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Sustainable Agriculture

The word “sustainable” comes from the word “sustain” which means to maintain, support, or to endure. Sustainable agriculture is based on three principles - economy, environment and community. A sustainable agriculture must provide a fair and reasonably secure living for farm families with minimum harm to the natural environment. It should maintain basic natural resources such as healthy soil, clean water, and clean air.

The Farm Bill (1990) defines sustainable agriculture as:
• “an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term:
• satisfy human food and fiber needs
• enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends
• make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls
• sustain the economic viability of farm operations
• enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.”

Benefits of the Sustainable Agriculture

Saves energy for future:
Modern agriculture is heavily dependent on non-renewable energy sources, especially petroleum. In sustainable agricultural systems, there is reduced reliance on non-renewable energy sources and a substitution of renewable sources or labor to the extent that is economically feasible.

Control of Air Pollution:
Many agricultural activities affect air quality. These include smoke from agricultural burning; dust from tillage, traffic and harvest; pesticide drift from spraying; and nitrous oxide emissions from the use of nitrogen fertilizer. Options to improve air quality include incorporating crop residue into the soil, using appropriate levels of tillage, and planting wind breaks, cover crops or strips of native perennial grasses to reduce dust. Control of Soil Erosion:
Soil erosion continues to be a serious threat to our continued ability to produce adequate food. Numerous practices have been developed to keep soil in place, which include reducing or eliminating tillage, managing irrigation to reduce runoff, and keeping the soil covered with plants or mulch.

Crop yield can be improved by suitable selection of species and varieties that are well suited to the site and to conditions on the farm and Diversification of crops (including livestock) and cultural practices to enhance the biological and economic stability of the farm;

Sustainable agriculture also includes sustainable livestock production by selecting appropriate animal species, animal nutrition, reproduction, herd health, grazing management which leads to overall development of livestock for long term.

Besides benefits of Sustainable Agriculture, there are some risk factors:
• Less crop yields
• Increased threat of food insecurity and malnutrition
• Increased farm expenditures

Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India has declared strategies/ interventions for Sustainable Agriculture in four areas:

Research and Development

1. Development of plant genetic resources to combat changing environments with special focus on plant physiological processes such as flowering, seed development, photosynthesis, respiration, water retentions and plant growth regulation.

2. Development of crop varieties tolerant to biotic and abiotic stresses draught, salinity and high temperature, flood and submergence etc. through market assisted selection process.

3. Transgenic approaches to retard senescence in fruits to reduce post harvest losses

4. Development of livestock and fish varieties to cope with biotic and abiotic stress levels

5. Development of crops with enhanced water and nitrogen use efficiency and CO2 fixation potential to increase productivity and for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.

6. Building of Soil Carbon Banks through fertilizer trees for enhancing soil nutrient status.

7. Screening of indigenous plant and animal gene pools and cataloguing them according to specific traits of agronomic value and conservation and establishment of gene-banks in-situ and ex-situ.

8. Strengthening basic research in plant sciences including phonemics and linking basic research to farm level

9. Developing and spreading True Potato Seed (TPS) methodology for potato

10. Development of hybrid rice strains characterized by hybrid vigor in the development of root system

11. Breeding salinity tolerant crops varieties for cultivation in coastal areas, based on genetic engineering techniques

Technologies and Practices

1. Use of micro-propagation and tissue-culture techniques for rapid bulking of improved varieties

2. Formulation of a dynamic contingent seed production and distribution plan

3. Application of modern biotechnology tools such as genetic transformation, marker-assisted selection, doubled haploid, mutation breeding to supplement traditional breeding methods

4. In-vitro conservation to conserve critical adaptive genes and genetic traits.

5. Shifting the breeding strategy to per-day rather than per crop productivity for wheat.

6. Promotion of sea water farming through Agri-Aqua farms and below sea level farming as in vogue in some parts of Kerala


1. Establishment/strengthening of seed producing farms and treatment plants for producing good quality seeds and planting materials and seed storage facilities

2. Strengthening of research infrastructure in SAUs and ICAR institutes

3. Strengthening public seed production and distribution system and promoting public private partnerships

4. Support to private and public sector for investment in infrastructure for production and management of good quality planting material and facilities for phenomics

5. Development of Seed Reserves for implementing alternative cropping strategies and to mitigate risks arising out of extreme events.

Capacity Building

1. Demonstration of improved packaging practices, good quality seeds, resource conservation technologies and improved water management practices

2. Training through Farmer’s Field Schools, exposure visits of farmers/officials of the State, video conferencing, use of print and electronic media and other publicity and awareness generation measures

3. Support to ICAR, SAUs for capacity building and training of field functionaries and infrastructure development for training and skill development

4. Developing and strengthening farmer-institution-industry interface and sharing knowledge and best practices related to climate change and its impact, adaptation and mitigation needs

There are two centers or educational institutes for educating farmers about sustainable agriculture- The Kerr Center for Sustainable agriculture and Sustainable Agriculture Education in US. These organization works for research and development and educating farmers regarding sustainable crop production, sustainable animal farming and Livestock production.