Look back at the decade: Food

The second decade of the millenium saw the spread of permaculture in India

By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 31 December 2019

Over 30,000 edible plant species are known to humanity, out of which, only 200 are cultivated at the farm level. At the end of the day, 50 per cent of humans’ calorie intake comes from just eight major crops namely wheat, maize, rice, barley, beans, groundnut, maize, potatoes, and sorghum. India is no more eating good food.

For a significant percentage of population there is even not adequate food. Malnutrition is a concern for both rural and urban population. But in this decade, there was a surge in people taking up local farming of indigenous varieties. Millet has reclaimed back its original place in our plates. Here's what DTE wrote in November 2017:

New primitive wisdom 

At the heart of permaculture lies the idea that a plantation should offer multiple benefits, right from food and fodder to timber and fertiliser. The concept is not new. It was first propagated in the 1970s by Australian biologist Bill Mollison. It gained acceptance in India after several enthusiasts were influenced by Mollison during his visit to the country in 1987.

By 2016, permaculture had grown into a movement and spread to 140 countries. Today, more than 3 million people across the globe practise permaculture, and claim that the novel farming system is the only way to make agriculture sustainable in the face of extreme weather events like recurrent droughts and unprecedented floods, land and soil degradation due to excessive use of synthetic fertilisers and manure, and a growing population.

In 2009, the UN gave a call to scale up food production to feed the global population, which is estimated to reach 9.1 billion by 2050, with 70 per cent of them living in urban areas. In such a scenario, it is imperative to produce more with less resource, build resilience among small farmers, improve soil health and encourage people to grow their own food. And all these can be achieved through permaculture.

Uma Maheswar Rao, principal scientist (agriculture division) with the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi, says permaculture is meant for small or slightly bigger ecosystems and is thus not enough for food security. In fact, all alternative farming systems, including permaculture, organic farming and non-pesticide management methods, emphasise on using local resources and not disturbing the local environment.

The profit potential under permaculture can be estimated from the fact that another older technique, which also relies on local inputs, is giving farmers good dividends. Permaculture follows several principles that are a part of India’s traditional methods of farming. Similarly Zero Budget Natural Farming that won Maharashtra farmer Subash Palekar a Padma Shri in 2016 rests on the principle that farming should not be investment intensive.

Instead, it should rely on local crop varieties and natural pesticides. The native cattle breed is a major component in this farming system which consumes the local weed varieties of grass. Its dung and urine are used as pesticide and fertiliser. This technique also uses mulching, mixed cropping patterns and crop rotations to maintain the soil nutrients. 

Also in the decade 


Although permaculture is growing rapidly in India, the average villager’s reluctance to try different foods and habits slows down the movement. For example, only a few varieties of vegetables are consumed in areas even when a huge diversity is feasible.


Shifting to a healthier diet by eating more seasonal fruits and vegetables and reducing the consumption of junk food could help in meeting the ‘zero hunger’ goal of the UN-mandated Sustainable Development Goals.

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