Intro : Conventional rural agriculture should not remain a way of living. Time has come to put in place a framework to promote urban and peri-urban agriculture.
By 2050 an estimated 80 per cent up from 50 per cent now of the world population would be living in urban areas. These people will be more prosperous and hence more demanding – which means per person demand of fruits and vegetables and all sorts of animal products will increase. That is quite a tall order. Going by the present view about agriculture, the very first question that should bother us is about the arable area as by then urban areas and industrial commercial institutional and infrastructural use would have acquired a sizable chunk of agricultural land by then – not only in Bharat but globally.
In fact we are far more comfortable and hence complacent in this respect as compared to some other countries. Our arable area is almost the same as irrigated area, if not marginally more than that of China which is geographically three times our size. Our net sown area is 14 crore hectares (crh) and gross cropped area facilitated by irrigation is 20 crh from which we produce 26 crore tons of food grains. We also produce 13 crore tons of milk annually from 1.3 billion cattle. We export wheat and rice as also oil cakes and shrimps etc. Sixty years ago we were considered a basket case. Bulk of the addition to world population will now come from Bharat. But we are far behind at 32 per cent in terms of urbanisation and hence we will require more land part of which will come from agricultural holdings. Thus although our total cropped area may still increase with better irrigation, the net sown area may at best remain the same. So how are we going to raise our crops and animals for the burgeoning numbers?
But land alone is not the issue. On an average, food is transported about 2400 kms from where it is grown to where it is eaten. It is stored for most part of the year. It is also processed and packaged before being distributed. Food is quite bulky and highly perishable and hence takes so much area in warehouses and cold stores, in trucks, trains and ships. So much of fossil fuel is consumed in its transport and cold storage. Food distribution system used 4 to 17 times more fuel and emitted 5 to 17 times more CO2 than the local and regional transport. Also just one square metre of green roof offsets the annual particulate matter emissions of a car. Most of us would relish home produced fresh food. Would it not be better to grow our food close by where we live. Can we and should we produce food in urban and peri-urban areas? Is that possible?
We can allow and practise urban farming systematically, in the modern way thereby not only making fresh items available to the citizens without incurring huge transportation, storage and processing costs but also with less pollution and more greenery.
The modern ways are to use green houses of all kinds and go vertical in farming as well. Consider this: 1 sq metre of plot can yield upto 20 kg of food every year. A 30 storey farm on a 2 hectare plot can yield more food than 1000 hectares of land. Also consider that in a pvc green house complete with ventilation, anti-insect sceens, ground cover, anti-hail shade and side netting against rain, a farmer can control yields and take crops all the year around being protected from insects and pest, frost and hail, heavy rains and flood.
In a vertical farm or a pvc green house, a crop or livestock does not depend upon the vagaries of nature. These green houses can come up on terraces, vacant plots, derelict land, area just outside the city. Greenery on terraces and walls means cooler buildings and lower air-conditioning cost. Urban farming may concentrate more on fresh items such as vegetables, fruits, milk, eggs, fish, meat, honey, flower, aromatic, ornamental and medicinal herbs also landscaping and agro-forestry. Factory or industrial farming may sound somewhat far-fetched even cruel but the fact remains that worldwide 31 per cent of fish is produced by aquaculture or in fish ponds. 39 per cent of meat, 50 per cent of eggs and two third of all poultry are produced in urban areas. We can grow plants in mist i.e., Aeroponics or in nutrient solution – hydroponics or combine aquaculture with hydroponics in acquaponics.
Agriculture should not remain a way of living. It is a business activity and must be industrialised and commercialised. And the people who would benefit most from this change will be the urban poor who spend 60- 80 per cent of their incomes on food. This is the best food and nutrition security we can provide. It is therefore, incumbent from municipal corporations, to state and central government to put in place proper policies so as to promote systematic and healthy urban farming.
JP Dubey (The writer is a senior columnist having
expertise in developmental issues)