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How Regenerative Agriculture Can Prevent Soil Decay

Context

Regenerative agriculture is viewed as a solution to India’s water and land degradation problems, which are brought on by unsustainable farming practises that fuel climate change.It provides a means of enhancing smallholder farmers’ financial security while restoring the health and fertility of the land.

Relevance:

GS Paper-3: Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment.

Mains Question

In this discussion, we will examine the difficulties encountered by Indian agriculture as a result of soil degradation and water scarcity, and we will assess the efficacy of regenerative agriculture in addressing these issues. Look at how regenerative agriculture might help India’s smallholder farmers.


Land Degradation:

  • It will be difficult to attain land-degradation-neutrality by 2030 because more than 29% of India’s total acreage (328.7M hectares) is deteriorated.
  • It takes 500–1000 years for 1 inch of topsoil to grow due to soil erosion caused by agriculture; the water issue is getting worse in nearly 17 Indian states and union territories that have been deemed to be “over-exploited.”
  • According to Falkenmark’s Water Stress Index, 76% of Indians experience water scarcity, with agriculture being the primary culprit and utilising up to 91% of freshwater.

Ecological Poverty

  • Ecological poverty, which is defined as the absence of a natural resource base that is environmentally sound and essential for human existence and development, could impede India’s progress in eradicating income poverty.
  • Smallholder farmers, who make up 86% of Indian farmers and have 1.08 hectares of land on average, are especially susceptible to ecological poverty.
  • India’s agricultural industry has seen negative total earnings over the previous two decades, making it challenging for small farmers to embrace climate-resilient technologies.Soil degradation and loss of soil organic carbon are common due to unsustainable practises like deforestation, overgrazing, monoculture cropping, and heavy use of chemical fertilisers and biocides.
  • These practises also increase greenhouse gas emissions, which are of concern to scientific organisations like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as agriculture already accounts for 25–30% of global GHG emissions.

Regenerative agriculture is one possible fix

  • There is growing agreement among soil experts that regenerative agriculture has a huge potential to improve the productivity and health of soil in damaged landscapes while also providing smallholder farmers with financial rewards.
  • Studies have shown that a 1-percent increase in soil organic matter per 0.4 hectares (ha) enhances water storage capability by more than 75,000 litres, improving soil health and nutrient-holding capacity.
  • Regenerative farming practises can dramatically raise soil organic carbon reserves, according to evidence from many field tests conducted throughout the world.
  • Through its National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture, the Indian government has started pushing a number of regenerative agriculture ideas as part of its commitment to combating climate change.

Regenerative agriculture

  • Regenerative agriculture is a farming method that aims to improve soil fertility, sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide, increase biodiversity, and improve water and energy management.
  • It is becoming more standardised thanks to third-party certifications like regenagri and Regenerative Organic Certified®.
  • Regenagri has brought regenerative practises to 1.25 million acres of land and was created by Solidaridad and Control.Additionally, food companies like Unilever and Nestle are creating their own regenerative agriculture standards.

Regenerative agriculture soil carbon credits debates

  • Regenerative agriculture has been discussed as a viable means of storing carbon in the soil, and it may provide soil carbon credits.
  • While some studies have cast doubt on the resilience of soil organic carbon (SOC) and the efficacy of satellite-based monitoring techniques, multiple scientific papers indicate that agricultural sequestration has a potential worldwide capacity of 1.5 gigatons of carbon (GtCO2) per year.
  • If techniques like composting, tree cropping, and the use of biochar are used, this potential may be even greater.
  • Regenerative agriculture is an essential weapon in combating climate change since it has the capacity to remove 100-200 GtCO2 by the end of the century, which is several times greater than the amount of emissions today.

Benefits for small farmers in India include:

  1. It enhances agricultural output, lowers costs due to decreased use of fertilisers and pesticides, and aids in soil restoration.
  2. Farms that have healthier soils are better able to withstand droughts and severe rains.
  3. The rapidly growing markets for voluntary carbon credits provide small farmers alternative sources of revenue.
  4. In order to support smallholders’ inclusive growth, FMCG businesses are giving collaborations with new suppliers who already employ regenerative practises top priority.

Obstacles to regenerative agriculture and possible solutions include the following:

  • Lack of Fair-Trade Mechanisms for SOC Trading: o The first obstacle to regenerative agriculture is the lack of Fair Trade mechanisms for trading soil organic carbon (SOC), which would guarantee farmers a fair price.
    • These systems should determine a minimum price that equals the project’s average costs plus a “Fairtrade Premium” to pay for initiatives that support farmers’ efforts to practise regenerative agriculture.
  • India’s Revised Carbon Credit Policy: Export Prohibition: This policy could restrict possibilities for smallholder farmers.
  • In particular, after accepting lower prices for decades to maintain steady consumer prices, these farmers may suffer again if they are not permitted to export carbon credits at higher prices.
  • Certification Costs for Regenerative Agriculture: o Smallholder farmers may be discouraged from participating due to the high certification costs associated with regenerative agriculture and carbon verification.
    • The government may think about extending subsidies for smallholder farmers to certification organisations affiliated with India’s official certifying agency for certifications, the Quality Council of India.
  • Multiplication of Disparate Regenerative Standards: o The credibility of the regenerative agriculture movement and smallholder farmers may be harmed by the proliferation of disparate regenerative standards.
    • To prevent misunderstandings and preserve credibility, a set of shared principles for regenerative agriculture standards, their certification procedures, methods, and tools must be developed with an emphasis on the benefits to farmers and the environment.

Conclusion:

  • Regenerative agriculture has the potential to address a variety of issues, including soil health, food security, climate resilience, biodiversity, and climate change mitigation.
  • We don’t have much time to regenerate and revitalise our land and prevent the depletion of water resources, thus Indian agriculture stakeholders must rethink agriculture as it was done in the 1960s, which brought about the Green Revolution.
  • Regenerative agriculture, on the other hand, benefits people, the environment, and the bottom line.

February 2024
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