Impact on Agriculture
Key findings of the study titled Assessing farm-level agricultural sustainability over a 60-year period in rural eastern India by Deepti Sharma and Shardendu Shardendu, Environmentalist (2011) 31:325–337, http://www.springerlink.com/content/0051808851j537rq/, are as follows:
• Sustainable agriculture is multi-dimensional, and is the combined product of environmental, social and economic sustainability. The area is relevant since India being an overpopulated country is in danger of facing the Malthusian catastrophe. The present study has collected social, economic and ecological data from 150 farms for 3 decades to find what has happened to agricultural sustainability overtime.
• Agricultural Sustainability Index (ASI) for rural eastern India has been prepared and used to calculate the ASI for 150 farms for three decades over a 60-year period, viz., 1950–1960, 1980–1990 and 2000–2010 for a representative Indian village of Gangapur (25deg83'N, 85deg65'E) of Bihar. The ASI was calculated using 30 variables, 10 each of social, economic and ecological sustainability. An extensive questionnaire based survey was carried out to collect the relevant data.
• Increased ecological literacy and better implementation of government policies, aiming at health, education and better scientist–farmer interactions, must target improved ASI values in coming decades, finds the study.
• The integrated ASI, prepared by the authors, based on social, economic and ecological sustainability variables, has shown improvement although marginally in 2000–2010 as compared to the previous two decades i.e. 1950–1960 and 1980–1990.
• A variety of factors affect the overall agricultural sustainability. Increase in average age of farmer has been perceived as a weakness owing to the fact that with increased age the vigour and output of the farmer decreases. With age, the farmer becomes more and more reluctant towards adopting new scientific methods.
• Social inequality is another factor impeding sustainability of agricultural practices in the study area. Social inequality is reflected by the gap between high- and low-income groups. This inequality has shown signs of decreasing over the last 60 years but still remains substantially high. Its effect on farmer psyche casts a negative effect on sustainability of agricultural practices. Moreover, resource allocation also suffers.
• Due to the location of the area under study in the eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains where it enjoys the advantages of fertile soils and high water table level, one can expect a higher sustainability of agro-practices in the village.
• Among local reasons of low socio-economic sustainability scores may be quoted the Zamindari system which was part of the history of the study area. Zamindari system is responsible for the low agricultural productivity of the region.
• The Zamindari Abolishment Act that was passed as early as in 1948 and the Land Reforms (Ceiling, Land Allocation and Surplus Land Acquisition) Act that was passed in 1961 have made little impact on land distribution.
• Another significant social factor limiting sustainability of agriculture in the study area is population pressure. With increasing population pressure, resource poverty is enhanced, leading to declining returns from the natural capital and complicated ownership feuds.
• Increase in average age of the farmer is among other social factors afflicting agricultural sustainability. Power crisis in the study area is again a significant limiting factor.
• The decreasing trend in agricultural biodiversity at both crop and livestock variety levels has made the ecological condition of the agro-ecosystem precarious.
• The study concludes that interaction of farmers and agricultural scientists must be made easier, frequent and enriching, and the gap between the laboratory and the agricultural field must be reduced so that ecological awareness can supplement literacy. Consolidation of landholdings must be propagated as a suitable measure to combat the problem of low-sized landholdings.