Agri-sector companies should consider pooling their efforts
It is probably one of the biggest mistakes made in the history of mankind that farmers were convinced that npk type fertilizers are the way to go. Later in his life, Justus Von Liebig, the father of modern agriculture (artificial fertilizers), acknowledged the grave mistake he made in relying only on chemistry. In fact, he saw the negative impacts of artificial fertilisers on the life in the soil in his own vegetable garden and preferred the use of organic matter to inorganic chemical fertilisers. “After I learned why my fertilisers weren’t effective in the proper way,” said Von Liebig, “I was like a person that received a new life.” Liebig realised during his own lifetime that chemical fertilisers didn’t work as people had hoped, or as they were portrayed, but it was too late by then – an industry had already appeared.
Indian soils have been used for growing crops over thousands of years without caring much for replenishing. Unplanned and uncontrolled use of chemical fertilisers and crop protection agents has led to depletion and exhaustion of soils and disruption of ecological balance resulting in their low productivity. The average yields of almost all crops in India are among the lowest in the world. This is a serious problem, which ought to be addressed by joint efforts of the government, industries and ngos. Alongside their ecological consequences, chemical fertilisers have challenges of economic viability to small and medium farmers. It is known that organic manures are essential for keeping the soil in good health, as they provide organic carbon and beneficial microbiota along with the essential nutrients. India has a potential of 650 million tonnes of rural and 16 million tonnes of urban compost, which is not fully utilised at present.
Depleting soil fertility is one of the many challenges facing the Indian agri-sector – erratic climatic conditions, small and fragmented land holdings, lack of availability of quality seeds, excessive and unplanned use of fertilisers and biocides, lack of adequate irrigation (only a third of cultivated land is irrigated), lack of mechanisation, soil erosion, inadequate storage and transport facilities and last but not least scarcity of capital, are some of the other major challenges. Such a complex multi-factorial challenge calls for a concerted collaborative approach among all the concerned stakeholders, including the private sector, employees, local communities, the government, media and society in general. The efforts by the private sector are being termed corporate social responsibility (csr). As per the United Nations and the European Commission, csr leads to a triple bottom-line: profits, protection of environment and fight for social justice. True to this growing awareness of society being an integral part of the corporate, almost all of the Indian companies involved in the agri-sector spend a major part of their csr budget on empowering and supporting the local farming communities. itc, as one of India’s leading corporates in the agricultural sector, ensures strong and enduring farmer partnerships that help transform the rural agricultural sector. Tata Global Beverages (tgbl) has targeted 100 per cent sustainable sourcing by 2020, and therefore they work closely with local communities on aspects of water management, climate change management, waste management and community development. Nagarjuna Fertilizers & Chemicals Limited’s (nfcl) focus is on diffusion of the green technologies generated by the research system to the farmers through an effective extension delivery system.
While all of the major companies are diverting their csr activities to alleviate one or more of the challenges faced by the agri-sector, it’s noticed that companies end up duplicating each other’s efforts on similar projects in the same geographical locations. This factor limits a company’s ability to undertake impact assessment of its initiatives from time to time. Considering the diverse issues and different contexts that exist currently in the csr domain, the companies involved in csr activities for the agri-sector should urgently consider pooling their efforts into building a national alliance for corporate social responsibility.
This alliance, representing various industry interests, should take up a broad development agenda that safe guards the ecological balance, while providing high value services to farmers. Further, corporate houses and ngos should act in synergy within themselves and with the ecosystem to help scale up and sustain projects and reach out to larger communities. A major clash between economics and ecology derives from the fact that nature is cyclical, whereas our industrial systems are linear. Hence, csr activities, which are not core industrial processes, can be planned to be in consonance with ecological systems.
In conclusion, given the complexity of challenges facing the Indian agri-sector, it is only with the whole-hearted and judicious interventions by (a) the corporate houses through their designed csr programmes, (b) government through its policy interventions and (c) ngos through their out-reach efforts, that India can boast of a real and sustainable economic boom.