India’s agriculture sustainability at risk

At present, the most sustainable agriculture is practiced in Mizoram, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal while agriculture in arid Rajasthan is the least sustainable.

Published: 19th August 2023 12:09 PM  |   Last Updated: 19th August 2023 12:09 PM   |  A+A-


For representational purposes

Express News Service

NEW DELHI: Better performance at socio-economic indicators may not translate into overall agricultural sustainability. Take Punjab and Haryana. A new agricultural sustainability index shows both states are way ahead on the socioeconomic front but not in the overall agricultural sustainability index.   

Scientists at the Indian Council for Agricultural Research have prepared a Composite Index of Agricultural Sustainability (CIAS), which shows that Indian agriculture practices are moderately sustainable. They need timely intervention in priority areas to protect the country’s food security.

At present, the most sustainable agriculture is practised in Mizoram, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal while agriculture in arid Rajasthan is the least sustainable. According to the index, the better-performing states have experienced sizable crop diversification, improvement in agriculture infrastructure, farm credit and sustainable input use. 

The CIAS has 51 indicators to measure various patterns of agricultural sustainability. They are categorised under sections of soil health, water resources, biodiversity and ecology and socio-economic. States in the Indo-Gangetic Plains—Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar, and Haryana—as also in the rice-dominant Jharkhand and Assam are at greater risk. These states produce much of India’s staple, thereby putting food security at risk if sustainability is threatened.

“A change in agricultural policies is necessary, from high input subsidies to a system that rewards multiple ecosystem services,” says Dr Prem Chand, senior scientist at the National Institute of Agricultural Economics and Policy Research, who prepared the CIAS along with Dr Kiran Kumara TM. Chand suggests the use of technologies that can increase sustainability. “Practices like laser-aided land levelling, reduced or zero tillage, direct drill seeding, precise water management and crop diversification can provide economic and environmental benefits, but their adoption is limited,” Chand says. 

The CIAS average at the all-India level is 0.50, which indicates moderate sustainability. States performing better than the national average are Mizoram, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Manipur, West Bengal and Uttarakhand. (see table)

One of the four parameters of CIAS is soil sustainability. Poor soil quality leads to the overuse of chemical fertilisers, lowering the soil's organic carbon, which further increases groundwater exploitation. States that perform well above the national average (0.59) on soil sustainability are Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Kerala.

As for water sustainability, insufficient investment in soil and water conservation, low micro-irrigation coverage, and poor water productivity are a drag on its score. Karnataka, West Bengal, Assam, and Mizoram are performing better than the all-India average (0.49) while Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh are the worst performers on this index. The annual groundwater depletion rate is more than 40 cm in the worst-performing states.

On the environmental sustainability index (ESI), states performing better than the all-India average (0.50) are Karnataka, Maharashtra, Mizoram and Uttarakhand. The worst performing states are Assam, Manipur, Jharkhand, Punjab and Telangana, which are characterised by cereal-based monoculture, declining acreage of leguminous crops, limited area under organic farming, and high greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.

According to scientists, the key priorities for environmental sustainability are the management of wastelands, preservation of pasture and grazing lands, conservation of plant species and expanding areas under natural or organic farming.  

The socio-economic sustainability indicator shows Punjab and Haryana are far better than the rest of the states. Many underperforming states are short of labour and fertilisers, they have insufficient investment, not enough availability of protein besides the poor bargaining power of farmers.

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