Conserving Natural Resources

Unplanned exploitation of natural resources has degraded land and reduced availability of water, posing a challenge in front of food production. Thus, natural resource management has become vital to feed the growing population. Mohd Mustaquim reports

Conserving Natural Resources

Unplanned exploitation of natural resources has degraded land and reduced availability of water, posing a challenge in front of food production. Thus, natural resource management has become vital to feed the growing population. Mohd Mustaquim reports

The 60 percent of net sown area in India is still rainfed, having negligible irrigation facilities. Indian agriculture is likely to see the adverse impact of extreme weather conditions, especially frequent droughts, floods and cold waves caused by climate change.

The impacts of climate change are no longer an anticipated threat. They are now a crystal-clear reality right before our eyes. “Climate change will not only affect the food production but also the availability of food and the stability of supplies. And in a global, interdependent economy, climate change makes the global market for agricultural products less predictable and more volatile,” warns José Graziano da Silva, Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Indian agriculture has to feed 17.5 percent of the global population with only 2.4 percent of land and 4 percent of water resources. With limited resources, feeding the rising population will mount pressure on the agriculture sector.

And therefore, there is a need of a master plan to overcome the impact of climate change on food production. It makes the issue of natural resources management vital to feed the billions of people across the globe.

“Indian agriculture is likely to suffer losses due to climatic variability and change. This will be one of the major factors affecting future food security. Adaptation strategies including technological interventions, management practices, and institutional and policy interventions can help minimise these negative impacts, opines Dr. Alok K Sikka, Deputy Director General, Natural Resource Management, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

Soil erosion has degraded 120.72 million hectares of land in India, and 8.4 million hectares land has soil salinity and water logging problems. Commenting on the scenario, Suraj Bhan, President, Soil Conservation Society of India (SCSI), says, “Soil, water and forests are the vital natural resources for the survival of mankind. Unplanned exploitation of natural resources has degraded land, reduced availability of water and dwindled vegetation. This gloomy status of the natural resources coupled with periodic droughts has its interactive influence on environment.”

Reducing climate change impact

To reduce the impact of climate change on agriculture, the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India has launched National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA) in 2013. The objective of this mission is to enhance agricultural productivity and sustainability through adaptation measures and judicious utilisation of resources of commons via community based approach.

Furthermore, ICAR has been working on Network Project on Climate Change since 2004 to provide policy support for international negotiations on global climate change. It further focuses on adaptation and mitigation strategies in agro-ecosystems and to quantify sensitivities of food production systems to climate change scenarios.

To mitigate the food security of the increasing population, conserving natural resources, mainly soil and water, has become a core concern of the policy makers as well as implementation agencies.

Water is the major component which not only irrigates land but also helps curb soil erosion made by wind and tillage. Thus, the conservation of water or watershed development has to be major focus in the rainfed areas. Travel through the northern India during the long spell of summers, there is hardly any sign of greenery in the fields. This gloomy situation can be improved by the the conservation of water in the Monsoon season.

Watershed development

According to Dr. JS Samra, Chief Executive Officer, National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA), about 84-87 percent of pulses and minor millets, 80 percent of horticulture, 77 percent of oilseeds, 66 percent of cotton and 50 percent of cereals are cultivated under non-irrigated conditions.

Samra further says, “Climate change is more difficult to handle in the rainfed areas. Thus, climate change programmes should also be converged with the watershed development programmes. Through MGNREGA some durable assets like watersheds can be developed. So, there should be convergence of watershed management programme with MGNREGA. It would be the way to utilise the labour cost from this job guarantee scheme.”

NRAA tried to work through this module in one of the driest regions of the country, Bundelkhand. While Madhya Pradesh did this well in its 6 districts falling in the region, Uttar Pradesh could not do in its 7 districts. Thus, there is a need to innovate the ways of convergence.

Sharing the Government’s initiatives, CM Pandey, Additional Commissioner, Department of Agriculture and Cooperation (DAC), Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, says, “On-farm water management is a mega programme under DAC. The major focus of watershed development programme is to harvest and conserve rainwater for dry days, to put a check on the soil erosion and maintain soil health.”

Earlier, the river valley project was the only watershed development programme. The theme of this programme was to conserve soil erosion, moisture conservation and enhance productivity. These three measures have been included into the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture, informs Pandey.

It is well recognised that watershed management has an important role to play in the process of sustainable development. Watershed approach has proved its efficacy and it has been considered as an ideal, logical and scientific unit for effective and efficient management of soil and water resources.

Securing food

Globally, the challenge to meet food demand for increasing world population is being faced. Thus, farming community has to work hard to fulfill this growing food demand. But, there is a need to ensure that ecological balance is not disturbed and our natural resources are not harmed in this process. “Coping with climate change is another aspect of our work. We are already feeling the brunt of climate change and extreme weather conditions, and these will only be exacerbated in the years to come, says the president of SCSI.

Dr. Suresh C Modgal, former Vice Chancellor, GB Pant University of Agriculture & Technology, Pantnagar, and former Chairman, Uttar Pradesh Council of Agricultural Research emphasises on the natural resources management and terms it ‘vital’ for the food security, especially for the poor strata of people.

Modgal states,“As far as food security is concerned, the population living below poverty line are the most vulnerable people. Their food security depends on the management of natural resources. Thus, we need to rethink on the management of soil and water resources.” Degraded soil and rainfed areas are the major cause of concern in the watershed development programmes in India, he further says.

National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA), a network project of ICAR, launched in February 2011, is working to enhance resilience of agriculture to climatic variability and change. It has an objective to demonstrate site specific technology packages on farmers’ fields to cope with current climatic variability.

Exporting Water

To produce one kilogram of rice or sugar, a farmer needs 3,000-5,000 litres of water. By exporting large quantities of rice and sugar, we are basically exporting huge amount of water. This is outrageous in a country where water is scarce and state governments fight each other bitterly over sharing river water. Agricultural exports may look good but we need to ask whether our policies have helped to develop cropping patterns and exports in line with India’s natural endowments? The answer is ‘No’, points out Ashok Gulati, former Chairman, Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP). CACP is responsible for analysing agricultural cost and prices’ and revise minimum support prices for crops every year.

A single crop of rice requires 225 centimetres of water; while the annual rainfall in Haryana and Punjab is around 20-40 centimetres; in Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha it is 120-160 centimetres and in Assam, the annual rainfall is around 200-400 centimetres. Moreover, the water table is going down in Punjab by around 33 centimetres every year. In some areas, it has gone down to the alarming level.

Clearly, the country needs to revise its policies, especially for rice and sugar. This is the time, when rice can be shifted from Haryana and Punjab to eastern parts of the country. India needs to take immediate action to face the future challenge of climate change, simultaneously with the pressure of increasing food production to feed the growing population.

The Changing Face of Rural India