The 4th Conservation Agriculture Congress opened in the splendid Vigyan Bhawan conference hall in Delhi with the Minister of Agriculture, Shri Sharad Pawar, the Chief guest. The guest speakers raised many issues:
1. That the timing of the conference was very timely since the number of hungry are increasing (The Millenium Development Goals is supposed to reduce this), the land available per person is decreasing and demand for food is increasing. There are also signs of soil fatigue in some places as factor productivity declines. The big question is how to produce the additional food to meet the demand? But at the same time maintain small farm profit. This conference’s them is “Innovations for improving efficiency, equity and environment”.
2. Conservation Agriculture (or farming) is an attitudinal change or mindset change in the way food is grown.
3. 80% of Indian farmers have 1 hectare nor less. They need to produce for their own subsistence needs but also the country needs surpluses to feed those without land. There is a need to incresae efficiency per unit of land and per unit of water. This can only be done by promoting much greater farmer participation in identifying constraints and experimenting with new technology.
4. There needs to be a policy for farmers, that seems to be missing in India. The new farm Bill in USA is an example of thinking at the top level of governance is needed in developing countries.
5. Introduction of sustainability, soil health and CA needs to be incorporated into University curricula in developing countries to create awareness of the issues among future agricultural stakeholders.
6. Much of the equipment used in India for CA could have been developed a 100 years ago. What is needed is to use modern engineering to develop more efficient and quality machines for all types of farmers from larger land holders to marginal ones.
7. Agriculture in India uses 57% of the wrok force, contributes 18% of GDP and 12% or exports.
8. Irrigation is used on 29% of agricultural land but with only 40% efficient. Rainfed areas also need to be brought under CA practices since they will play an important role in food productiuon in India in the future and these are the areas where poverty is highest.
9. The energy crisis brought home the serious situation in conventional farming that is dependent on fossil energy.

All this led to a statement that CA holds the hope of improving this situation in the future if it can be promoted from the top Government level down to the small land holder and all the stakeholders in between.

Another interesting issue that I would like comment relates to the fact that most of the conference talked about CA and production. We need to go one step further and talk about conserving the production through better storage and value addition enterprises. Equitable distribution of food is another issue. For example, the Indian Government raised the support price for wheat and rice last year. Farmers responded by increasing production. Now the Government has 45 million tons of grain, but only storage for 25 Mt!! Buffer stocks are needed to dampen any future crisis peaks in food production, but good storage is key.

Another interesting comment was “CA is only good for large corporate farmers and no good for poor farmers”. I believe this is not true since through use of local rental and service providers farmers without tractors and small land holdings can avail of this technology. Comments?

Last, but not least one comment that was made that soils are more hungry than thirsty. The soil biological component of the soil has been neglected leading to reduced soil biodiversity leading to many of the problems associated with declining productivity — more pathogens, poor nutrient cycling, erosion, poor water holding capacity and declining soil carbon.

Please comment on any of these issues.