The Need for a Holistic Approach to Farm Development and Why it Alone Will Solve Many Problems Together

The farming community is central to the life of the country, yet their problems often remain unheard calling for a holistic approach. 

Farmers protest at India Gate, New Delhi | Photo- Twitter/ Birender

In recent times the debate on farming has heated up but most of the time only a few aspects are discussed while several aspects of very enduring importance are neglected. As the debate gets politicized in rather narrow terms, some very important aspects do not get proper attention.

There is no doubt at all that ensuring justice based livelihoods to farmers is an extremely important part of farm policy. It is also increasingly realized that we should speak of livelihoods not just in the immediate or short-term, but in sustainable and longer term context. This necessarily means that we should be careful to adopt eco-friendly practices.

To be more specific, we should have farming practices which protect soil health and protect all the micro-organisms and earthworms which contribute so much to soil health through natural processes. Secondly, it is very important not to over-exploit and over-extract water and to maintain water balance. Thirdly, it is very important to protect all the pollinators particularly indigenous bees. 

Now from all these points of view the situation in many parts of India particularly prominent green revolution regions is a very threatening one but these aspects seldom get discussed in the debate. If such sustainability aspects are ignored then is it really possible to protect the welfare of farmers in the longer-term?

While the price for farm produce is very frequently discussed, the cost of cultivation does not get the same attention. However it is well-known that problems of farmers in recent decades have been most closely linked to very sharp increase in costs relating to external industrial purchased inputs including chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and commercial seeds which are increasingly linked to particular agro-chemicals. So why isn’t cost reduction not getting adequate attention, even though this is entirely in line with the declared policy of atma-nirbharta which in rural context means to a large extent increasing  the self-reliance of farming and related systems?

Another very important consideration which does not get adequate attention is to ensure that the food produced by the farming system is safe and healthy, although this is quite obviously a very important concern. It is also increasingly clear that the safety and health aspects of our farming systems have been badly affected in recent decades by the large-scale use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides etc. and the partial introduction of GM crops in the form of Bt. cotton, the use of this cottonseed oil as edible oil for human consumption and use of this cottonseed oilcake for feeding dairy animals.

Other problems include the loss of bio-diversity due to neglect of very diverse traditional seeds and some of the lesser grown but nutritious crops. A closely linked but much wider and bigger loss is the loss related to many precious aspects of traditional wisdom related to farming, food and related aspects.

However the plus side of these issues is that it is possible to check and reduce all these problems by adopting a holistic farming and food system based on justice, sustainable livelihoods, reduction of costs, protection of environment, protection of insects and birds and organisms who are friends of farmers, animal welfare, protection of traditional seeds and traditional knowledge and production of safe and healthy food as all these objectives are in conformity with each other. So we should adopt policies which bring together the achievement of all these objectives together. This is the real challenge and task before us.

Farmers’ organizations should also realize this and strive to achieve much broader goals. Many of them have rightly understood that corporatization of farming will only worsen the existing problems and distortions and therefore it is important to oppose this. But in addition they should also work with a holistic approach which can bring together all the important desirable objectives in conformity with each other.

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