Perspectives from ISB

Nature’s dangerous decline is dotted with recurrent catastrophes of epic proportions. Unprecedented rate of species extinction, nearly 10 lakh species threatened with extinction, breakdown and decline of indigenous communities, it is now time to focus on and to restore nature. ‘Time for Nature’ has come and is aptly the theme for World Environment Day, 2020[1]. Life on earth is the living definition of Biodiversity. Biodiversity is often defined as the variety of all forms of life, from genes to species, through to the broad scale of ecosystems. The term was coined as a contraction of “biological diversity” in 1985, but the new term arguably has taken on a meaning and import all its own. The global importance of biodiversity now is reflected in the widely accepted target to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of loss of biodiversity by the year 2010[2].

Dr Vandana Shiva, environmental activist, food sovereignty advocate and anti-globalisation author’s message[3] on International Biodiversity Day 2020 reflects the true meaning of Biodiversity. In the living world of Biodiversity, all life is sacred, and life strives to nourish and support life. Life is the nature of the living, she writes. Indian Agriculture systems and practices date back to Indus Valley Civilisation[4] and before, and have always been centred around biodiversity. It constituted agricultural ecosystems, where natural diversity of animals, plants and micro-organisms at the genetic and species levels required to maintain key functions and structure along with its processes. An exponentially increasing population has led to an increased demand for food, which in turn leads to a decrease crop diversification and heightens the risk of extinction of crop species. The paradigm shift to monoculture increased use of chemicals, has wreaked havoc on the land and the agriculture ecosystem. The ecosystem and biodiverse relations and services have thus been affected altering the Carbon and Nitrogen cycles. Fifty percent of emissions are coming from such food systems. This needs to be mitigated and reversed at the earliest.

This years environment’s day theme comes at the cusp of time when there is an overlap of global actions to bring together nutrition and biodiversity and natural catastrophes (COVID19, Amphan Cyclone, Locust attack, Nisarga Cyclone, Greening of Antarctic IceCaps and other Climate Disturbances). India is rapidly trying to combat these situations by announcing historic policy reforms and ensuring timely actions to achieve the same. Sustainable Development Goal’s (SDG) agenda on the reduction of poverty, hunger and focus on health streamlines the UN decade on Biodiversity 2011-2020 and UN decade on Action on Nutrition 2016-2025. India is continuously contributing to food security by mirroring its national development agenda with SDGs.

India and its Agriculture Biodiversity

India is listed as one of the Vavilovian centres of origin[5]. Three (Kashmir’s saffron, Koraput’s traditional agriculture and Kuttanad’s below sea level farming) out of world’s 37 sites are identified as the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)[6].  About 811 cultivated plant species and 902 of their wild relatives have been identified and documented in our country.

Our country is home to a vast agro-ecological diversity. About 70% of rural households depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood and 82% of farmers are small and marginal with small land holdings. India is rich in domesticated plants with cereals and millets (51 species), fruits (104 species), spices & condiments (27 species), vegetables & pulses (55 species), fibre crops (24 species), soil seeds (12 species) and various wild strains of tea, coffee, tobacco and sugarcane. India is the world’s largest producer of milk and second largest producer of paddy. It ranks fourth in coarse annual cereal production of sorghum, pearl millet, maize, and finger millet in rain-fed agro-climatic regions, and is the largest producer of millets in the world.

Losing battle of Agriculture Biodiversity

Unfortunately, this vast diversity has declined in the past decades. With the decline in diversity, a large proportion of dependent people have been affected. It has negatively affected their culture, ecosystem services, loss of livelihood causing migration and ultimately food security. India today faces two major challenges on the agriculture biodiversity front – one is to sustain it and the other is to mitigate the harmful impact of current farming systems. India despite being a powerhouse of agriculture and food production, was ranked 102 out of the 117 countries in the recent Global Hunger Index (GHI) Report of 2019[7]. This shows that we need agriculture systems which are rich in their diversity thereby ensuring nutritional strength. Agriculture biodiversity is the foundation for contemporary and future agriculture innovations and technologies. It can help the world fight  pandemics.

New India Farming

To overcome these problems, agriculture needs to take specific drivers of transition into account. Our country must strengthen and build upon its 5 pillars as announced by our Prime Minister[8] recently i.e., vibrant demography, economy, infrastructure, technology-driven system and demand. These five pillars can be key drivers supporting our farmers to restore the rapid loss of agriculture biodiversity by going back-to-basics farming[9]. To do so, a productive, competitive, diversified, and sustainable agricultural sector  needs to emerge. Different farming systems need to be adopted by the nation today. Already our country has slowly started investing in different farming systems, but the magnitude is rather small.


Figure 1 – India’s Action Plan to achieve SDG Goal 2 (Zero Hunger)

Source of Figure 1 – Author’s Compilation

For India to achieve its SDG Goal 2 (Zero hunger), several action plans have been framed. These action plans kept the task of improving agriculture biodiversity as equally important. Several developmental programmes are being implemented in line with these targets as shown in Figure 1.

To achieve these targets, a shift in farming systems has to be made a priority. Dr Vandana Shiva one of the speakers while addressing today in Global Landscape Forum 2020[10] – Food in time of Crisis said: ‘We need to shift the focus from yield per acre of land to health per acre of land.’ She also focussed on the need to protect our agriculture biodiversity.
Figure 2 – Role of Different Farming Systems

Source of Figure 2 – Author’s Compilation

India has slowly started shifting its farming systems practices as is shown in Figure 2. Different farming systems are being revived in different parts of the country for the last decade and more so in recent years. It includes integrated farming, social forestry, agro-forestry, organic farming, permaculture, natural farming, aquaculture, and more importantly regenerative agriculture. Motivational speaker Sadhguru[11], founder of Isha Foundation also spoke about how it is time to have a ‘conscious planet’, where soil health is priority bringing it into the shade at the forum today. He talked about the importance of agro-forestry and of Isha Foundation’s case study where 69,760 farmers in India converted to agroforestry.

 To develop resilience and cope with changing climatic conditions, initiatives of such innovation and magnitude are needed with biodiversity as a key pillar. The ‘time for nature, the time for sustainable agriculture’ has come. Rethinking our farming systems will help us achieve food and livelihood security.

Vipul Bhave & Sayali Jadhav

Indian School of Business, Hyderabad

05th June 2020

Vipul Bhave is a Research Associate at Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. His interests are in applications of Remote Sensing & GIS in Agriculture, Forests and Rural Development.

Sayali Jadhav is a Research Associate at Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. Her interest is in applications of Remote Sensing & GIS in Landscape Ecology.



In the Picture: Annapurna Model of Multi-Layer farming – farmer feeding his dogs that protect his farm, at Pinakota Village, Andhra Pradesh

Picture Courtesy: Vipul Bhave

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“The views expressed in this article are personal. Vipul Bhave and Sayali Jadhav are Research Assistant at the Indian School of