25 Nov Why you should care about Agriculture and Farmer Incomes
This article is the first of a series on issues surrounding agriculture in India.
Food is an integral part of our lives. When we are away from home, we miss the comfort of home-cooked meals. There are all kinds of food. There’s fancy food and comfort food, there’s spicy food and bland food. Food is so important to our lives both practically and emotionally, that essentially, we are what we eat.
But what about those who produce this food, the farmers?
Farmers toil for months to grow the rice, wheat, dal, spices and vegetables and all the other crops that we easily buy from the stores. Ideally, they should make enough money to fulfill their and their families need of nutrition, education, healthcare, housing etc. through their farm incomes. But this is not the case in most farm households in India. Somehow, the people producing the most important products make the least money. Over 50% of our farmers are indebted, and over 22% are in poverty.
These numbers show that how agriculture is far from being profitable or sustainable for most farmers in India. Add to the fact that we need to keep producing to provide for the increasing populations and with the added threat of climate change, food security is a major issue. Here making agriculture sustainable should be a priority if we want to ensure continued and quality food supplies.
Let us now explore sustainable agriculture.
Sustainable agriculture is considered globally as a complex issue to be tackled. And hence, it finds mention as a key component of the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.
Sustainable agriculture is key to achieving 3 of the SDGs namely, 
- SDG 1- End poverty in all its forms everywhere:
- SDG 2 aims for a world with Zero Hunger .
- SDG 12 calls for Responsible Consumption and Production
SDG 1 and 2 are doubly relevant as more than 50% of farm households are indebted and 22% of farm households are below the poverty line, making less than a third of what non-farm workers make. There is an urgent need to focus on poverty and indebtedness of farm households, if these goals of poverty reduction and zero hunger is to be met.
Sustainability in production and consumption includes that of agricultural crops. Agriculture uses large amounts of water, and irrigation now consumes close to 70% of all freshwater used by humans. The agriculture supply chains also involve huge amounts of waste at all levels. To compensate for this waste, we end up producing much more than we actually need and still people go hungry. To reach these goals, we need to improve our efficiency of farming and farm practices including use of chemicals, water and other resources, while also improving supply chains. Without changes to what we produce, how much we produce and how the supply chains work neither hunger nor poverty can be tackled and , sustainability cannot be achieved.
Aspects of Sustainable Agriculture
When we talk of Sustainable agriculture we need to consider three aspects:
- Environmental Health (Ecological Sustainability): This means the proper management of the natural systems and resources that farms rely on. Among other things, this involves maintaining healthy soil, efficient water management, minimizing air, water, and climate pollution, improving energy use and promoting biodiversity.
- Social and Economic Equity: If agriculture loses viability as a source of livelihood, farmers and their families will lose their social capital and this can lead to serious damage to the social structure of the Nation.
- Economic Profitability (Sustainable incomes)
Farm households in India on an average earned Rs. 77,888 in one year from July 2012 to June 2013 which is INR 6491 per month during this period, in states like Bihar its RS.3681/- . This is less than the monthly grocery bill of an average household. The efforts put in by farmers are not reflected in the incomes they earn.
Farmers are unable to access information about innovative & sustainable farming techniques to grow better. They also lack market access to sell their produce at profitable price. A number of initiatives have been taken by the government, as well as by industry and NGOs. Many new start- ups are also now coming up to solve the problems in agriculture. The Government has even come up with a Policy statement on Doubling Farmer’s Income by 2022.
We must come together as a society to support the government and all other stakeholders in their efforts to help our farmers produce food profitably. So that we have food to eat that is grown with scientific practices and not with disproportionately high amounts of chemicals in them. To ensure our water is not polluted and that our children can still eat and drink well and make all the memories around food that we can.