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Safety vs food sufficiency

Deccan Herald
By Professor  
Mimi Roy, SRIROOP CHAUDHURI

Does Israel mean only war and advanced militarisation to India? Harnessing defence systems and newer ammo deals? Upgrading cyber connectivity and modernisation of national security networks?
That’s what it seems like with each high-level visit, in fact. And with raging debates over border breaches in the North to the Northeastern states, it sounds in place. And so was it even during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent tour to the banks of Jordan.

No doubt, Israel has been our prime benefactor since 1990s, providing strategic defence peripherals of latest and highest norms. And of course, no measure seems adequate when it comes to resolving border disputes and ensuring national security. Conflict scenarios should be averted at any cost. But unfortunately, such dialogues shouldn’t be ‘reduced’ just to improve our firepower alone.

May sound funny, but farmers of Maharashtra should enjoy equal priority on such occasions. And the brothers in Haryana, Punjab, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu or Madhya Pradesh. Basically, all and any state where agrarian way of life is challenged by unprecedented crop losses owing to drought. Just to remind ourselves again, agriculture still bears the burden of over 15% of the national GDP, supporting livelihoods to as much as 45% of population.

Of course, this marks a grave drop from that in the 1950s when it used to feed to 60% of our GDP, supporting just as much per cent of population. Problem now is, given the uncertainty in agricultural productivity (climate change, higher input costs, lowering of prices for farm produce, lack of governmental safety nets, lack of institutionalised credit systems and what not), rural youth have started turning away from it big time. But even then, there should not be any debate about how agriculture continues to provide lifeline. So, challenges therein is no lesser emergency than national security.

But how’s Israel to come to use to us on such grounds? Here’s a little secret about Israel that not many of us are quite aware of. Israel hosts a delectable cohort of agro-ecologic programmes, ready to stand in aid to all nations around the world who need assistance towards safe and sustainable infrastructure development.

In simple words, lending technology and innovation to developing economies as part of their MASHAV (International Development Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs), which states in its mission goal, “we address development challenges by presenting a comprehensive and holistic approach, including the incorporation of several cross-cutting issues such as gender equality, health, education and environmental issues”.

As an annual curricula of MASHAV’s capacity building programme, over 2,000 professionals from 100-odd developing nations benefit from over a hundred hands-on training course-cum-workshops diverse aspects of environmental mitigation/adaptation. A prime focus of the MASHAV is to improve our knowledge base on sustainable agriculture and rural development.

That said, it takes into stride issues of water management (specifically targeted to climate change adaptations), desertification, irrigation and water efficiency, livestock and dairy-milk development, integrated pest management (IPM), post-harvest management and storage etc. So much so, it even has programmes on gender equality via women’s empowerment in the rural agrarian sector etc. Is not this a raving scar to rural development India that needs strategic measures?

Do we have any account how many (or if any) Indian officials have participated in such workshops till date? Meaning, have our officials, in respective disciplines, been encouraged to enrol in such training programmes to bring home knowledge and innovation?

Recent farmers’ agitations have already seen bloody protests in different states leading to property damages and life/livestock losses. Need for our farmers to train with advanced irrigation and crop/pest management schemes is dire now as any. But are we there yet to train them with modern farming?

In the backdrop of climatic aberrations, global agriculture is now under rapid transformation. But are our farmers equipped with the latest toolkits and knowledge to ‘offset’ the adversities? Are they aware of latest innovations in mechanised farming?

Of particular importance now are our smallholders, share-croppers and marginal agricultural labours, who are at brink of destruction. They will need more hands-on practicum with sustainable agricultural methods causing least environmental disturbances (say, soil-water pollution). Can MASHAV not help us on these?

Successive droughts

Drought, as it seems, has become an annual event in India, munching hard on sustainable development schemes implemented (or envisioned) to bolster rural economy. And by the same token, it deserves acknowledgement in all future dialogues to establish international collaborations to seek drought-resistant farming techniques.

So states where crop production is at a loss (and farmer suicides/unrests have taken alarming proportions), should be in the minds of our officials visiting Israel in future. All those regions in the country where water resource depletion plagues the irrigation sector, should have no less priority in future dialogues.

Interestingly, under Indo-Israel Agriculture Project (IIAP) signed in 2006, India already shares ties with Israel on agro-ecologic exchanges. Through IIAP, Israel is to provide best practices and technical know-how. Several Israeli centres for excellence for agriculture have been established in various Indian states.

This is encouraging indeed. But then how are these centres faring? How much has been achieved so far within IIAP? How’s it helping to diversify national food basket? How are they helping establishing drip irrigation systems in remote villages, or protected-cultivation practices or fertigation? Are our farmers learning to maximise resources use efficiency in face of irrigation shortages? Are they learning about conservation-tillage or no-tillage to avoid soil disturbances? Minimising harmful use of agrochemicals? These issues to need equal priorities in future dialogues. We will need annual updates. Learn more about success stories.

Since its foundation in 1950s, over 2,75,000 professionals around the world have benefited from MASHAV’s frontline workshops. Operating on internationally-acclaimed standards, MASHAV takes on a demand-driven approach, adoptable by any national development programme worldwide. It’s time we recognised its comparative advantages and availed of it.

(The writers are faculty of environmental studies and the co-directors to the Centre for Environment, Sustainability and Human Development, O P Jindal Global University Sonepat, Haryana)