This study, in collaboration with the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU), provides an overview of the current state of sustainable agriculture practices and systems (SAPSs) in India. It aims to help policymakers, administrators, philanthropists, and others contribute to an evidence-based scale-up of SAPSs, which represent a vital alternative to conventional, input-intensive agriculture in the context of a climate-constrained future. The study identifies 16 SAPSs – including agroforestry, crop rotation, rainwater harvesting, organic farming and natural farming – using agroecology as an investigative lens. Based on an in-depth review of 16 practices, it concludes that sustainable agriculture is far from mainstream in India. Further, it proposes several measures for promoting SAPSs, including restructured government support and rigorous evidence generation.
- Sustainable agriculture offers a much-needed alternative to conventional input-intensive agriculture, the long-term impacts of which include degrading topsoil, declining groundwater levels and reduced biodiversity. It is vital to ensure India’s nutrition security in a climate-constrained world.
- While various definitions of sustainable agriculture exist, this study uses agroecology as a lens of investigation. This term broadly refers to less resource-intensive farming solutions, greater diversity in crops and livestock, and farmers’ ability to adapt to local circumstances.
- Sustainable agriculture is far from mainstream in India, with only 5 (crop rotation; agroforestry; rainwater harvesting; mulching and precision) SAPSs scaling beyond 5 per cent of the net sown area.
- Most SAPSs are being adopted by less than five million (or four per cent) of all Indian farmers. Many are practised by less than one per cent.
- Crop rotation is the most popular SAPS in India, covering around 30 million hectares (Mha) of land and approximately 15 million farmers. Agroforestry, mainly popular among large cultivators, and rainwater harvesting have relatively high coverage - 25 Mha and 20-27 Mha, respectively.
- Organic farming currently covers only 2.8 Mha — or two per cent of India’s net sown area of 140 Mha. Natural farming is the fastest growing sustainable agricultural practice in India and has been adopted by around 800,000 farmers. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) has achieved a coverage area of 5 Mha after decades of sustained promotion.
- The scale-up could start with rainfed areas, as they are already practising low-resource agriculture, have low productivities, and primarily stand to gain from the transition.
- Restructure government support to farmers by aligning incentives towards resource conservation and by rewarding outcomes such as total farm productivity or enhanced ecosystem services rather than just outputs such as yields.
- Support rigorous evidence generation through long-term comparative assessments of conventional, resource-intensive agriculture on the one hand and sustainable agriculture on the other.
- Take steps to broaden the perspectives of stakeholders across the agriculture ecosystem and make them more open to alternative approaches.
- Extend short-term transition support to individuals liable to be adversely impacted by a large-scale transition to sustainable agriculture.
- Make sustainable agriculture visible by integrating data and information collection on SAPSs in the prevailing national and state-level agriculture data systems.
Gupta, Niti, Shanal Pradhan, Abhishek Jain and Nayha Patel. 2021. Sustainable Agriculture in India 2021 – What we know and how to scale up. New Delhi: Council on Energy, Environment and Water.
Download the Executive Summary here.
Download the full study here.
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