An agenda for farm sector

The key to a satisfactory food and farming system is to bring together and promote at the same time the four most important concerns of protecting livelihoods, environment, biodiversity, and food safety.

An agenda for farm sector

Farming (Representative image)

The key to a satisfactory food and farming system is to bring together and promote at the same time the four most important concerns of protecting livelihoods, environment, biodiversity, and food safety. It is certainly possible to evolve such a holistic policy as the concerns are essentially compatible and hence can be integrated with each other. Unfortunately government policies in India have fallen far short of such an ideal integration. The broader understanding on the basis of which such an integration can be achieved has been missing.

Even more unfortunate, the more prominent farmer movements which have been making headlines recently have not been able to reflect such an integration in the articulation of their demands and have often placed predominant emphasis on their economic demands while neglecting environmental aspects, forgetting that in the absence of environment protection the sustainability of their livelihoods (and even more so of the next generation) will be seriously threatened. Some opposition leaders displaying a short-term vision have sought to snatch quick election-time gains by committing to immediate endorsement of farmer demands in their entirety without bothering to understand the implications of such a step.

However the debates triggered by the farmers’ movement would serve a useful purpose if these lead to more comprehensive examination of the needs of an alternative farming and food system that can integrate the key concerns of protecting livelihoods, environment and biodiversity while also providing safe and healthy food. It is not enough to criticise the existing system, we should be clear about what we actually need. If there is no clarity, then in the name of ‘reforms’ we can be pushed from a bad situation to a worse one. The concept of ‘social agro-ecology’ is integral to moving towards an alternative food and farming system that will best meet the needs of our country and people, and can even serve as a model for other countries. Social Agro-Ecology can be defined as the meeting point of equality and environment, justice and safety, of livelihood and health and stands strongly for a farming and food system based on this. India is blessed with a diversity of agro-climatic and agro-geographical situations calling for a highly decentralized approach to farm development. This reality has always been there and over-centralization in farming should never have taken place.


This tendency which increased after the green revolution has been harmful for Indian agriculture and should be given up. A decentralized approach which is able to look at local needs and can fully utilize the traditional wisdom in all respects but particularly in the context of diversity of seeds and water/moisture conservation is needed. Agricultural development in India has been characterized by a highly uneven trajectory. One aspect of this is regional imbalances. Another aspect is imbalance between main cereals on the one hand and millets, legumes, and oilseeds on the other hand. All these imbalances should be corrected. India should strive to obtain selfreliance in all staple foods including oilseeds and edible oils. This selfreliance can be and should be achieved as soon as possible. Imports of food and farm produce which directly harm our farmers should be curbed.

Imports of all hazardous foods including all GM foods should be banned. As GM foods and crops are very harmful in many contexts, all GM food and non-food crops should be avoided. As far as possible the effort should be to try to make all areas largely selfreliant in terms of meeting their staple food needs of cereals, millets, edible oils, legumes, vegetables etc. The concept of food-miles being less (food being consumed nearer to production) should be respected. All regions should try to produce enough of their staple foods plus have some local storage for difficult times.

All areas should strive to produce at least some extra food to be donated to fighting hunger in any part of the country and world, wherever people are hungry and need food due to their crop-failure or other factors. Traditional practices like free langar and community kitchens should be honoured and promoted. Ending hunger and malnutrition should be a top priority of the country and to achieve this primacy should be given to farming and food production. Adequate resources should be allocated to the farm sector and these should directly reach farmers instead of being given to or serving the interests of intermediaries. Crop and food processing should get the maximum encouragement at the rural decentralized level, the entire effort being led by rural women. The big contribution of women to farming and food processing should be recognized and respected. There should be curbs on wasteful and harmful processing which destroy the nutritional value of natural food, or introduce harmful substances in the course of processing.

Ecological farming practices should be promoted at all levels. India should be promoted as a centre of safe, healthy and highly nutritious food produced by ecologically protective methods. Farmers and villages which excel in such farming methods and production of high nutrition and safe foods should get generous rewards from the government and the community, in addition to a fair price. Farmers and villages using methods which are closely involved with protection of soil fertility and soil-organisms, conservation of water, protection of biodiversity with special emphasis on protection of pollinators, production of safe and nutritious staple food and essential raw materials (such as cotton and jute) should be ensured a sustainable and satisfactory livelihood and should be rewarded and honored as well.

Huge monocultures should be avoided and as far as possible mixed farming systems which combine the production of several staple food and other crops with animal husbandry, poultry, fisheries, bee-keeping etc. should be followed. Attempts should be made to protect and revive vast and invaluable traditional diversity of seeds so that farmers can be selfreliant in terms of their most basic need – a diversity of seeds needed for their local conditions. Farm animals should get even more attention due to their higher contribution and need in ecologically protective, organic/natural farming systems. All relations with farm animals, whether cow or earthworm or bee or frog, should be based on respect for their contribution and on compassion. Cattle have a very important role in the context of promoting agro-ecology and their indigenous breeds should be well-protected. Great respect should be given to the contribution of farm workers. Government and community policies should facilitate and encourage landless farm workers/ rural workers to get some land for cultivation, expanded kitchen gardens etc. while ensuring good wages and a fair deal to them.

A fair deal for sharecroppers should be ensured. Farming should be on the basis of small (and medium) farmers. Surplus land over the ceiling limit should be distributed among landless rural households. Learning from Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan movement, constant efforts in favour of equality and justice should be made as a campaign and social movement, thereby creating those social conditions in which the rural landless people can get justice and land. Diversion of food crops for production of liquor, wine, luxury foods and non-essential raw materials should be discouraged. The top priority use of farmland should always be for ending hunger and malnutrition by ensuring adequate production of healthy staple foods.

Reduction of consumption of liquor, tobacco, meat, highly processed and rich luxury foods should be facilitated by official food policy in the interests of protecting health, reducing wastage and ensuring availability of wholesome and nutritious food to all. In villages, government can directly buy a significant part of the crop by paying immediate or even advance fair price to farmers, and then this part of the crop ( cereals, millets, oilseeds, pulses) can be stored within the village for ration shop, anganwadi and midday meal cooking centre. When a midday meal is cooked for schoolchildren, food can also be cooked for providing at least one nutritious meal daily to any destitute or needy persons in the village. Of course, the government should make other purchases also for city ration shops and nutrition centres, and for food security.

Such a food and farming system will contribute greatly to ensuring sustainable, satisfactory and creative livelihoods in farming while also ensuring the availability of adequate, nutritious and safe food for all. It will also promote socio-economic equality, bio-diversity, protection of the environment and welfare of all forms of life.

Efforts should be made for creating as much consensus as possible on a package of policies that can help to integrate concerns of protecting livelihoods, environment and biodiversity with the availability of safe and healthy food for all people. (The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food, Man over Machine and A Day in 2071.)