Agri-Food Systems

Why in news:

Recently the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), published a report highlighting the staggering hidden costs of our global agri-food systems.


  • As per UNFAO, the State of Food and Agriculture 2023 report the staggering hidden costs of our global agrifood systems, surpassing an astonishing $10 trillion.
  • In middle-income countries like India, these costs constitute nearly 11% of the GDP.
  • This finally manifests as higher poverty, environmental harm, and health-related impact (including undernourishment and unhealthy dietary patterns).
  • The report blames “unsustainable business-as-usual activities and practices” for these escalating costs, pointing to a need to transform agrifood systems.
  • The report suggest a shift to multi-cropping systems that have the potential to protect farmers’ well-being, improve nutritional outcomes for our communities, and positively affect ecological health.

Intensive agriculture (Mono-cropping)

      A) Reason for growth

  • The Green Revolution focused credit on inputs and marketing of high-yielding varieties of paddy and wheat on agricultural lands, which now constitute more than 70% of India’s agricultural production.
  • The infusion of seeds purchased from multinational corporations and fertilizers and fueled a shift to monoculture plantations.
  • The purchase policy through Minimum Support Price is cereal centric.
  • In 2019-2020, the FCI procured 341.32 lakh million tons (MT) of wheat and 27 lakh MT of rice.
  • However, the Indian government approved the procurement of a total of 3.49.lakh  MT of coarse grains such as jowar, bajra, ragi, maize
  • The area under cultivation of coarse grains dropped by 20% between 1966-1967 and 2017-2018, whereas the area under rice and wheat increased by nearly 20% and 56%, respectively. 

      B) Adverse impact of Mono-cropping:

  • The mono-cropping undermined seed sovereignty dismantled Indigenous knowledge systems.
  • Mono cropping increase the dependency on private companies. This privatization and deregulation of agricultural inputs also increased indebtedness among agrarian households.

Data on increasing indebtedness in Indian Agriculture

In 2013, the debt to asset ratio of a farmer household in India was 630% higher than in 1992. Agriculture in India has been becoming increasingly unviable: the average monthly household income of a farming household sits at Rs 10,816.

  • Mono cropping also compromised the nutritional needs of households.
  • Moreover, it also results in adverse ecological consequences including soil fertility and excessive extraction of groundwater.

Benefit of crop diversification:

  • Diversified multi-cropping systems, rooted in agro-ecology principles, could be a viable solution to revitalize degraded land and soil.

Case study(Akkadi saalu’ in Karnataka)

  • It involve intercropping with a combination of legumes, pulses, oilseeds, trees, shrubs, and livestock.
  • This approach enables cash provision from commercial crops, food and fodder production, and offers ecosystem services such as nitrogen fixation and pest traps, and supports the local biodiversity.
  • These practices also collectively contribute to improving soil health.
  • Moreover, coarse cereals such as millets, whose yield per hectare is comparable to those of rice and wheat.
  • They are also more nutritious, grow in semi-arid conditions without burdening groundwater tables, require minimal input, and provide a diversified food basket.
  • While crop diversification will involve some loss of productivity using a narrow metric of kg/Ha, it would preserve natural capital and allow farmers to become nutritionally secure.

The way to secure crop diversification:

  • There is a need for a systematic and gradual transition that allows farmers to adjust over time.
  • A phased transition, starting with moving away from chemical-intensive practices to non-pesticide management, and then adopting natural farming practices.
  • Proposes income diversification for farmers through value addition, incorporating livestock and poultry.
  • This diversification can be experimented with on specific portions of their lands to manage risk during the transition.

Subject: Economy

Topic: Agriculture and allied sector .

Issues: Crop diversification , Mono-cropping and Intensive Cropping.

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