In an era defined by the stark realities of climate change and its associated extreme weather fluctuations, the global landscape is witnessing profound shifts in environmental dynamics. The ramifications ripple across diverse realms, from the delicate balance of ecosystems to the sustenance of livelihoods for the world’s most vulnerable populations. Nowhere is this impact felt more acutely than in India, a nation grappling with multifaceted challenges ranging from hunger and malnutrition to distress migration. The reverberations of the COVID-19 pandemic have cast a spotlight on India’s vulnerabilities, particularly its standing as the third-worst affected South Asian nation on the Global Hunger Index.
Within this complex tapestry of adversity, India’s struggle for food security and agricultural sustainability takes center stage. The nation’s decline in the Global Hunger Index rankings, plummeting from 94th to 101st position among 116 countries in 2021, is a somber testament to the enormity of the challenge. In a nation where nearly 70% of its populace relies on agriculture and allied sectors for subsistence, the imperiled state of the agricultural landscape holds profound implications.
At the forefront of this crisis lies Odisha, a state replete with natural and human resources yet ensnared in an agricultural conundrum. As climatic unpredictabilities exacerbate the already precarious situation, the state grapples with a pressing agricultural crisis. With a majority of farmers operating on small-scale holdings, more than 80% of them tilling plots less than 5 acres in size, the road to adopting modern agricultural methodologies seems daunting. Traditional approaches, often limited to a single annual crop, are struggling to remain viable in the face of shifting climatic norms.
The repercussions are undeniable: a growing number of farmers are confronting the harsh reality of viewing their age-old occupation as an unsustainable livelihood option. As the challenges loom larger, a paradigm shift becomes essential – one that not only addresses the immediate agricultural crisis but also acknowledges the broader context of climate change.
Enter regenerative agriculture, an innovative and holistic approach that seeks to recalibrate the agricultural landscape in harmony with the environment. In the following discourse, we delve into the intricate interplay between regenerative agriculture and the challenges posed by climate change in India, spotlighting its potential to herald a transformative resurgence. From enhancing soil health to optimizing water usage, regenerative agriculture offers a beacon of hope amid the uncertainty – a potential path forward toward sustainable food security and resilience.
Table of Contents
Mitigating Crisis: Embracing Regenerative Agriculture for Sustainable Growth
The current global crisis is facing exacerbation due to various factors that have intensified over the past decades. More frequent and severe weather events such as droughts, flash floods, and cyclones have become the new normal, significantly impacting crop diversity and the productivity of both food and horticultural crops.
Impact of Extreme Weather and Deepening Poverty on Agricultural Systems
With the increasing occurrence of extreme weather conditions and the deepening grip of poverty, community-level systems and organizations are struggling to sustain themselves. This unfortunate combination has led to the collapse of these vital support systems, further exacerbating the crisis.
Challenges Faced by Small and Marginalized Farmers
Small and marginalized farmers are grappling with numerous challenges, including accessing government support for their agricultural endeavors. These challenges range from obtaining critical information such as market trends, weather forecasts, and cropping advice, to accessing post-harvest technologies, credit, loans, and crop insurance schemes.
Economic Dependence on Forestry and Agriculture
The most vulnerable families heavily rely on both forestry and agriculture to meet their nutrition, fuel wood, fodder, medicinal, and livelihood needs. Unfortunately, rapid deforestation has triggered accelerated soil erosion and a decline in Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFPs). Although the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 aims to acknowledge the rights of forest-dwelling communities, these rights and titles are difficult to assert.
Empowering Women Farmers and Land Rights
Women farmers face additional hurdles in asserting their land rights and gaining the confidence and permission to make critical decisions regarding their agricultural businesses. These barriers prevent them from fully realizing their potential and contributing effectively to the sector.
Transitioning towards Regenerative Agriculture
The ongoing degradation of biodiversity and soil fertility has sparked international calls for a fundamental shift in global agriculture from degenerative practices to regenerative ones. “Regenerative agriculture” is defined as a set of principles and practices that not only generate agricultural products but also sequester carbon and enhance biodiversity at the farm level.
Key Principles of Regenerative Agriculture
- Minimizing or Avoiding Tillage
- Eliminating Bare Soil
- Encouraging Plant Diversity
- Improving Water Percolation
- Integrating On-Farm Livestock and Cropping Operations
Variants of Regenerative Agriculture
Some regenerative systems prioritize the reduction of pesticide and synthetic fertilizer use, as seen in regenerative organic agriculture. These systems encompass a range of practices such as conservation agriculture, organic crop production and grazing, tree crops, agroforestry, and more.
The Need for Regenerative Agriculture in a Changing World
The potential benefits of regenerative agriculture come within the context of limited land resources, a growing global population, and the imperative to curb greenhouse gas emissions while preserving biodiversity. Protecting intact ecosystems with high biodiversity from agricultural expansion is essential. Simultaneously, reducing waste and moderating per capita consumption of animal products is crucial for a sustainable future.
Balancing Land Sparing and Sharing Approaches
While debates have arisen around “land sparing” versus “land sharing” approaches, a consensus is emerging that enhancing biodiversity benefits from land sparing strategies at various scales.
Sustainable Yields and Production Costs
Conservation agriculture, in many cases, has demonstrated the ability to maintain yields or even reduce production costs. The addition of organic amendments to crops without fertilizer application has shown potential for increasing crop yields. Certified organic production, despite generally yielding fewer crops and livestock than non-organic methods, can lead to higher profitability due to the premium associated with organic products.
Agroforestry and Rewilding
The impact of agroforestry systems on food production is closely tied to tree densities and the provision of feed and food. In specific contexts, rewilding practices can be deemed appropriate.
Core Tenets of Regenerative Agriculture
At its core, regenerative agriculture aims to minimize external inputs and negative external impacts, focusing on leveraging resources available on the farm itself. This philosophy entails reducing reliance on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. While achieving “regenerative organic agriculture” certification does not necessarily require the integration of animals and crops, the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides is strictly prohibited to qualify for the organic label. The regenerative organic certification scheme builds upon USDA’s certified organic standards and is founded on three pillars: soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness.
In conclusion, regenerative agriculture offers a beacon of hope in the face of mounting challenges in the agricultural sector. By embracing practices that restore and enrich ecosystems, we can navigate this crisis and create a sustainable path forward.
Pillars for Regenerative Agriculture
These four pillars form the backbone of a more resilient pathway.
1. An Adaptive and Resilient Food System
Able to respond to changing circumstances and new challenges as they emerge, adaptability and resilience are some of the most important systemic criteria for a sustainable food system, since we cannot predict all of the conditions or changes that will emerge in the future. Adaptive capacity and resilience must be built into both biophysical aspects of the system (through the preservation of biodiversity, maintenance of healthy soil systems, maintenance of buffering capacity in water bodies, etc.) and socioeconomic aspects of the system (knowledge transfer, development or organizational capacity, elimination of poverty cycles, etc.).
2. Nutritious Food For All
The most basic and fundamental challenge that the food system must address is to ensure the supply of adequate nutrition for the world’s population. Ideally, it should achieve the objective set out by the World Food Summit in Rome, which states that food security is addressed when, “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” Some of the priority objectives for addressing this challenge should, at minimum, include: reducing overall food demand (e.g., through reducing food waste); progressively shifting to lower-impact, less-resource-intensive food sources; ensuring that scarce resources (land, water) are allocated to food production as a priority over non-food uses; improving economic access to food; and improving farmer productivity in the developing world.
3. Within Planetary Boundaries
A sustainable food system should remain within planetary boundaries in all of the key biophysical impact areas across the entire life cycle of food production, consumption, and disposal. Though we should continuously strive for full net zero impact within the food system, there are some areas, such as preservation of biodiversity, which should be prioritized over others. In general, severe and irreversible impacts to complex ecological and cultural systems, and the depletion of non-renewable natural resources caused by the food system, should be addressed with the highest urgency.
Many of the approaches that are necessary to address the first two pillars are also essential for bringing the operations of the food system within the scope of the planetary boundaries. Notably, reducing food demand and shifting to lower-impact sources of food are prerequisites for bringing down the overall resource throughput of the system. In addition, this challenge requires at least the following measures: reducing the impact of existing agricultural and extractive practices (e.g., applying conservation measures, reducing nitrogen emissions, moving to lower-impact fishing techniques); Placing limits on system expansion and intensification, particularly when addressing the global yield gap (e.g., reducing arable land expansion, and if necessary directing it towards marginal lands); and investing in the development of new sustainable agricultural techniques (e.g., organic cultivars, agro-ecological, regenerative practices).
4. Supporting Livelihoods and Wellbeing
The food system should structurally support the livelihoods and well-being of people working within it. It should be possible to fully nourish and support oneself and earn a reasonable living wage in exchange for average work hours within the food system. Ensuring that the food system supports livelihoods and wellbeing is more than an end in itself; it is also essential for addressing the other three pillars. Without secure livelihoods, smallholder farmers and fishermen will continue to struggle in building the necessary capacity and resource base to transition to sustainable models of production. A resilient system cannot be built upon an unstable foundation. Therefore, addressing the systemic structures that perpetuate poverty is critical to the success of achieving a sustainable food system. These four pillars offer an alternative pathway.
A counter-movement to intensive, conventional agricultural and extractive systems is slowly emerging. These practices still only make up a minority of the global agricultural production and are generally under-researched. New practices and food processing techniques present a small, but promising, new direction for a sustainable food system. We can produce sufficient food, even for a much larger population, if structural changes are made to how we approach both production and consumption. To successfully move towards a sustainable food system, we must consider the systemic nature of the system’s behaviours and impacts.
If we do not address and change the central root causes that lead to multiple impacts, impacts will continue to occur. To ensure that solutions are comprehensive and adaptive, we need to hard-wire systems and Rights Based Approach(es) thinking into food policy. By accounting for systemic effects, we can come to understand feedback loops and adverse effects early on and adapt policy accordingly.
Regenerative agriculture holds the key to tackling these issues. Regenerative agriculture is a sustainable alternative to modern agricultural systems that often bypass smallholder farmers and degrade ecosystems. It promotes farming systems that re-connect people with nature, enabling smallholder farmers to achieve a decent standard of living, whilst protecting the environment and maintaining the natural resources and ecosystems they already have and depend on.
An ambitious systems approach will be required to promote regenerative agriculture as a sustainable livelihood solution for marginalized farming communities and Indigenous people. too address the challenges to sustainable agricultural practices and deforestation, Government, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and private sector actors will need to support and promote regenerative farming systems and practices. Developmental actors can establish small “eco-village” pilots using Sloping Agriculture Land Technology (SALT) models. Developmental actors can work on the conservation of local landraces and agro-biodiversity by facilitating cultivation of local varieties of cereals, minor millets, pulses, oilseeds, and vegetables. Working with private sector actors, we will demonstrate the use of solar energy, drip irrigation systems, food processing, post-harvest technologies and marketing.
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- Withering Watersheds – Issues, Challenges, Impacts, And Possible Solutions In An Era of Climate Change
Strategies for Developmental Actors
In the realm of sustainable development, developmental actors play a pivotal role in shaping the future. Through a range of initiatives, they have the power to drive positive change and foster community well-being. This article delves into various strategies that these actors can employ to amplify their impact and promote holistic growth.
1. Fostering Participatory Community Forest Conservation
Developmental actors hold a unique opportunity to spearhead the protection, conservation, and sustainable management of community forests. By actively engaging local communities, these actors can encourage participation in safeguarding the invaluable green spaces that enrich our ecosystems. Through collaborative efforts, developmental actors can instill a sense of ownership and responsibility among community members, ensuring the longevity of these vital natural resources.
2. Strengthening Farmer Groups for Empowerment
One of the paramount strategies that developmental actors can employ is to collaborate closely with farmers and enhance the organizational capacities of local farmer groups. This includes the establishment of women farmers groups and Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) that empower individuals at the grassroots level. By equipping these groups with a comprehensive understanding of their legal rights and facilitating improved access to governmental initiatives, developmental actors pave the way for socio-economic progress from the ground up.
3. Facilitating Market Access for Small-Scale Farmers and Indigenous People
Empowerment radiates through successful market access. Developmental actors can significantly impact the lives of small-scale farmers and Indigenous communities by enabling them to navigate markets effectively. With a focus on gender equality, youth engagement, and inclusivity, these actors can unlock opportunities for women, youth, and other market participants. By establishing robust connections between producers and buyers, developmental actors facilitate mutually beneficial relationships that drive economic growth and community resilience.
4. Utilizing Evidence for System Strengthening
The foundation of impactful change lies in robust evidence. Developmental actors can leverage the data and insights generated through their initiatives to bolster the overall system. By collaborating with government bodies and private sector entities, these actors can drive influential shifts in programs, policies, and practices. This evidence-based approach empowers developmental actors to be catalysts for sustainable development, fostering a synergy between diverse stakeholders committed to the greater good.
In conclusion, developmental actors wield the power to shape a brighter, more sustainable future. By embracing participatory approaches, supporting local farmer groups, facilitating market access, and using evidence as a driving force, these actors can truly make a difference. Their actions ripple through communities, fostering empowerment, equality, and environmental stewardship. Through unwavering dedication and strategic collaboration, developmental actors pave the way for transformative change on both local and global scales.
Empowering Marginalized Communities and Sustainable Livelihoods
In the realm of sustainable agriculture, a critical need exists to focus on the transformative potential of regenerative practices. These practices carry an immense scope for collaboration with marginalized communities, particularly indigenous groups, and small-scale farmers. This article delves into the multifaceted dimensions of regenerative agriculture, emphasizing its significance for both environmental health and the well-being of vulnerable populations.
Promoting Sustainable Livelihoods through Regenerative Agriculture
The imperative to address poverty, hunger, and ecological degradation propels the efforts of developmental actors towards regenerative agriculture. This work serves as a catalyst for the achievement of several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 1 (No Poverty), SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), and SDG 15 (Life on Land). These goals align with the global commitment to uplift marginalized communities and nurture ecosystems for a sustainable future.
Strategic Areas of Engagement
To effectively bolster regenerative agriculture and ensure its transformative impact, several critical areas warrant exploration:
1. Synergizing Forestry and Agriculture
The nexus between forestry and agriculture presents a fertile ground for collaborative initiatives. The continuum between these sectors holds potential for bolstering both agricultural productivity and environmental conservation. This symbiotic relationship can contribute significantly to the well-being of marginalized communities and the health of natural resources.
2. Community Resilience and Capacity Building
Empowering communities with the capacity to withstand challenges is a cornerstone of regenerative agriculture. Enhancing community resilience ensures the ability to combat chronic hunger, malnourishment, and the adverse impacts of natural disasters. Equipping these communities with the tools to weather challenges is essential for fostering sustainable livelihoods.
3. Bridging Production and Demand
A pivotal component of regenerative agriculture lies in connecting primary producers and forest dwellers with markets and consumers. This dual approach, focusing on both production and conservation of biodiversity, facilitates economic growth while safeguarding ecosystems. Moreover, this linkage is instrumental in preventing distress migration and creating green employment opportunities.
Empowering Through Rights-Based Programming
A rights-based approach serves as a potent framework for advancing regenerative agriculture. By enabling marginalized communities to access government schemes, entitlements, and basic services, this approach ensures the longevity of program interventions. This empowerment serves as a powerful tool in combating the challenges posed by the agrarian crisis and distress migration, exacerbated by the post-Covid scenario.
Geographical Focus: Addressing the Poorest Areas
For meaningful impact, developmental actors must direct their efforts towards the most vulnerable areas. In Odisha, districts like Koraput, Malkangiri, and Rayagada represent focal points for intervention. These areas demand a concerted focus, particularly due to their susceptibility to multiple disasters such as cyclones and floods.
Unlocking Value Chains for Sustainable Growth
The involvement of private companies and entrepreneurs in agricultural value chains and Non-Timber Forest Product (NTFP) value chains offers promising avenues. These partnerships can drive economic growth, elevate livelihoods, and establish resilient systems. Engaging youth in farming, value addition, and entrepreneurship not only counters distress migration but also cultivates a sustainable agricultural landscape.
Private Sector Synergy
The private sector emerges as a vital ally in advancing regenerative agriculture. Collaboration with private companies can yield mutual benefits, promoting sustainable practices while enhancing the prosperity of farming communities. Technical support, particularly from a climate resilience standpoint, bridges the demand-supply gap and addresses distress migration issues.
Cultivating Knowledge for Change
The establishment of a dedicated “Knowledge Hub” for regenerative agriculture serves as a beacon of progress. This hub, facilitated by experts and in collaboration with academic institutions and civil society organizations, becomes a wellspring of innovation and learning. Its presence ensures the dissemination of best practices and the cultivation of expertise.
A Holistic Approach to Funding
Fundraising stands as a linchpin in the realization of regenerative agriculture’s potential. Drawing support from diverse sources, including NGOs, INGOs, CSR Foundations, and governmental bodies, is paramount. Leveraging opportunities like Request for Proposals and international calls ensures sustained financial backing for impactful initiatives.
Forging Collaborative Partnerships
Strategic partnerships amplify the reach and impact of regenerative agriculture initiatives. Collaborating with governments, Farmers Organizations, private companies, and NGOs fosters a synergistic approach. These alliances facilitate the convergence of efforts and resources, culminating in a holistic developmental endeavor.
Advocating for Policy Reform
The advocacy of policy change plays a pivotal role in reshaping the agricultural landscape. Influencing government policies and engaging in discourse with stakeholders ensures that the interests of marginalized communities remain at the forefront. By partnering with a diverse array of entities, from local NGOs to international organizations, the advancement of regenerative agriculture becomes a collective endeavor.
In summation, the journey towards regenerative agriculture is one that encompasses multiple dimensions and stakeholders. Through strategic partnerships, policy advocacy, and empowering marginalized communities, developmental actors can pave the way for a sustainable and prosperous future. The transformational power of regenerative agriculture holds the potential to uplift both people and the planet, securing a harmonious coexistence for generations to come.
A Sustainable Solution for Marginalized Farming Communities
Extreme Weather Variabilities and Climate Change: Transforming Farming Practices
In recent years, the impact of extreme weather variabilities and climate change has ushered in significant transformations in the landscape of agriculture. The way farming is practiced and perceived has evolved due to these challenges. With unanticipated shifts in weather patterns, farming has become a riskier endeavor, leaving farmers uncertain about recuperating their fundamental cultivation costs. These costs encompass agri-inputs like seeds and manure, labor (including family labor), land, and water expenses. The emergence of untimely rains, high-intensity short-duration rainfall, prolonged dry spells, uneven rainfall distribution across seasons, and susceptibility to natural and human-made disasters such as droughts, heat waves, floods, landslides, cyclones, and heavy pest infestations has become a stark reality. These factors have particularly affected smallholder farming communities worldwide, pushing them to view farming as an unrewarding profession and prompting migration in search of alternative livelihoods.
The Call for Sustainable and Profitable Livelihoods in Agriculture
In response to this challenge, a collaborative effort involving scientists, bureaucrats, politicians, and development stakeholders has been initiated to enhance the sustainability and profitability of farming as a livelihood option. One promising approach gaining traction is regenerative agriculture, also known as natural farming. Governments, private sector entities, and voluntary organizations are joining hands to promote and advocate for this transformative agricultural methodology.
Challenges Hindering Regenerative Agriculture
India’s Struggle for Food Security and Livelihoods
India faces a multitude of challenges concerning household-level food security, chronic hunger, malnutrition, and distress migration. Particularly post the Covid-19 pandemic, the country’s predicament has become more pronounced. India ranks third among South Asian nations on the Global Hunger Index, underscoring the severity of the crisis. Odisha, one of the nation’s poorest states, heavily relies on agriculture and related sectors for livelihoods. With nearly 70% of the population depending on this sector, the state’s vulnerability is clear. A staggering 30% of the population grapples with multidimensional poverty, and the insecurity of food availability for around 4-5 months per year plagues the region. Shockingly, 57% of indigenous children under the age of 5 are undernourished.
The Plight of Odisha’s Farmers
Within Odisha, a significant portion of farmers operates on a small scale, with 80% managing less than 5 acres of land. Many struggle to sustain themselves using traditional farming methods that support only one crop per year. Consequently, farming no longer presents itself as a profitable endeavor. Women farmers face additional barriers, including restricted access to land rights. This predicament has driven many young individuals and families to seek work in urban areas, further aggravating the issue. The majority of these migrants find themselves undocumented and in precarious situations.
Exacerbating Factors Amplifying the Crisis
- Climate Change and Crop Diversity: The past two decades have witnessed an increase in extreme weather events due to climate change, including droughts, flash floods, heat waves, and cyclones. This has led to reduced crop diversity and lowered productivity for both food and horticultural crops.
- Weakening Community Systems: The deepening poverty has resulted in weakened local community systems. Communal grazing and water associations are struggling, which adversely impacts farmers’ ability to adapt and prosper.
- Challenges in Accessing Government Support: Small and marginalized farmers face difficulties accessing governmental support for agriculture. This includes critical information on markets, weather forecasts, cropping advice, post-harvest technologies, institutional credit, loans, and crop insurance schemes.
- Impact of Deforestation: The poorest families rely on both forestry and agriculture for sustenance. Rapid deforestation has triggered accelerated soil erosion and a reduction in Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFPs). Despite the Forest Rights Act (FRA) acknowledging forest-dwelling communities’ rights, claiming these rights remains challenging, fueling ongoing deforestation.
- Gender Disparities: Women farmers face added barriers in asserting their land rights and gaining the confidence and autonomy to make decisions regarding their agricultural enterprises.
Empowering Change Through Regenerative Agriculture
Transforming Agricultural Systems with Regenerative Agriculture
Regenerative agriculture stands as a sustainable alternative to conventional agricultural systems that often bypass smallholder farmers and harm ecosystems. By creating farming systems that harmonize nature with people, this approach empowers smallholder farmers to achieve decent livelihoods while safeguarding the environment and nurturing existing natural resources.
A Comprehensive Approach to Promoting Regenerative Agriculture
For marginalized farming communities and Adivasi people, a comprehensive systems approach is essential to promote regenerative agriculture as a sustainable livelihood solution.
Key Activities to Drive Regenerative Agriculture
- Establishing Eco-Village Pilots: To tackle challenges related to regenerative agricultural practices and deforestation, the establishment of small “eco-village” pilots using Sloping Agriculture Land Technology (SALT) models is vital. These pilots will contribute to conserving local landraces and agro-biodiversity by cultivating native varieties of cereals, minor millets, pulses, oilseeds, and vegetables. Collaboration with private sector entities is critical, particularly in the domains of solar energy utilization, drip irrigation systems, food processing, post-harvest technologies, and marketing.
- Promoting Community Forest Protection: Empowering marginalized communities to assert their forest land rights, services, and benefits in line with the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006 is both a challenge and an opportunity. Indigenous communities in Odisha can reclaim their forest patta land from the government.
- Strengthening Local Farmers Groups: The collective organization of farmers into Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) and Farmer Producer Companies (FPCs), including women farmers groups, is essential. This process of community mobilization and empowerment will enhance their understanding of current legislation, thereby improving access to government programs and rights.
- Enabling Market Access for Small-Scale Farmers: Facilitating market linkages is a pressing need, particularly for smallholder farming communities. Empowering women, youth, and market actors within key value chains through Participatory Market Systems Development tools will help build strong relationships with buyers and other stakeholders, optimizing outcomes for all parties.
- Generating Evidence and Advocacy: Recognizing indigenous knowledge systems, practices, models, and best practices is crucial. Supporting and promoting community-led initiatives will bolster the entire system. Collaboration with government departments, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), campaign groups, and the private sector can drive changes in finance, policy, and legislation.
Driving Transformation: The Theory of Change
As we navigate the complexities of regenerative agriculture and its potential to revolutionize farming, it’s imperative to adopt a Theory of Change. This conceptual framework guides our actions, emphasizing collaborative efforts with local communities, community groups, the private sector, government bodies, local NGOs, and national/state-level networks to create a sustainable and prosperous future for marginalized farming communities.