AGRI-EXTENSION FOR AGRO-ECOLOGY

Dr. Parveen Kumar
The emergence of the country as the major producer of food grains in the post green revolution era can be attributed to the presence of a robust extension system and a network of extension professionals from agriculture and all other allied sectors. While agriculture growth depends on a host of factors like timely availability of good quality inputs, timely rainfall, appropriate marketing facilities, remunerative price, postharvest infrastructure and many others. One of the critical factors is agriculture extension. It is this agri-extension that ensures that innovations in the labs are translated and implemented on the lands of peasants. The role of agriculture research and development is confined up to the labs, but the role of agriculture extension extends beyond these labs to the farmers fields. Agriculture extension as a discipline has been taken in a professional and mission mode to disseminate the new technologies emerging in this sector to the end users. In the pre green revolution era, just after independence; the country was facing huge scarcity of food grains and a large quantity was imported from outside to feed the burgeoning population. With the advent of green revolution in the seventies when seeds of high yielding varieties of Wheat and Paddy were arranged from USA and provided to the farmers in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, they took it as a fish to water. With the use of chemical fertilizers and a creation of infrastructure in the form of irrigation channels, there was a phenomenal increase in the food grain production in the country. With the passage of time our dependence on the imports reduced slowly and now after seven decades of independence we are a major producer of food grains in the world and occupying first position in production of many other commodities.
It was only after the Brundtland commission came up with the concept of sustainable development, that the world realized that the progress in agricultural production achieved with the use of indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is nor sustainable and a threat to the planet’s natural resources, its biodiversity and to the life existent on it. The chemical intensive agriculture has led to the toxicity of eater, pollution of air, degradation of soil, loss of biodiversity, climate change and many other ill affects adversely affecting all of us. Small-scale producers, their families and communities, are struggling against hunger and food insecurity caused by unsustainable food systems. An estimated 3 billion people could not afford a healthy and diversified diet in 2017. Poor diets and malnutrition, accompanied by the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, natural resource degradation and ecosystem fragility, are challenging current food systems and require a bold transformation. Now we talk of development that is inclusive, that does not interfere with the nature and that does not compromise with the needs of future generations. World over the focus is now on agro-ecological approaches, approaches that focus on best use of local resources, are more participatory and bottom-up, value local wisdom of farming communities, are resilient and efficient and have an inbuilt mechanism for conservation of natural resources and biodiversity. Such an approach ensures the food as well as nutritional security of all.
If we go by the defination of Agro-ecology, it can be defined as the integrative study of the ecology of the entire food system, encompassing ecological, economic and social dimensions or the application of ecological concepts and principles to the design and management of sustainable food systems, the integration of research, education, action and change that brings sustainability to all parts of the food system viz ecological, economic and social. As a set of agricultural practices, agro-ecology seeks ways to improve agricultural systems by harnessing natural processes, creating beneficial biological interactions and synergies amongst the components of agro-ecosystems, minimizing synthetic and toxic external inputs and using ecological processes and ecosystem services for the development and implementation of agricultural practices.
Agricultural extension services on the other hand refer to all the different activities that provide farmers and other people living and working in rural settings with the information and services they need to increase agricultural productivity. Unfortunately, agri-extension services till a few years back were not designed to support farmers’ to adopt agro-ecological practices. Fortunately agri-extension services by way of their nature have the capacity and potential to promote and enhance the adoption of agro-ecological approaches all across the globe. Hence, there is a need to tap the potential of agri-extension for the better cause of agro-ecology. As a tool for promoting agro-ecological approaches, agri-extension should emphasize on Recycling of the waste products. In agriculture the different types of waste include farm waste, animal waste and kitchen waste. All the three type of wastes can be effectively recycled into high quality organic manure by composting or vermicomposting. The recycling can result in reduction of our dependence on external inputs which prove too costly for the small and marginal farmers and make the whole agriculture sector non remunerative. When our dependence on external inputs in the form of costly synthetic fertilizers and plant protection chemicals get reduced, it proves beneficial for soil, the vast majority of its micro-flora and fauna present in the soil and makes agriculture more remunerative. Agri-extension has also to promote innovation aimed at sustainable food systems based on inclusive and participatory forms of innovation governance while stressing on information and knowledge co-creation and sharing amongst communities and networks. Such an innovation should also work for social issues. Agri-extension has to collaborate with other stakeholders to bring democratically designed transformative changes; this collaboration can be in partnership mode by utilizing the strengths of other stakeholders like private sector, the NGOs and other local institutions. Another issue where agri-extension has to work is the capacity building: When it comes to promoting agro-ecological approaches, agri-extension services have a poor record. One of the reasons for this is the lack of knowledgeable and well trained men power needed to advice million of small and marginal farmers on various agro-ecological practices and systems so that they can respond in a more better way to the diverse needs of the different stakeholders. At the same time there is also a need of blending indigenous wisdom with modern technology. This will result in generation of numerous context-specific and locally relevant solutions through the blending of indigenous wisdom with modern technology based on a bottom and participatory approach.
(The author is a Scientist at SKUAST-K; can be reached at [email protected])