Creating an environmentally sustainable food secure world
The critical role of water efficiency in agriculture – the most important piece of the puzzle.
Agriculture remains the most important source of food for various economic activities. India’s massive agriculture industry feeds not only this nation, but a significant percentage of the world and is critical to our global food security. The fulfillment of several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is anchored on the performance of this sector to ensure sustainable and resilient communities. But agriculture as it is practiced today, is facing multiple challenges, most catastrophic being overexploitation of land and water resources, shifting weather patterns and increasing risk of flooding, that threaten food production.
While water is essential for life, it is also the most integral part of modern agriculture, making it even more important to address water challenges in agriculture. In India, almost 90% of fresh water drawn is used for agriculture alone. The rate of ground water extraction in India is so severe that the water table is depleting at the rate of almost 0.3 million per year, consumed maximum by crops like rice, wheat, cotton and sugarcane that consume almost 70% of all ground water.
The current imperative is therefore, to find means of producing enough and enabling everyone to have access to healthy and safe food without overexploiting the earth’s water resources. Sustainable agriculture through water stewardship efforts has never been more important for us and for the world as it will not only prove beneficial for the environment but also promise increased yields for an increasingly hungry planet and opportunity to boost profits for individual farmers.
Advancing water stewardship through innovative solutions
Sustainable solutions to conserve water and protect the soil, while providing economic security to farmers are the need of the hour.
Innovative conservation techniques such as alternative and contingent crop planning, crop diversification, drought proofing, etc. not only promote sustainable agriculture though calculated use of water and improved irrigation methods but also maximize productivity and profitability for farmers, while reducing labor usage. Discovering, developing and implementing such techniques, replacing labor with farm mechanization services and adopting efficient and integrated water resource management systems will help to conserve water, maintain quality and advance towards water stewardship in agriculture.
For instance, rice, the staple for more than half the world’s diet, is predominantly transplanted and heavily relies on ground water to produce a successful crop. With ground water depleting, it is important to look at scientific and sustainable approaches such as introducing ‘Direct Seeded Rice’ in cropping patterns and providing trainings to farmers, to reduce the crop’s environmental footprint while simultaneously increasing the yield. These redesigned and innovative rice farming techniques are being used by several companies to not only reduce usage of water by almost 40% and increase yields but also eliminate the need to flood water, reduce labor and better usage of energy, weed management and generate new employment opportunities.
An integrated, holistic and collaborative approach
It is increasingly become clear that a ‘business as usual’ approach is no longer an option if the targets set by ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ are to be met, specifically those related to food and agriculture. An integrated, holistic and collaborative approach between communities and stakeholders is required to transform the sector, arrest the overexploitation of water resources and nurture sustainability. Reforms that encourage innovation, consumer and regular policy engagement at a more local level will help create systems that transform water management in agriculture.
Just increasing production through efficient water management is not enough to achieve food security. It must be complemented by increased investments and policies conducive to agricultural and sustainable production. A lot of focus is required towards creating the right infrastructure and ensure capacity building of communities along with strong governance mechanism to take these interventions forward. The awareness towards modern practices and techniques like using aquaponic plants, alternate wetting and drying water management in rice, delayed rice transplanting, and more targeted innovations like robotics, drones and big data analytics can benefit agriculture grossly and help increase productivity multifold while maximizing quality and sustainability. Companies also need to play the role of responsible partners in meeting water challenges by promoting the integration of sustainability into their business processes and throughout the value chain.
COVID 19 has clearly demonstrated to us that investing in safe and sustainable water management is a great public investment for us and critical to meet the requirements of goal 6 of the SDG. Here, India’s role and success is critical because if India meets its requirements of goal 6 of the SDG, we will be able to shift the global indicators on our own and help ensure safe and assured water and food for all.
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