are complimentary and synced with each other. The countries with cropland near about world average (11% of total country area) or in other words below 20 percent are capable to generate the far better data for annual grain yield in comparison to India where farming is running on 50 percent land cover. Needless to say, the new entrants in agriculture in India should very well calculate the cost of land misuse in the country. And they should come up with better land use plans particularly in the context of forest and pasture development. Unfortunately, in India, forest-pasture development plans are seldom considered actionable mostly as the subset of organic farming. In fact agriculture has been traditionally developed as subset of forestry and animal keeping professions. Indian youth is expected to work upon new amplitudes of forest-pasture development and prove how those are actionable or profitable projects so that misused lands in pseudo-agriculture and pseudo-urbanisation might be converted for dense forest-pasture development. Dense forestation will obviously add to crop yield in farms.

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The author is a freelance writer