“Arguably, reviving India’s agriculture is the country’s most important agenda. But who will carry forward this primary livelihood activity? There might not be a next generation farmer left in the country. According to the Census 2011, every day 2,000 farmers give up farming. The young among the farming communities are hardly interested in agriculture. Even a majority of students who graduate from agricultural universities switch over to other professions. It is called the “great Indian agro brain drain”. Paradoxically, agriculture still seems dependable: despite dipping contribution to the country’s gross domestic product, 55 per cent of the workforce hails from the agriculture sector.”

The above quote is produced from the story produced in the famous environment magazine, Down To Earth published by Center for Science and Environment, New Delhi.

The above statement very beautifully captures the plight of Indian agriculture today. Youth is running away from agriculture, farmers are committing suicides, weather is becoming harsh and much more. These are really tough times for the agriculture, keeping the fact in mind that half our country’s economy is still dependent on it. Environment has been really challenging for agriculture.

Mayank Jain, CEO of MicroX Foundation

On the occasion of world environment day, TA spoke to Mayank Jain. Mayank is a social entrepreneur from Delhi. He graduated from NSIT and has over three years of experience in research and analytics. He is part of various forums like Jagriti Yatra, Urban Habitat Summit, Indian Student Parliament, Indo-Afghan Future Workshop, Good Governance Yatra etc. and previously worked in his capabilities with various not-for-profits.

Mayank is CEO of MicroX Foundation which is working in the areas of agriculture and healthcare. He developed a unique start-up “Desh ka Culture, Agriculture” under which he is trying to reconnect youth with agriculture in really creative and interesting manner.

(a) Has the concept of environmentalism undergone some change over a period of say last ten years?

Being a close observer from last 9-10 years, I can definitely say that there has been lot of awareness/consciousness undertaken with respect to this field from all sectors, whether government, not-for-profits, civil societies, doers, think-tanks and those who make living out of it. There have been changing perceptions about the environment and to meet human demands, our expanding population; we have taken a toll over it.

Largely people are becoming aware about these and efforts are being made from different stakeholders. It has moved higher in the priority, but the problems at the base remains the same. As India is developing, and on the paradigms of development, the environment conditions has deteriorated; but the concerns and voices are there. We are awaiting a tipping point.

(b) Is Indian agriculture doing enough to adopt to climate change?

Population dependent upon agriculture for their livelihoods is still large in absolute numbers (50% still dependent upon agriculture).

Agriculture and climate change are closely related. Erratic weather patterns, changing crop duration, unpredictable yield, according to me, could be attributed to the affects of climate change. Climate change is very closely related to poverty too, as those people have fewer financial and technical resources to combat the change. The agriculture has its own problems and further amplified by climate change because no matter how advanced agriculture become, it still is largely governed by weather conditions.

There has been initiatives been taken by IARI, ICAR and research institutes to develop the climate resilient crops or providing better risk mitigation strategies or change in agricultural practices for that matter. There are loads of effects of climate change which are yet to be quantified in terms of impact and magnitude and solutions for them need to be devised. Coming back to the question, there have been initiatives taken, but to to tackle the issue of food security, productivity; quality of research as well as implementation needs to be made at faster pace and more effective results.

Mayank Jain, CEO – MicroX Foundation receiving award from India Youth Fund for executing a project “Desh ka Culture Agriculture – Reconnecting Urban Youth with Agrarian Heritage”

(c) How does your innovative idea of “Desh ka Culture, Agriculture” environment friendly?

Desh ka Culture, Agriculture talks about reconnecting urban youth with the agrarian heritage.

India is a nation of diversities, festivities and celebrations. Traditionally and also if we observe, most of the festivals can be traced to the agriculture season/harvest or to say the least have its roots in agriculture. Our project is the celebration of that spirit and quest to connect back to our agrarian roots through the means of growing food.

The project specifically aims at teens/adolescents whom we foresee would be stepping into the adulthood and are in the development process where there consumerism pattern would be decided for life. Here we make them grow their own food in an eco-friendly and organic manner & experience the joy of farming. A series of workshops follow the setting up of urban farms which make the kids empathize with growers of food and appreciate the hard-work/efforts of farmers.

(d) Are urban spaces the biggest enemy of environment today?

From my childhood, being born and brought up in an urban environment, I myself have witnessed rise of multi-storey buildings, decreasing green spaces, encroachment of flood plains and also observed that development and environment has not gone hand-in-hand neither from policy level nor from the mindset with which we are living these days. More on, isolation side and individualistic sense is prevailing now-a-days rather than a community/society perspective. Not the biggest enemy, but environment, which is as vital as air, is lacking the importance it should have. Our emphasis on cities is pushing environment on the backseat.

(e) Is urban farming a good and workable idea?

Earlier all households used to have backyard/kitchen gardens in their premises where few plants/vegetables were grown. The practice is still there but the space is shrinking. Especially with the kind of rat race we are living in, the concept of urban farming becomes much more relevant.

According to me, we are just time traveling and going back to the things we used to do. Urban farming is a need of the hour; especially when the market produce is infested with chemicals and pesticides; there is a huge disconnect with our food system & there is a dire need to re-connect with it. Urban farming is very workable idea and it needs to be inculcated into the lifestyle of people. Urban farming leads to utilization of space, and creation of green areas in city areas.

Moreover, it is an amalgamation of gardening, meditation & discipline. When one grows own food, the person is able to appreciate the hardwork which goes in growing and also lead to empathize with the growers. It can help in rethinking our food system, minimizing food waste.

I also see food as preventive healthcare and through urban farming, we can take a step closer to realize the healing powers of food, take a pause & appreciate the nature and fix our food system.

(f) Your comments on entrepreneurship and environment conservation.

Entrepreneurship, whatever be its dictionary meaning, is in a kind way of life, a spirit with which you operate, mix of risk taking, doing things and leadership. Environment conservation appears broad when seen at macro level but at micro level can be started by making small changes in our daily routines e.g. discouraging plastics bags, minimizing waste, conserving water, becoming aware of the choices we make.

If we commit to ourselves these small changes in our lifestyle and work locally on it, I think in a short duration we would be able to inspire our near & dear ones for the same; a movement beginning at home with a local impact will bring the change at macroscopic level & for good.

Apart from what is said, there are lot of organizations coming with products and services which are more sustainable in their designing or operations but they do come at premiere price; those kind of innovations are required and needs to be promoted; cost has to be worked upon & advocacy needs to be done for the same.