Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Indian Agriculture : Sustainability and Design Intervention

Indian Agriculture : Sustainability and Design Intervention

Parveen Kaswan ( Author is an Engineer and holds a Masters Degree in Engineering Designs from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore )
This blog-series under the title of ‘Indian Agriculture’ is about highlighting the various problems faced by agriculture sector in India and with the possible solutions based on my little knowledge. 
This particular post is defining the ‘sustainable agriculture’ and also talking about the role of indigenous design intervention as one of the mean to achieve that, though in a limited way. As we know mechanisation is now an old phenomenon in agriculture sector and even after so many years we are still going for blind mechanisation. 
The world has widely realised the need of a sustainable development, yet till now there is not a single agreed definition of ‘Sustainability’ (Gale and Cordray, 1994).
The term sustainability has got different meanings for different people. Brundtland Report for the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1992 defined sustainability as “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” On the other hand The World Commission on Environment and Development has defined the term Sustainability as “A process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations.” The world summit on Social Development which took place in 2005 identified the relevant goals for sustainability in terms of Economic, Social and Environment goals.
IUCN, UNEP , WWF (1991): Sustainable development, sustainable growth, and sustainable use have been used interchangeably, as if their meanings were the same. They are not. Sustainable growth is a contradiction in terms: nothing physical can grow indefinitely. Sustainable use, is only applicable to renewable resources. Sustainable development is used in this strategy to mean: improving the quality of human life whilst living within the carrying capacity of the ecosystems.
                                                 (Pic courtesy: Poshith Udayashankar)
Agriculture Sustainability
Same, measuring agriculture sustainability is also a complex phenomenon. It is dynamic concept which is a function of both temporal and spatial conditions (Ikerd, 1993). This approach argues that agriculture sustainability depends on the context of the technologies and methodologies are used (J.W. Hansen).
A sustainable agriculture is one that, over the long term, enhances environmental quality and the resource base on which agriculture depends, provides for basic human food and fiber needs, is economically viable, and enhances the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.’ (American Society of Agronomy, 1989). So agriculture can be termed as sustainable if we can get output as required for the consumption of increasing world population while also taking care of the resource base and ecology. Food security and nutrition security is also an important criteria for agriculture sustainability. In short, meeting the current and future demand without stressing the resources beyond the boundaries. Intergenerational and intra- generational equity is also an important factor to be considered.
In recent times it is recognised that if a technology enhances the productivity, reduces the energy consumption and which can be used in intensive form can be used on sustainability grounds. In this way agriculture can be used as engine for pro poor growth, as recently people have started defining poverty in terms of accessibility to the technology.
A system is sustainable over a defined period if outputs do not decrease when inputs are not increased’ (Monteith, 1990). This simply concludes the output which is a function of input at a specific time should not reduce over a period of time if the input is constant.
Measuring Agricultural Sustainability is a very complex phenomenon and the people have come up with various kind of indicators. (Dariush Hayati, Zahra Ranjbar, and Ezatollah Karami). Indicators which defines an agriculture practice sustainable or not should be location specific, they cannot be universal in nature (Ikerd, 1993). They should be used within the fixed context of social, economic and ecological situations. Various people have come up with set of different indicators to measure agriculture sustainability. Basically these indicators are divided in Social, Economic and Ecological heads. So some of these indicators can be used are: 
Social indicators: 
Improved the quality of rural life [Karami (1995); Ingels et al. (1997)]
This indicator is about improving the life standard of people who are associated with agriculture field. It is also a function of income generation in rural areas. People should be allowed to increase their potential and capabilities.
• Working and living conditions [Ingels et al. (1997)]
Reducing the drudgery, accidents while operations and unhygienic working style on field.
Economic indicators:
• Average of crop Production [Hayati (1995); Nambiar et al. (2001)] Increase in crop production per unit land. Reducing wastage while various operations.
• Economic efficiency [Becker (1997)]
Cost effectiveness in inputs optimized according to the needs.
• Profitability [Karami (1995)]
Overall profits to farmers and labour engaged in operation.
Ecological indicators:
• Energy [Senanayake (1991); Ingels et al. (1997)]
Reduction in energy consumption for per unit land or per unit production cycle.
• Soil Quality [Dariush Hayati, Zahra Ranjbar, and Ezatollah Karami] Keeping the soil quality as per the requirement. 
First of all we need to have a look at different scenarios in agriculture field in India.
Need to increase production:
According to various studies and projections by The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the demand for agriculture products in developing countries is going to increase faster than their production. The economic (as rise of middle class in developing countries) and population growth are the prime factors behind this demand. The global food demand projections need the doubling of production in next 50 years (Tilman et al., 2002), whereas in current time near about 800 million are already suffering from hunger which pose a critical challenge in agriculture production sustainability.
In recent time there is a structural shift in dietary patterns is also seen in Indian scenario1.
The significant demand increment has shown by study conducted by Indian Agriculture Statistical Institute (D.R. Singh ) under both growth scenarios, moderate and high growth rates. The food grain supply is expected to increase about 245, 291 and 342 million tonnes by 2010, 2020 and 2030 AD, respectively in light of the food and nutritional security2.
The increasing demand can be tackled by increasing the land under agriculture, water efficiency, better mechanical equipment’s, genetic crops etc. But many of these solutions like increasing land under agriculture (majority of suitable land is already under agriculture and further use will consume forest and fragile lands also) and using GM crops are proved fatal for environment. The best way to increase this production without stressing the resource base is decreasing the wastage at different points of farm operations, utilizing the resources optimally and increasing the output per unit land.
Shortage of labour
Agriculture sector in India contributes 14% of India’s GDP, but the contribution of this sector in social and economic fabric goes beyond the numbers. The rural India is home to 72 percent of total population and majority of them are engaged in agriculture field. But trends are changing now, recently Indian agriculture sector is facing a labour shortage problem due to various reasons. Important reasons are:
  • Policy effects like implementation of schemes like Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act (MGNREGS) and expansion of public works in recent years. A recent observation by Parliamentary Standing Committee on Rural Development indicates “… Lack of proper planning of works under MNREGA without keeping labour availability in agriculture sector,”.
  • Generation of casual employment in the tertiary sector in towns and cities.
  • Availability of Non-Farm employment opportunities.
Due to these factors rural wages are also increased significantly. The Rural Non- Farm sector in India is providing employment to nearly 38 % of male and 21% of female. The labour wages for farm sector is lower than Non- farm labour but now the growth rate of farm wages are higher than non-farm labours3( P . Venkatesh) This trend is going to make agriculture a costly (comparative) affair in future.
Land conditions in India
India being a big country has wide range of soil, land and climatic conditions. The average size of landholding in India is less than 2 hectares (according to 2001 census) which is reducing day by day as population is increasing. Conventional wisdom has shown that small farms are more efficient than large farms as they utilize majority of domestic labour and also operations are done on single unit basis. But this situation is true when we assume that there are very less non-farm employment opportunities, which is changing these days and agriculture wages are increasing. The profits per acre in large farms are more because of mechanization whereas small farms are usually not suitable for mechanization because of resource crunch (capital requirement and also adaptability issues). This scenario can be changed if small farms can be mechanized in best way and also which can act as an extension to the4 existing equipment available in rural India .
Mechanization and Design Intervention:
Agriculture mechanization in simple term means utilization of various power sources which are external energy driven (not muscle power) and improved tools and equipment. The main purpose of agriculture mechanization is multidimensional like increase in labour productivity, reducing human drudgery, reduce the losses which results in increasing land productivity and decrease in cost of production6 (S.R. Verma).
Mechanization is an umbrella term, which includes finding a perfect technology, modifying it to come up with a product and using it in farm to enhance productivity. As we have seen the farm practices, crop patterns and agriculture methods differ from country to country because of various issues like: Availability of resources, traditional knowledge, proliferation of technology, land & climatic conditions, adaptability and support infrastructure. The major mechanization is first introduced in developed countries and then it is passed on to developing countries. Though these implements have played a major role in increasing the overall production but they are not useful in utilizing full potential.
These various types of implements and machines are not designed for all types of land and climatic conditions and also on the name of modification big companies have introduced their scaled version in developing countries like India. That is where Design comes into picture – designing a product for specific conditions which can utilize optimum human power, energy and give maximum output. These types of equipment design also cater the problem of adaptability and availability of resources, as they are designed keeping in mind the user scenario. The factors which are widely considered while desgining equipments are: purchasing power, size of machine(for easy movement in field and in transportation) social setup(used by individuals or used on rent basis), land holdings, specific process where intervention is required etc. Reducing the energy requirement as every design is optimized according to the associated need.
A study by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has shown how most farmers in developing countries are experiencing a greater annual expenditure on farm power inputs than on fertilizer, seeds or agrochemicals. So reduction in farm power is also a good way to go for overall sustainability of sector7.
So as we can see there is a clear need of increasing both production and productivity, also for national food security needs and making farming a profitable proposition. For doing this we have very limited ways to go about as the land constraints are very evident. One of the solution lies in utilising  better equipments, which can increase the efficiency. Here we need to design these equipments on local need basis, which can make agriculture sector more sustainable. Which will not only help in ‘Make in India’ but also paves way for ‘Design in India’. Otherwise big companies are just copying the equipments from other countries which have totally different conditions, like land holdings, social structure, adaptability, purchasing power etc. Just imagine how can a small or medium farmer can utilize a 14 tonne combine harvester whereas he can go easily for a tractor implement which is designed  according to his need and utilize optimum power !!

For further reading: 
1Praduman Kumar*, Anjani Kumar, Shinoj Parappurathu and S.S. Raju: Estimation of Demand Elasticity for Food Commodities in India
2. S. K. Goyal and J.P. Singh: Demand versus supply of foodgrains in India: Implications to food security.
3. P. Venkatesh, 2013: Recent Trends in Rural Employment and Wages in India: Has the Growth Benefitted the Agricultural Labours?
4. Center Discussion Paper No. 991, Economic Growth Center, Yale University, New Haven, CT, Foster, Andrew D., and Mark R. Rosenzweig, 2010
5. S.R. Verma : Impact of Agricultural Mechanization on Production, Productivity, Cropping Intensity Income Generation and Employment of Labour
6. Dr. Singh: Demand Projections for food commodities.
7. Agricultural mechanization; FAO
8.Vision 2030 Report by – Indian Institute of Sugarcane Research .
9.Dariush Hayati, Zahra Ranjbar, and Ezatollah Karami: Measuring Agricultural Sustainability.
10.Kathryn Scott!,*, Julie Park!, Chris Cocklin : From &sustainable rural communities’ to &social sustainability’: giving voice to diversity in Mangakahia Valley, New Zealand
11. Brundtland Report for the World Commission on Environment and Development. 12. The World Commission on Environment and Development
13. Agricultural Sustainability: UK Department for International Development (DFID) 

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