Sustainable agriculture and development

This course aims to situate agricultural growth in the country within the development and sustainability debate.

In India, 69% of the population lives in rural areas and 55% of the total workforce is engaged in agriculture with women accounting for 37% of the workforce. The state of decelerating productivity puts agriculture-driven growth, food security and poverty reduction increasingly at risk. Factors like natural resource degradation, climate change, regional disparities and social inequity have contributed to this. Agriculture is potentially the most prominent sector where the tension between development and environment is more apparent since agriculture is a business with nature. Agriculture in India uses about 80% of fresh water, 60% of land and accounts for 18% of GHG emissions. Environmental cost imposed by agriculture is felt disproportionately across geographies and communities. Globalisation and trade liberalization have opened new opportunities in agriculture. But, this has also exacerbated the vulnerabilities of the resource poor who are denied equal participation due to persistent social, cultural and political biases. Gender disparities in resource ownership, property rights and access to technologies, information and services are particularly regressive in the context of increasing feminization of agriculture.

Decreasing productivity, depleting resource base and inequitable growth poses challenge to sustainability of agricultural systems. In general, agricultural sustainability conceptually is viewed from the three perspectives of food self-sufficiency, stewardship and community (Douglas, 1984- Agricultural Sustainability in a Changing World Order). Broadly defined, it refers to a production system which is environmentally sound, economically viable and socially desirable. In addition, when notions of justice and equity are incorporated in the definition, the agriculture systems are deemed sustainable only if they improve distribution of income and opportunities of people dependent on it. It also addresses larger institutional issues governing agriculture.

There is a marked difference in the use of the concept of sustainable agriculture in political
and scientific discourses (Janker and Mann (2018)- What is Sustainable Agriculture? Critical Analysis of the International Political Discourse in Sustainability). The political discourses around, sustainable agriculture emphasises the economic and social dimension with less emphasis on the ecological/​environmental protection dimension. The scientific discourse on sustainable agriculture has seen a paradigm shift in focus from solely improving productivity and profitability’ to incorporating environmental concerns within the concept. As a result, several farming practices/​approaches like conservation agriculture, organic farming, agroecology, climate smart farming has gained significance in the past few decades. These practices/​approaches have their advantages and inherent trade-offs which are not clearly understood. This is bound to have implication for the systematic operationalisation of the concept of sustainable agriculture’ in practice, which has livelihood implications for the farmers. Various government policies, programs and social sector interventions advocate different practices presuming different objectives which are often implicit. The course aims to help students examine these competing approaches and examine them through sustainability frameworks.

The course builds on some of the foundational ideas discussed in the core course Ecology
and Development and complements the other electives on agriculture. The course is different from the other two electives Agrarian Concerns, Food Security and Sustainability in modern India’ and’ Agricultural Livelihoods in Contemporary India’. The former focusses on agrarian systems with an emphasis on small farms and the policies and culture while the latter’s focus is on the experiences, choices and constraints of families and individuals engaging in agriculture from a livelihood perspective. This course aims to expose the students to the diverse agricultural production systems/​practices and critically analyse these systems from a sustainability framework. It also deals with the social, economic, and institutional factors influencing adoption of sustainable agricultural production systems. The course will contribute to extending the domain knowledge of students interested in working in the space of sustainable agriculture and livelihoods.