The Green Revolution was certainly a game changer when it came to solving the food crisis in India in the late 1960s. While the productivity of paddy and wheat grew by leaps and bounds to an extent that allowed for export, a serious consequence of the same was monocropping, which has resulted in an increased attack from pests and diseases. Moreover, emphasis on the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides has led to significant soil degradation and water contamination. Last but not least, the overwhelming dependence on rice and wheat for food security has resulted in severe malnutrition in the country.
A viable alternative to current unsustainable agrarian practices is that of traditional mixed cropping systems that were widely practised before the Green Revolution. The inherent agrobiodiversity of these cropping systems will enable a much-needed transition to improving nutritional diversity. With the use of natural farming practices and agro-ecologically integrated production systems, such cropping systems also restore the ecological health of agricultural soils.
These indigenous cropping systems have evolved in keeping with the agroecological conditions of a given location, optimising the interactions of diverse elements above and below the soil. By preserving the existing soil biodiversity (microbes, bacteria, fungi, earthworms, etc.), the health of the soil in terms of organic carbon content, moisture, and nutrients is ensured, and sustainable cultivation is guaranteed.
The Pata system practised in the state of Maharashtra is one example of an indigenous mixed cropping system. Though on the verge of extinction, it continues to be followed in a few villages as a relic of the old system. Under this system, a variety of seeds, such as niger, linseed, safflower, cereals, vegetables, pulses, etc., are grown all around the main crop. It regulates the nutrition and moisture content of the soil and protects the main crop against attacks from pests, rodents, and other animals. This form of farming functions not only as a pest repellent but also offers nutritional security, which in turn enables households to become food secure.
Ensuring a healthy and sustainable future can be brought about only by reducing biodiversity loss while meeting fundamental food and resource requirements. Crop diversification through the promotion of indigenous cropping systems is the paradigm shift that India requires to be climate resilient in the agriculture sector.