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Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 01 March 2024

  1. Protests Stress Need for Climate-Smart Agriculture
  2. Empowering Grassroots Innovation for Progress


Context:

The ongoing agricultural demonstrations, initiated on February 13th, have already resulted in five fatalities and caused economic losses in Delhi amounting to 300 crores. Unfortunately, since 2020, farmer protests have become a recurring occurrence not only in Delhi and Punjab but throughout India. According to estimates from consultancy firm Verisk Maplecroft, India has witnessed the largest global share of farmer protests in the past three years.

Relevance:

  • GS-2- Government Policies & Interventions
  • GS-3- Agricultural Pricing

Mains Question:

In the light of the Farmer Protests 2.0, discuss the need for climate-smart agriculture in overcoming the existing challenges of the agricultural sector in India. (15 Marks, 250 Words).

Farmer Protests 2.0:

  • The current phase of farmer protests, referred to as “Farmer Protests 2.0,” once again underscores the challenges within India’s agricultural sector.
  • This time, the protesting farmers are seeking decisive government action, including a guaranteed minimum support price (MSP) with legal backing for all crops.
  • They are also advocating for the implementation of recommendations from the MS Swaminathan committee on agriculture, aiming to raise the MSP to 50% above the weighted average cost of production.
  • Additional demands include improved sugar cane prices and a monthly pension of Rs 10,000 for every farmer aged 60 and above.
  • The government is actively involved in intense negotiations with farmer unions to resolve the deadlock. However, any breakthrough achieved might be short-lived, as addressing the symptoms rather than the underlying problem could be a temporary solution.

Agricultural Sector in India:

  • India’s agricultural sector faces various climate change-related issues such as unseasonal rain, hailstorms, floods, and droughts.
  • The persistent uncertainty arising from these environmental challenges keeps farmers in a precarious position, leading to income insecurity and mounting debt.
  • For instance, in the ongoing protests, a marginal farmer with 8 acres of agricultural land had accumulated 8 lacs of debt, making it nearly impossible for the farmer to repay and proceed with another crop.
  • Despite the agricultural sector contributing only 15% to the GDP, it employs 58% of the workforce in India. This skewed ratio is exacerbated by the fact that 85% of farmers operate on less than five acres of land, with a significant portion of it being dry and barren in many regions.
  • This results in low yields, meager earnings, and substantial debt, compounded by the escalating challenges of climate change in agriculture.

Climate Change and Agriculture:

  • The impact of climate change on farmers’ livelihoods has prompted their demand for an MSP law to serve as a safety net, recognizing the time, effort, and risks involved in farming.
  • The persistent scarcity of water resources serves as the initial indication of climate change’s impact on the agricultural sector.
  • According to the Rainfed Atlas, approximately 52% to 55% of the farming community lacks irrigation facilities and relies on rain-fed agriculture.
  • However, climate change has led to escalating temperatures and unpredictable rainfall patterns, characterized by prolonged dry periods resulting in droughts and brief yet intense rainfall causing floods.
  • This sets off a chain reaction, adversely affecting crop yields, while elevated CO2 levels contribute to reduced nutritional value in crops.
  • Consequently, the produce faces reduced marketability, leading to financial distress and escalating debt for farmers.

Government’s Protective Measures and Climate Change:

  • The combined effects of climate change on the agricultural sector and the government’s sluggish response in addressing its consequences have dealt a double blow to the farming community.
  • The absence of robust protective measures to shield the sector from the unpredictability of climate extremes is now significantly impacting productivity.
  • The projected decline in cereal crop productivity for most cereals is attributed to rising temperatures, increased CO2 levels, and diminished water availability.
  • Without climate change adaptation measures, estimates indicate a potential 10-40% loss in crop production by 2100.
  • A mere one-degree Celsius rise in temperature may result in a 3-7% reduction in yields for major food crops.
  • In light of these alarming projections, it is imperative for the government to liberate the agricultural sector from the grip of climate change.
  • This action alone can safeguard the best interests of farmers, ensure national food security, and protect livelihoods.

Way Forward:

Thorough Examination of the Agricultural Sector:

  • Conducting a thorough examination of the agricultural sector at the micro-level is crucial to identify and eliminate processes that negatively impact natural resources.
  • This approach ensures the elimination of inefficient, water-intensive practices, promoting the optimal utilization of this valuable resource.

Adoption of Best Farming Practices:

  • Simultaneously, it is essential to advocate for the adoption of best farming practices throughout the sector to facilitate climate change adaptation and mitigation.
  • For instance, the implementation of raised-bed planting for wheat in the Indo-Gangetic plains can result in a 20-25% reduction in irrigation water usage and a decrease in herbicide application.
  • Incorporating such measures, along with water accounting methodologies, contributes to the long-term sustainability, efficiency, and resilience of the agricultural sector, providing significant benefits to marginal farmers.

Climate-Smart Agriculture Strategies:

  • Furthermore, the government should embark on climate-smart agriculture strategies designed to adapt agriculture to climate change.
  • This involves introducing technologies that assist farmers in planning crops based on the climate specifics of their region, facilitated through user-friendly smartphone apps.

Prioritizing Research:

  • Prioritizing botanical research is key to developing crop species with enhanced tolerance to water scarcity and extreme temperatures.
  • Additionally, ecologists can devise effective soil management methods to minimize topsoil depletion, encourage carbon sequestration, and reduce reliance on chemical applications.
  • Advanced farm irrigation technologies play a vital role in maintaining optimal soil moisture levels, preventing water flooding, and mitigating topsoil runoff.

Utilising Technology:

  • The government should prioritize the development of specialized software solutions for agriculture to enable real-time crop monitoring, empowering farmers to accurately calculate necessary inputs. This not only reduces short-term costs but also contributes to long-term environmental conservation.
  • Utilizing technology for cover crops, for example, can prevent soil erosion, enhance water retention, facilitate nitrogen fixation, and serve as organic fodder. Smart agricultural software enables farmers to implement targeted fertilizer applications, decreasing soil pollution and increasing crop nutrient levels.
  • Additionally, such software can incorporate weather-related tools for timely alerts on extreme conditions, detailed weather forecasts for scheduling farming activities, and predictions of general climate change trends based on historical weather data.

Conclusion:

The government needs to recognize that a sustainable solution requires addressing real issues, including the impact of climate change on agriculture, with the active involvement of all sector stakeholders. Collaborating with farmers, policymakers, environmentalists, botanical scientists, and technology experts can facilitate the formulation of long-term strategies and solutions, ensuring a resilient agricultural sector capable of withstanding climate change impacts. Viewing farmer protests as symptoms of climate change’s effect on agriculture underscores the importance of safeguarding the sector to automatically ensure the well-being and prosperity of farmers.



Context:

The progress of our nation, comparable to the wheels of progress, relies on the driving force of science and technology. Since gaining independence, Bharat has witnessed significant advancements, largely attributed to the strides in scientific innovation made by our scientific community. This advancement is evident across critical sectors essential to human life, such as agriculture, food, healthcare, infrastructure, and communication.

Relevance:

GS-3

  • Scientific Innovations and Discoveries
  • Indigenization of Technology
  • Inclusive Growth

Mains Question:

Science and technology stand as the twin engines propelling our nation towards progress, but they have not shown much results in addressing the needs at grassroot level. Comment. (10 Marks, 150 Words).

Challenges in the Field of Science and Innovation:

The translation of scientific innovations into societal benefits:

  • The translation of scientific innovations into societal benefits often faces challenges, primarily due to a gap between scientific research and the practical needs of local communities.
  • Many innovations originate from peer-reviewed publications, often written by Western scientists, and may lack relevance to local contexts.
  • As a result, solutions to everyday challenges remain elusive, despite remarkable achievements in space and technology.
  • Relying on external sources creates a bottleneck in developing groundbreaking discoveries tailored to local needs.

Lack of Generation of Original Ideas:

  • Throughout history, revolutionary innovations have not been exclusive to trained scientists but have also emerged from the keen observations and creativity of untrained naturalists.
  • Before the emergence of modern science, human civilizations thrived for centuries, utilizing cutting-edge technologies of their era.
  • Many of today’s innovations have their origins in ancient technologies, highlighting the significant contributions of our ancestors.
  • Nevertheless, the contemporary scientific community often falls short in generating truly original ideas, frequently resorting to replicating concepts found in Western literature.
  • This approach leads to innovations primarily catering to industrial needs rather than addressing societal issues.
  • The crucial distinction between invention and utility emphasizes the need for originality and societal relevance in innovation.

Role of Grassroots Innovators:

  • Grassroots innovators play a crucial role in bridging this gap, providing solutions rooted in local contexts and addressing specific community needs.
  • These individuals possess an intimate understanding of their environment, allowing them to create tailored interventions that align with the realities of daily life.
  • Their localized approach ensures that solutions are not only pertinent but also sustainable, tackling root causes rather than addressing superficial symptoms.
  • Empowering grassroots innovators enables communities to harness their inherent knowledge, creativity, and resourcefulness to address their challenges.
  • This approach, originating from the bottom and moving upward, promotes ownership and collective responsibility, fostering more effective and sustainable solutions.
  • Initiatives like those facilitated by the National Innovation Foundation-India illustrate the government’s dedication to promoting grassroots innovation and integrating it into mainstream practices.
  • Despite India’s notable achievements in fields such as space science, vaccine development, and agriculture, persistent societal challenges demand a collaborative approach between scientific institutions and grassroots innovators.
  • Observing National Science Day under the theme ‘Indigenous Technologies for Viksit Bharat’ offers an opportunity to recognize the invaluable contributions of grassroots innovators.

Conclusion:

The selfless commitment of grassroots innovators to enhancing their communities exemplifies the spirit of innovation and highlights the potential for transformative change when science aligns with grassroots needs. In conclusion, the path of progress driven by science and technology requires not only scientific excellence but also a profound connection to societal needs.


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