Promoting neo-traditional agriculture to achieve food and livelihood security, and climate change adaptation

Persistence of subsistence agriculture based on small landholdings (78 per cent), dominance of rain-fed agriculture (60 per cent of net cropped area), inadequate market linkages, and poor coping capacity, among other factors, make the Indian agricultural system highly vulnerable to climate-change impacts. Even a single extreme-weather event such as flood, drought, or cyclone leads to huge losses due to the unpreparedness of farmers and lack of sufficient storage facilities. Similarly, mono-cropping, or the cultivation of a single variety of a crop, undertaken because of the encouraging market prices of only a few crops or varieties, makes the entire agricultural system less resilient to climate-change impacts or pest attacks. For example, in the 1960s, India was estimated to have over 70,000 rice landraces. Two decades later, in the 1980s, more than 75 per cent of India’s rice production came from less than 10 varieties because of an aggressive push for modern, input-intensive hybrids by scientists and policymakers. As a result of all these factors (non-affordability due to escalation in market prices, unavailability of varied crops), the impact on nutritional security has been serious, especially among women and children. It is now widely recognized by researchers and policymakers that adapting agriculture to climate-change impacts is a priority for ensuring food and nutritional security. While modern technologies and scientifi c research will continue to play an important role in promoting the sustainability of agricultural production, there is a need to harness traditional knowledge and agricultural heritage, which are gradually declining. This policy document examines the reasons for diminishing traditional agricultural knowledge and the ways of protecting it.