Let’s not beat around the bush: the Green Revolution saved India. We needed more food than we had, and we had to grow it ourselves. Without MS Swaminathan’s genius, we would’ve been… well, toast, assuming wheat was available.
In the 1960s, we had to focus on productivity to feed an ever-growing population that was on the brink of famine not twenty years after Independence. In 2018, though, we need to focus on something else. Population has grown, certainly; we have even more mouths to feed (a huge part of the problem), but everything else has fallen.
Most of all, environmental quality.
Groundwater levels have fallen; rainfall is scarce and/or unseasonal and/or devastating. Sometimes all three in a single year. Bye-bye, crops. Soil quality has deteriorated- chemicals, not enough natural manure, not enough time to re-nutrify itself. Earthworms may be super gross in your house and bathroom, but they belong in the fields from which they’re slowly disappearing.
The practices of the Green Revolution are profoundly unsustainable in today’s context. High-Yielding Variety (HYV) seeds may do as advertised, but they need more water than we have, more chemical fertilisers and pesticides to make sure they reach harvest season both healthy and untouched, and they disrupt traditional cropping patterns and fodder sources, throwing entrenched rural economic systems out of whack.
Also, chemicals in our bodies? Come on.
Thankfully, there is an answer. In three words: Sustainable Farming Practices.
Sustainable agriculture encompasses a wide range of techniques, including organic, low-input, free-range, biodynamic and holistic. Simply put, farmers implement agricultural practices that mimic or parallel natural processes. We take from the earth and then we give back.
It could be as simple as crop rotation: nitrogen-depleting crops one season, followed by nitrogen-fixing crops the next. Nitrogen is an essential element in healthy, fertile soil; by this system, we replenish the nitrogen content in the soil that was depleted by the previous crop.
Critics of sustainable farming claim that these practices result in lower yields and higher land use. They add that a wholesale shift to sustainable methods will lead to inevitable food scarcity for a world population that is expected to exceed 8 billion by the year 2030.
Let’s just all not have kids. Adoptions, people. They’re a good thing.
But seriously, this comes back to sustainability being a whole lifestyle rather than just a shift in practices limited to one economic sector or group or community or any other vertical. It really isn’t enough for one person to try and grow veggies in their window-box (though that’s a great idea, sweet peas taste amazing and the flowers are gorgeous too). Sustainable farming in particular is a community-centric system- whole geographical areas (of a significant size) need to get in on this.
I mean, South Indians eat a ton of rice. It’s not realistically possible to grow the rice your family needs in your backyard. But if, say, fifty families pool their resources together and invest in a plot of land, share the cost of irrigation and labour (please pay your labourers well if you’re not doing it yourself)… it may not be such a pipe dream.
Heavily simplified- after all, I work in an office, not the fields- but I do think the concept has some merit. Because honestly, any system would be better than what we’ve got going now.
Further reading: check this out.