Strategies for Sustainable Agriculture

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Introduction

Agriculture is a crucial engine of economy not only in developing nations rather worldwide. It accounted for one-third of global gross domestic product in 2014 and was found to engage nearly 65 per cent of poor working adults across the globe in 2016 (The World Bank, 2018). This deep penetration of agriculture makes it the most powerful tool for rural growth and development by means of ending hunger and poverty. The World Bank reported that growth in the agriculture sector was two to four times more effective in raising incomes among the poorest compared to other sectors.

Over the last few decades there have been lot of advancements in science and technology and have bombarded agriculture with innovative techniques and technology transforming the traditional agriculture into modern scientific agriculture (Sunding & Zilberman, 2001). On one hand these innovations multiplied the production and productivity whereas on the other the injudicious use of chemicals and machinery has stroke off the ecological balance. Another critical issue, which has drawn the attention of scientists and policy makers all across the world, is Climate change, whose affect is multifaceted and are posing threat to agriculture-driven growth, poverty reduction, and food security for ever increasing population, projected to be 9.7 billion by 2050 by The World Bank (Gornall et al., 2010).

The agriculture scenario of under developed and developing countries is strikingly different from developed countries. Developed countries are working towards mitigating the contribution of agriculture and forestry in climate change and restoring ecological balance by shifting towards chemical less farming and judicious use of resources while maintaining quality with zero loss. On the contrary,  the undeveloped and developing countries are still grappling with the issues like increasing production, assuring quality produce, minimizing losses and above all making agriculture profitable by reducing production cost and providing fair prices to farmers by strengthening farm and market linkages. These issues are innate to the developing countries owing to the fact that majority of the farmers in these countries are small and marginal (Tal, 2018).

However, the point worth noting is that, where developed countries are directly making an effort to move towards sustainable agriculture, it is the key to most of the agricultural problems of developing economies. While sustainable agriculture will directly work towards retaining ecological balance and producing quality output by limiting chemicals and using more of natural ingredients, simultaneously this limited chemical use will result in reduced cost of production. With many more benefits the sustainable agriculture is being adopted as the most suitable approach for agriculture in different contexts across the globe and is being advocated and promoted by various forums at micro as well as macro level. Sustainable agriculture needs more than new technologies and practices. Besides, supportive external institutions, needs local groups and institutions capable of managing resources effectively and agricultural policies that support these features, it importantly needs agricultural professionals willing and able to learn from farmers and other stakeholders. It also requires that we look closely at the very nature of the way we conceptualize sustainability and how it might be achieved (Pretty, 1994, 1995).

With the sustainable agriculture approach being most discussed and favoured approach, policy makers are taking steps to adopt it for their context and making efforts to create an ecosystem for the same (Velten et al., 2015).. Both technological and institutional innovations are necessary to have a sustainable agriculture supportive ecosystem and are governed by national and international scenario and standards (Pretty, 2007).  Given the fact that trade liberalization and integration of developing economies with rest of the world has transformed agriculture and agricultural market by opening new vistas, but has also challenged the domestic systems with extreme competition resulting in emergence of a new regime of incentives and institutions, thus, making it important to study role of institutional arrangements in the light of changing dynamics of agriculture. 

Institutional Arrangements

Before going forward let’s have a better understanding of institutional arrangements.  Institutional arrangements refer to formal government as well as informal organizational structures including norms which are framed for coordinating and undertaking different policy issues in a country (UN-GGIM). These arrangements play a crucial role by providing a framework to formulate and implement policies. Informal organizational structures refer to non-official institutions like private sector, non governmental bodies, not for profit organizations, as well as people in general. Also, institutional arrangements are dynamic in nature due to continuous interaction between deciding factors and hence keep on changing with time and context.

As per UNDP definition Institutional arrangements are the policies, systems, and processes that organizations use to legislate, plan and manage their activities efficiently and to effectively coordinate with others in order to fulfill their mandate. For example, countries can move from “brain drain” to “brain gain” by creating incentives to encourage skilled workers to remain, to return after university, or to come on a short-term basis to engage in specific projects. Such an effort could involve universities, public administration and the private sector, and could include supporting the development of merit-based recruitment criteria for civil service.

No aspect of agriculture is untouched by institutional arrangements. It has been inevitable in all the aspects from resource management, research and development, extension, credit and marketing and trade. There have been evidences from all across the world how institutional arrangements have been incorporated for sustainable development of agriculture and have evolved over time.

Falvey and Forno (1997) analysed the two different agricultural knowledge systems i.e arrangement between agricultural research, education and extension institutions. First model with separate institutions with cross linkages followed in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Australia and second with integrated institutions such as US land Grant universities and Scotland and Northern Ireland. They reported that the second approach is costly but good source of information for strategic planning. On the other hand the earlier had more focus on applied research required to resolve problems and also provided more control and accountability. The two models have their own strengths and limitations devised for different contexts.

Dixon and Carrie (2016) reported that although wetland socio-ecological systems provide livelihood benefits for many poor people throughout the developing world, however local utilization strategies are required for their sustainable development in order to balance both environmental and developmental outcomes. Various NGOs and social workers are integrating local institutional capacity building into development projects as local institutional arrangements provide an effective way of strengthening peoples’ relationships with their environment and facilitating adaptive co-management. They studied a three year Striking a Balance (SAB) project in Malawi sought to embed sustainable wetland management practices within community-based local institutional arrangements and suggested that the observed declining effectiveness of SAB’s local institutions could be attributed to issues of stakeholder inclusiveness and representations; their sustainability was arguably compromised from their inception on account of them being nested within pre-existing, externally driven village ‘clubs’ whose membership and decision-making was not congruent with all the wetland stakeholders within the community.

Asthana (2013) reported that Indian agriculture sector is characterized by cooperative institutions in credit, production, processing and marketing. Cooperative institutions have a well-developed structure from national level up to village level making presence in 98 % in villages of India. Farming community can be sensitized on global warming and sustainable agriculture through training and education using these cooperative institutions.

Recently Asian and Pacific Network for Testing of Agricultural Machinery (ANTAM) adopted its first set of rules and regulations for enabling the establishment of accredited stations and mutually recognized standards amongst participating countries in the region.  Regional agriculture experts comprehensively assessed standardized ANTAM codes for power tillers, misters-cum-dusters and paddy transplanters, to better promote sustainable agricultural practices in the region. (UNESCAP)

Öhlund, Zurek and Hammer (2015) analysed the institutional arrangements concerning cross‐scale interactions and interdependencies at national and regional (EU) levels, focusing on how Poland and Sweden implement CAP funds in relation to sustainable agriculture, in particular the agri‐environmental schemes, for the period 2007–2013. Agricultural systems can be seen as nested social–ecological systems. European Union (EU) Member States vary considerably in terms of their agricultural, socio‐economic and environmental circumstances. Yet, as participants in the common agricultural market, they are subject to a uniform Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). It was shown that agri‐environmental funds are too small to prevent transition towards large‐scale farming in new Member States and CAP does not effectively promote transformation towards sustainable practices in the EU. They concluded that more scope for flexibility to sustain diverse agricultural systems and facilitate national targeting of sustainability‐promoting measures.

Hagedorn (2002) presented an analytical framework for understanding institutional change in the area of natural resources and environmental problems.  He concluded that  agri-environmental co-operatives could become an additional element in the institutional environment of farms and in the networks existing within rural areas. Co-operative management of natural resources or environmental pollution abatement could increase allocative efficiency if it allows the participating individuals or farms to decide on different levels of effort according to their abatement costs and possibilities.

Setboonsarng, Leung and Cai (2008) studied the performance of organic small farmers in Thailand under different institutional arrangements and over time. It was found that while organic farmers were significantly more profitable and profit efficient than conventional farmers, the level of profitability varies under different intermediaries. Farmers organized by NGOs on degraded marginal land showed a pattern of increasing profit and profit efficiency over time, after the transition period. On the other hand, farmers organized by a private sector firm on newly opened forest land exhibited a pattern of stable profit and increasing yields over time. These findings suggest that while organic agriculture can increase the economic performance of small farmers, institutional arrangement is an important factor in realizing the broader benefits of organic agriculture for poverty reduction.                                                                                         

The above presented cases very well showcase the importance of institutional arrangements for sustainable development of agriculture in different countries in different parts of the world in various forms. However one approach in agriculture which truly is sustainable and has been proven to restore ecological balance in most natural manner is organic agriculture.

Institutional Arrangements for Organic Agriculture

Loconto et al. (2017) studied innovative institutional approaches (public, private and/or civil society) designed to link sustainable agriculture practices with markets for sustainable products in developing countries. They studied in all fifteen cases from different parts of the world, of which ten cases were of organic and reported that same concept being implemented in different countries has been adapted to suit their requirements.  

Agossou et al. (undated) reported that the Songhai initiative had two components: the first was the development of a functional, competitive and efficient agricultural system (parent farm); and the second the incubation of agro-entrepreneurs and promotion of services to increase their productivity, thereby creating a snowball effect through the formation of a critical mass of young  agricultural entrepreneurs and the creation of a framework conducive to the successful development of producers across the African continent. The Songhai model incorporated three key sectors of the economy into a network. It was an industrial cluster model, a model of a productive and autonomous “green rural town”. The model perfectly integrated primary, secondary and tertiary productions. The network stressed on the development of appropriate innovative technologies and training. This diversified production (mixed farming and stock farming) was designed to facilitate technical synergies and complementarities between the different links while ensuring better promotion of the environment. This model enables farmers to produce better and more with less. This is only possible because of an integrated system of production where the principles of synergy, complementarity, supplementary, and negative entropy are in play.

Another widely accepted example of institutional approach towards organic agriculture is Partcipatory Guarantee System (PGS). PGS were networks created within local communities and consist of farmers, experts, public sector officials, food service agents, and consumers. These networks certified producers engage in organic production based on active participation of stakeholders and were built on a foundation of trust, social networks and knowledge exchange. The system sets standards to be followed by all the certified producers and ensured by the fellow members. PGS therefore both ensure the diffusion of the innovation and are the means through which the innovation process is governed. PGS began as an experiment in 1970s in the field of organic agriculture in the US, Japan and Brazil and has successfully percolated to 26 countries around the world. In developing countries, where third party certification is a costly affair, PGS was adopted in response to standard setting and confirmation by corporates. (Loconto et al., 2017). Today PGS is being practiced in different countries and has been customized to suit their needs and accommodate within the existing system and machinery. 

Different types of institutional arrangements

Various types of institutional arrangements, especially for participatory approaches have evolved in different context with existing inistitutions and their collaborations.

The role of governments and state institutions

There is growing acceptance for participatory approaches considering it contribution in development of technologies by and for resource-poor farmers and in management of natural resources. But government organizations have limited ability to conduct systems-based participatory agricultural research and development. Government field agencies, with the deadlines of financial years, often concentrate on physical construction to meet targets to the neglect of community and farmer participation, while at the individual level, agricultural researchers are deterred from working also affected by lack of physical and financial resources, such as transport and travel allowances. Many problems, as well as strengths, were brought to light by ISNAR’s study of nine NARSs that had been conducting on-farm client-oriented research for at least five years. The study found that the hardest part of on- farm research to institutionalize was getting feedback from farmers to affect research priorities (Bush, 2008). Government with state institutions can play a vital role in circulating sustainable agriculture practices to the ground level.

 

Farmer to farmer connect

There are a growing number of successful innovations in national systems due to progress made in several areas. The incentives for change and recognition that past approaches had failed, enabled management structures, with support from senior staff giving the space to innovators who were able to promote and achieve change. Participatory methods were used for information gathering as well as to establish new dialogues, change behaviour and empower local people. Many successes reflect the growing experience of farmer-to-farmer extension and peer-training with significant role of professionals in bringing interested groups together and facilitating information sharing.

During the visits, participants are stimulated by the discussions and observations to try new technologies. For farmers, ‘seeing is believing’, and the best educators of farmers are other farmers themselves (Jintrawet, 2005).

Such farmer-to-farmer extension has resulted in the spread of contour hedgerows in the Philippines (Mikkelsen, 2005); new rice rotations in NE Thailand (Jintrawet et al., 1985); agroforestry in Kenya (Huby, 2001); velvet beans for green manuring in Honduras (Shaikh et. al., 2008).

Scaling up the impact of NGOs

Most NGOs are quite small, though quite often conspicuous, though few operate on large scale. Coverage by NGOs as a whole is usually patchy and small compared with that of government field organisations. Three types of strategy have been identified by Edwards and Hulme (1992) for widening the impact of NGOs:

• Additive: NGOs increase their size and expand operations;

• Multiplicative: NGOs achieve impact through deliberate influence, net- working, policy and legal reform, or training;

• Diffusive: NGOs achieve impact through informal and spontaneous spread of ideas, approaches and methods.

The additive strategy is widespread as donors’ interest and support has fostered organizational expansion. Some of the comparative advantage of NGOs is liable to be lost when they expand. Close relationships with farmers, the capacity to experiment and the ability to be flexible to local contexts may all be weakened.

NGO – government partnerships

Different relationships in agriculture between NGOs and governments have developed. These include:

• Support for marginalized regional administrations;

• Training of government and NGO staff and farmers in participatory methods;

• Development of alliances during training courses, leading to increased job satisfaction on the part of government staff;

These new state-society relations have significant implications (Bebbington, 2005). The benefits from synergy, greater efficiency of resource use and NGOs and farmer organizations becomes more accountable. There are also costs and dangers. The state’s capabilities may be weakened in two ways: through NGOs substituting for government activities; and through a brain drain to NGOs, as increasingly NGOs are able to attract skilled people away from the public sector, though this enriches NGOs with professionals who understand government bureaucracies. The synergy of NGO and Government will be highly beneficial in adapting sustainable agriculture practices to the given context.

Strategies for supporting local institutions

Local groups do have some shortcomings. Some community level institutions establish and legitimize unequal access to natural resources, as with water allocation in Tamil Nadu during times of scarcity and in the common field system in medieval Britain (Pretty, 1990). Also, if only one institution is present in the community, with powers to refuse membership, then, as with farmers’ clubs in Malawi, the poor are liable to be excluded (Amoako-Gyampah and Salam, 2004).

 

Educational and learning organizations

Universities and their agricultural faculties are often the most conservative of agricultural organizations. They remain in the conceptual strait-jack of positivism and modernization, arising partly out of the functional demarcation of research and teaching, and the focus on teaching rather than learning (Sterling, 2004). Most have developed structures that reflect the proliferation of disciplines which have emerged over the past thirty years. The problem is that an innovative field is usually accommodated by adding on a new department (Harrison, 2004).

There is a need to enable universities to evolve into communities of participatory learners, involved in learning, learning about learning, facilitating the development of learners and exploring new ways of understanding their own and others’ realities. The system cannot radically change though can be gradually transformed.

The strategic implications for learning are threefold (Sterling, 2004). The first is greater learning autonomy for students, which aim is to enhance their responsibility, leadership and creativity and requires the development of flexible, learner-centred curricula. The second is focused on applying concepts to real problem situations and requires to reach agreement in identifying the existence and nature of the problem, with the learners’ participation. And the last is devolving more responsibility and power to students. The third aims to enable learner to understand realities better and requires assessment procedures which encourage them to pursue independent inquiry, rather than passing examinations.

Institutional and policy implications for the new professionalism

 

The personal and institutional changes in any system must be supported by the adoption of new incentives, structures and linkages. Some of these can be taken on by individual institutions; others require more coordinated action at policy level. Policy level interventions are required for resource reallocation, recognition and rewards for professionals, training & extension. Whereas, individuals consideration are required for changing personal behaviour and attitude, supportive leadership and creating alliances and support.

Conclusion

Sustainable agriculture is the need of the hour and has to be adapted in different contexts for restoring ecological balance. As different economies have different natural, human and infrastructural resources, different strengths, opportunities and challenges, therefore it becomes inevitable for them to incline their system in order to effectively adopt sustainable agriculture. So as to evolve the existing system and make it compatible with sustainable agriculture institutional arrangements play a crucial road. Supporting farmers, market and other stakeholders for transformation needs new arrangements. These arrangements cannot be copied from one system to another, hence customising them as per the system has to be practised for higher success and better results. Above quoted cases indicates towards adoption of a concept as well as suiting it to local needs and also indicates towards recommended actions. Further participatory approaches ensuring involvement of local communities in decision making and implementation in different aspects of agriculture with greater flexibility and liberalisation will ensure smooth transition to sustainable practices.

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