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I endorse the vital importance of FACT’s 10 Principles for Agrobiodiversity, which clearly express how we all benefit from a more equitable and diverse food system.
Agrobiodiversity provides a foundation for food, nutrition and livelihood security. Diversity in fact, is the basis for crop security. It is believed that agriculture started over 12 thousand years ago, with women at the forefront of selection and domestication of over 5000 plant species, to suit different ecological, climatic and cultural conditions as well as to meet diverse needs for food, medicines, and indeed incomes.
Climate change has brought new challenges to agriculture. It is important that we have a proactive analysis of the changes that are likely to take place in cropping systems as a result. It is in this context that we should look back to the past and identify the varieties of crops which had been grown in difficult weather conditions, able to thrive with less water or in poorer soils. These climate-smart crops also have restorative and protective traits that help sustainably intensify agriculture by allowing farmers to increase the variety and quantity of food that they grow. By cultivating agrobiodiversity, everybody wins.
With the modernization and mechanization of agriculture the number of cultivated crop varieties has gone down steeply. While in the past several hundred plant varieties were grown, gradually this has come down to five or six crops such as wheat, rice, maize sorghum, and potato. The remaining crops are increasingly underutilized, neglected or have become orphans; many are at high risk of disappearing. The current interest in agrobiodiversity seeks to maintain varietal diversity in order to enlarge the food basket and the diversity of diets.
Several steps are needed for this to happen. First, we should ensure the conservation of varietal diversity for posterity. Secondly, we should pay more attention to cultivation practices and crop varieties which enrich soil fertility and maintain soil moisture. Thirdly, we need to introduce postharvest technology measures which will not reduce the quality and yield of the range of neglected crops. Lastly, we need to develop methods by which both home consumption and market sales of these crops are improved.
I stressed this point in my 1973 Sardar Patel Lectures titled “Our Agricultural Future”. For the purpose of promoting environmentally sustainable technology, I advocated Gandhian agriculture where productivity can be enhanced without harm to the environment.
“Based on the most advanced principles of biological science, we can probably claim to have developed a Gandhian Agriculture, because this would be an agriculture where Gandhian concepts become manifested in the form of an advanced rural economy, benefiting all sections of the community. Also this will be an agriculture which enriches and not harm the environment”
Gandhian agriculture is based on the principle of non-violence to nature. On the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, we need to urgently spread this message as the pathway to sustainable food and nutrition security.