Sustainability of Agriculture: exploring the labour and livelihood dimensions



Sustainability of agriculture or agricultural practices can only be defined with respect to specific contexts. In reference to well-being of the living labour in question, for this paper a practice is deemed to be sustainable when it can ensure adequate Calorie intake for
the living labour. Alternately, sustainability of agriculture has been defined in terms of whether the farm household in question is able to yield an energy surplus, when its members and the animals in its possession are obtaining an adequate Calorie intake.

For evaluating 590 households engaged in 3432 plot season crop combinations in the State of West Bengal, India, four alternative and stricter scales of sustainability had been proposed, defined, and applied. Such an evaluation was carried with the method of energy balance analysis and against two paths of enquiry, with all the measurements in terms of energy units: first, the surplus during the cultivated period, against gross cropped area (GCA), gross output (O) (cultivated period), and second, the annual surplus, against GCA, and net area sown (NAS).

One of the several conclusions of this paper includes identification of threshold area under cultivation (both in terms of GCA and NAS), land/household size and land/earners, for ensuring sustainability of the practices.

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5 responses

  • This paper provides a valuable contribution to informing both the FAO and governments of countries with a significant remaining sector of subsistence agriculture, on which regions and villages might be most urgently in need of help.

    However, its title might be construed as suggesting a wider area of relevance than it actually has, I would hope that both its author and other people will realize that its emphasis on the rural subsistance economy is a significant qualification concerning its relevance.

    I have no doubt that, unless something pretty drastic is done in terms of containing emissions, I am, despite my age (80), likely to see in my lifetime ‘freak weather’ conditions, which will seriously threaten the supply of food by export market orientated agriculture to the world’s urban majority. Just look at what happened to the corn harvest in the US this summer. The reckless policy of requiring automotive fuel to be blended with biofuels only adds to this danger.

    Aart Heesterman

  • Nandan Nawn says:

    Thanks for the comment. Given that the cultivators this paper has considered are primarily producing paddy, the primary purpose was to see whether in notional terms, there is any surplus left at the end of the production. The small and marginal farmers, to the extent of those having even 3 ha of land in GCA, were having a negative surplus. In India, surveys have repeatedly shown that(even the government’s own) the majority is willing to leave farming, but for the opportunity to be engaged in alternative livelihood options. There is a dire need to ensure the production of food crops and also to improve the productivity. Possibilities include coordinated production using less chemical (and hence energy) intensive methods as well as cooperative farming.
    I agree that the shifting of land away from food crops of using the food crops as non-food items has and also can have disastrous consequences.

    • Yes, that’s fair enough. All I am saying is that, even whilst the reference to the social context in the text clearly implies a limitation, the title could be seen as having a more general relevance than the paper has. And that there is in fact, an issue concerning the sustainability of global production and trade pattern.

      Aart Heesterman

  • Nandan Nawn says:

    Yes, I agree. Expanding the scale beyond the farming household can incorporate such imbalances at the block (sub-district), district, state or even at a global level. In fact, the literature on the energetics of the human labour discusses such possibilities, on which a separate paper is being written. As suggested, the title will be changed subsequently: ‘Sustaining the Farming Household–a neglected aspect in the Debate on Sustainability of Agriculture’. Hope this is more apt.
    Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Dr. R. Shashi Kumar says:

    The Paper has many dimensions of study. Firstly, the methodology adopted for study is good. As the theme of the paper identify the interrelations of land and labor, the major hindrance for the growth of agricultural sector, particularly in the developing countries is ‘improper management’ of land. Also, the identification of land fertility, cropping pattern and determination of price are major problems. Even in India, the agricultural sector failed not because of the government policies and programs, but because of their proper implementation, as it depends on place to place.