Diversity is the one word that characterises the rainfed agricultural areas of India, spread over 77 million hectares of the country. Diversity of the cultures and cuisines of the indigenous communities that live there. Diversity of flora and fauna. Diversity of crops and cropping patterns. And diversity in topography, rainfall patterns and soils.
India’s structural frameworks for agricultural policies and investments have, over the decades, eroded this rich diversity and led to the ecological degradation of rainfed agroecosystems. The constant poisoning of the soils, the decreasing availability of water, and the increasing unpredictability of weather has resulted in declining incomes, increased indebtedness, and a higher-than-average suicide rate among farmers who depend on rainfed agriculture.
A new paradigm for structural investments is needed to make rainfed agriculture economically viable and ecologically regenerative: A paradigm that privileges strengthening and integrating production systems rather than merely increasing productivity, and a paradigm that reduces risks for ensuring sustained year-round incomes rather than guaranteeing seasonal employment. With rainfed agriculture contributing to 60% of the agricultural GDP and supplying 44% of the country’s food requirements in terms of grains, pulses, oilseeds, meat etc., appropriate public investments into this sector would lead to nutritional security, sustainable economic growth, and climate resilience.
Revitalising Rainfed Agriculture Network (www.rainfedindia.org) supports the diversity of rainfed areas by promoting a diversity of location-specific agroecological practices. Such decentralised practices include community empowerment, use of indigenous seeds (particularly landraces), crop diversification, mobile irrigation systems, decentralised value chains, and farming methods that include livestock (ideally native breeds) integrated into the farm and landscape. By scaling such practices through structural paradigm shifts, regenerative rainfed agriculture can be the next (r)evolutionary shift in India’s agriculture.