Dismantling Barriers to Upscaling Agro-ecological Farming in India





With growing recognition of the increasingly destructive impacts of the Green Revolution (GR) the world over, heightened further by COVID-19, there is an urgent need to scale up alternative approaches embedded within the paradigm of agro-ecology. Even so, actual progress on the ground in this direction has been extremely slow. I argue that this is because the entire policy framework governing agriculture continues to be located within the GR paradigm and acts as a multi-pronged impediment to upscaling agro-ecological farming. The paper proposes key policy reforms that could help dismantle these barriers and facilitate, support, and accelerate movement towards agro-ecological farming in India.


Download data is not yet available.


Metrics Loading ...

Author Biography

Mihir Shah, Distinguished Professor, Shiv Nadar University

Shah chaired the Government of India Committee to draft the new National Water Policy during 2019-20


Addiscott, TM. 2010. “Soil Mineralization: An Emergent Process?” Geoderma 160 (1): 31–35. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoderma.2010.03.016

Aga, Aniket. 2019. “The Marketing of Corporate Agrichemicals in Western India: Theorizing Graded Informality.” Journal of Peasant Studies 46 (7): 1458–1476. https://doi.org/10.1080/03066150.2018.1534833

Ahluwalia, Meenakshi and Anupam Kaur. 2020. “Assessment of Chromosomal Aberrations among Agricultural Workers Exposed to Pesticides in Punjab, India.” Journal of Biochemical and Molecular Toxicology 35 (2): e22646. https://doi.org/10.1002/jbt.22646

Altieri, Miguel A, ed. 1995. Agroecology: The Science of Sustainable Agriculture. Boca Raton, United States of America: Taylor and Francis.

Altieri, Miguel A, Clara I Nicholls, Alejandro Henao, and Marcos A Lana. 2015. “Agroecology and the Design of Climate Change–resilient Farming Systems.” Agronomy for Sustainable Development 35 (May): 869–890. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13593-015-0285-2.

Altieri, Miguel A and Clara I Nicholls. 2020. “Agroecology and the Reconstruction of a Post-COVID-19 Agriculture.” The Journal of Peasant Studies 47 (5): 881–898. https://doi.org/10.1080/03066150.2020.1782891

Anderson, Colin Ray, Janneke Bruil, M Jahi Chappell, Csilla Kiss, and Michel Patrick Pimbert. 2021. Agroecology Now! Transformations Towards More Just and Sustainable Food Systems. London: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-61315-0

Arsenault, Chris. 2014. “Only Fifty Years of Farming Left if Soil Degradation Continues.” Scientific American, December 5. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/only-60-years-of-farming-left-if-soil-degradation-continues/

Baveye, Phillipe C, Wilfred Otten, Alexandra Krachenko, Balseiro-Romero María, Beckers Éléonore, Chalhoub Maha, Darnault Christophe, Eickhorst Thilo, Garnier Patricia, Hapca Simona, et al. 2018. “Emergent Properties of Microbial Activity in Heterogeneous Soil Microenvironments.” Frontiers in Microbiology 9 (August): 1929. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2018.01929

Kamaljit S Bawa, Nandan Nawn, Ravi Chellam, Jagdish Krishnaswamy, Vinod Mathur, Shannon B Olsson, Nitin Pandit, Prabhakar Rajagopal, Mahesh Sankaran, R Uma Shaanker. 2020. “Envisioning a Biodiversity Science for Sustaining Human Well-being.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117 (42). https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2018.01929

Benton, Tim G and Rob Bailey. 2019. “The Paradox of Productivity: Agricultural Productivity Promotes Food System Inefficiency.” Global Sustainability 2: e6. https://doi.org/10.1017/sus.2019.3

Bossio, Deborah, Andrew D Noble, David James Molden, and Vinay Nangia. 2008.“Land Degradation and Water Productivity in Agricultural Landscapes.” In Conserving Land, Protecting Water. Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management, edited by D Bossio and K Geheb, pp. 20–32. Wallingford, United Kingdom: Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI). https://doi.org/10.1079/9781845933876.0020

Brown, Kate. 2020. “The Pandemic Is Not a Natural Disaster.” The New Yorker, April 13. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-inquiry/the-pandemic-is-not-a-natural-disaster.

CERC. 2018. “Toxic Pesticides and Heavy Metals in Moong Dal.” India: Consumer Education and Research Centre.

Chaba, Anju Agnihotri. 2021. “Less Department Staff, Lesser Motivation: How Agriculture Extension Collapsed in Punjab?” Indian Express, November 27. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/chandigarh/less-department-staff-lesser-motivation-how-agriculture-extension-collapsed-in-punjab-7644257/

Chauhan, Bhagirath S, Gulshan Mahajan, Virender Sardana, Jagadish Timsina, Mangi L Jat, 2012. “Productivity and Sustainability of the Rice-Wheat Cropping System in the Indo-Gangetic Plains of the Indian Subcontinent: Problems, Opportunities, and Strategies.” Advances in Agronomy 117: 315–369. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-394278-4.00006-4

Corsini, E, J Liesivuori, T Vergieva, H Van Loveren, and C Colosio. 2008. “Effects of Pesticide Exposure on the Human Immune System.” Human & Experimental Toxicology 27 (9). https://doi.org/10.1177/0960327108094509

DAC (Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Department of Agriculture, Co-operation and Farmer Welfare). 2020. Agricultural Statistics at a Glance. Delhi: Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Government of India. https://eands.dacnet.nic.in/

Dawson, Ian K, Simon Attwood, Sarak Park, and Ramni Jamnadass. 2019. Contributions of Biodiversity to the Sustainable Intensification of Food Production – Thematic Study for The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture. Rome: FAO. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gfs.2019.07.002

Deleuze, Giles and Felix Guattari. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Donthi, Narasimha Reddy. 2021. “Pesticide Poisoning in India Challenges of Data and Management in Public Health.” Economic and Political Weekly 12 (45–46).

Expert Committee. 2019. Report on Policies and Action Plan for a Secure and Sustainable Agriculture. New Delhi: Principal Scientific Advisor, Government of India. https://static.psa.gov.in/psa-prod/publication/Report%20of%20Policies%20and%20Action%20for%20Agriculture.pdf

Falconer Ruth E, Alasdair Houston, Wilfred Otten, and Philippe Baveye, 2012. “Emergent Behavior of Soil Fungal Dynamics: Influence of Soil Architecture and Water Distribution.” Soil Science 177 (2). https://doi.org/10.1097/SS.0b013e318241133a

FE Bureau. 2018. “Government Renames Millets as Nutri Cereals”, Financial Express, April 21. https://www.financialexpress.com/market/commodities/government-renames-millets-as-nutri-cereals/1140338/

FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India). 2017 (29 December). Gazette Notification. New Delhi: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India.

Francis, Charles A, ed. 1986. Multiple Cropping Systems. London: MacMillan.

Gal, Orit. 2012. “Understanding Global Ruptures: A Complexity Perspective on the Emerging Middle Crisis.” In Complex New World, edited by Tony Dolphin and David Nash. London: The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

Ghosh, PK, KK Hazra, MS Venkatesh, and Chaitanya Prasad Nath. 2017. “Increasing Soil Organic Carbon through Crop Diversification in Cereal – Cereal Rotations of Indo-Gangetic Plain.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, India – Section B: Biological Sciences 89 (156). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40011-017-0953-x

Global Hunger Index. 2021. “Global Hunger Index – India.” https://www.globalhungerindex.org/india.html.

Gutierrez, Andrew Paul. 2018. “Hybrid Bt Cotton: A Stranglehold on Subsistence Farmers in India,” Current Science 115 (12): 2206–10. https://doi.org/10.18520/cs%2Fv115%2Fi12%2F2206-2210

Gulati, Seema and Anoop Misra. 2014. “Sugar Intake, Obesity, and Diabetes in India.” Nutrients 6 (12): 5955–74. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu6125955

Hecht, Susanna B. 1995. The Evolution of Agroecological Thought. CRC Press.

Holland, John Henry. 1998. Emergence: From Chaos to Order. Wilmington, Delaware: Helix Books.

Indoria, Ashok Kumar, KL Sharma, Kotha Sammi Reddy, Srinivasrao CH, Srinivas Karlapudi, M Osman, Pratibha Gudapaty, NS Raju. 2018. “Alternative Sources of Soil Organic Amendments for Sustaining Soil Health and Crop Productivity in India — Impacts, Potential Availability, Constraints and Future Strategies.” Current Science 115 (11): 2052–62. https://doi.org/10.18520/cs/v115/i11/2052-2062

Jena, Diptimayee and Srijit Mishra. 2021. Procurement and Public Distribution of Millets in Odisha – Lessons and Challenges. RRA Policy Brief. Rainfed India.

Jepson, Paul C, Katie Murray, Oliver Bach, Maria Bonilla, and Lars Neumeister. 2020. “Selection of Pesticides to Reduce Human and Environmental Health Risks: A Global Guideline and Minimum Pesticides List.” The Lancet Planetary Health, 4 (2): e56–e63. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(19)30266-9

Khera, Reetika, Narayanan, Sudha, and Prankur Gupta. 2020. “MSP — The Factoids Versus the Facts.” The Hindu, December 19. https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/msp-the-factoids-versus-the-facts/article33367929.ece

Lal, Rattan. 2012. “Soil Water and Agronomic Production.” In Soil Water and Agronomic Productivity, edited by Rattan Lal and BA Stewart. Boca Raton, United States of America: CRC Press. https://doi.org/10.1201/b12214

Lent, Jeremy. 2017. The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning. Amherst, New York: Prometheus.

Mancombu, Subramani Ra. 2021. “End APEDA Supervision of Agencies Certifying Organic Products Export.” The Hindu – Business Line, November 10.

Mann, Charles C. 2018. The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Ground Breaking Scientists and their Conflicting Visions of the Future of our Planet. New York: Penguin.

Margni, Manuele, D Rossier, P Crettaz, and Olivier Jolliet. 2002. “Life Cycle Impact Assessment of Pesticides on Human Health and Ecosystems.” Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 93: 379–392. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0167-8809(01)00336-X

Mathur, Meeta and Sujeet Ranjan. 2021. “Can Magic Millets Provide a Solution for Malnutrition?” Outlook, February 21. https://poshan.outlookindia.com/story/poshan-news-can-magic-millets-provide-a-solution-for-malnutrition/374898

Miller, Norman. 2021. “The Forgotten Foods that Could Excite Our Tastebuds.” BBC. https://www.bbc.com/future/bespoke/follow-the-food/the-forgotten-plants-that-could-excite-our-tastebuds

Muthuprakash, Siva and Om Damani. 2018. “Development & Application of Farm Assessment Index: Towards A Holistic Comparison of Organic and Chemical Farming.” Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.

NICRA. 2020. National Innovations in Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA). New Delhi: Indian Council of Agricultural Research. http://www.nicra-icar.in/nicrarevised/index.php/project-details.

Nicolopoulou-Stamati, Polyxeni, Sotirios Maipas, Chyrsanthi Kotampasi, Panagiotis Stamatis, and Luc Hens. 2016. “Chemical Pesticides and Human Health: The Urgent Need for a New Concept in Agriculture.” Frontiers in Public Health 4: 148. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2016.00148.

NITI Aayog. 2020. “Agroecology and Natural Farming Could Accelerate Inclusive Economic Growth in India”. New Delhi: Press Information Bureau. https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1628285.

Norgaard, Richard B and Thomas O Sikor. 1995. The Methodology and Practice of Agroecology. CRC Press.

Pal, Dilip Kumar, Tapas Bhattacharyya, Pankaj Srivastava, P Chandran, and SK Ray. 2009. “Soils of the Indo-Gangetic Plains: Their Historical Perspective and Management.” Current Science 96 (9).

Repetto, R and SS Baliga. 1996. “Pesticides and Immunosuppression: The Risks to Public Health.” Health Policy and Planning 12 (2): 97–106. https://doi.org/10.1093/heapol/12.2.97

Shah, Mihir. 2013. “Water: Towards a Paradigm Shift in the Twelfth Plan.” Economic and Political Weekly 48 (3), January 19.

Shah, Mihir. 2017. “Farmer Protests: Over-reliance on a Single Crop Has Cost Them Dear.” Hindustan Times, 27 June. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/here-s-why-farm-protests-have-been-loudest-in-punjab-haryana/story-G18qzwYWo7UuvrFmb06xuK.html

Shah, Mihir. 2019. “Water Reform Must Begin at the Farm.” Business Standard, 7 June. https://www.business-standard.com/article/opinion/water-reform-must-begin-at-the-farm-119060700054_1.html

Shah, M, D Banerji, PS Vijayshankar, and P Ambasta. 1998. India’s Drylands: Tribal Societies and Development through Environmental Regeneration. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Shah, M, PS Vijayshankar, and Francesca Harris. 2021. “Water and Agricultural Transformation in India: A Symbiotic Relationship.” Economic and Political Weekly 56 (29).

Sharma, Manraj Grewal. 2020. “Rattan Lal: Soil, a Living Being, Can Boost Farm Output, Mitigate Climate Change,” Indian Express, 23 June. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/world-food-prize-winner-rattan-lal-soil-a-living-being-can-boost-farm-output-mitigate-climate-change-6470075/

Shiva, V and R Prasad. 1993. Cultivating Diversity: Biodiversity Conservation and Seed Politics. Dehradun: Natraj Publishers.

Swinburn, Boyd A, Vivica I Kraak, Steven Allender, Vincent J Atkins, Phillip I Baker, Jessica R Bogard, Hannah Brinsden, Alejandro Calvillo, Olivier De Schutter, Raji Devarajan, et al. 2019. “The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition, and Climate Change.” The Lancet Commissions 393 (10173): P791–846. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(18)32822-8

Tamburini, Giovanni, Riccardo Bommarco, Cherico Wanger, Claire Kremen, Marcel G A Van Der Heijden, Matt Liebman, and Sara Hallin. 2020. “Agricultural Diversification Promotes Multiple Ecosystem Services Without Compromising Yield.” Science Advances 6 (45).

Thomson Jacob, C, Ajay Parida, and NK Krishna Kumar. 2020. “Conservation of India’s Agrobiodiversity Towards Increasing Food, Nutritional and Livelihood Security.” Current Science 119 (4). https://doi.org/10.18520/cs/v119/i4/607-612

Tomlinson, BR. 2013. The Economy of Modern India from 1860 to the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139108638

Vandermeer, John H. 1989. The Ecology of Intercropping. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511623523

Vijayshankar, PS, Himanshu Kulkarni, and Sunderrajan Krishnan. 2011. “India’s Groundwater Challenge and the Way Forward.” Economic and Political Weekly 46 (2).

Wallace, Robert G. 2016. Big Farms Make Big Flu: Dispatches on Influenza, Agribusiness and the Nature of Science. Monthly Review Press.

WHO. 2011. Nitrate and Nitrite in Drinking Water. New Delhi: World Health Organization.

Additional Files



How to Cite

Shah, M. . (2022). Dismantling Barriers to Upscaling Agro-ecological Farming in India. Ecology, Economy and Society–the INSEE Journal, 5(1), 31–62. https://doi.org/10.37773/ees.v5i1.618