Diversification of agriculture refers to the shift from the regional dominance of one crop to regional production of a number of crops, to meet ever increasing demand for cereals, pulses, vegetables, fruits, oilseeds, fibres, fodder and grasses, fuel, etc. It aims to improve soil health and a dynamic equilibrium of the agro-ecosystem. Crop diversification takes into account the economic returns from different value-added crops. It is different from the concept of multiple cropping or succession planting in which multiple crops are planted in succession over the course of a growing season. Moreover, it implies the use of environmental and human resources to grow a mix of crops with complementary marketing opportunities, and it implies a shifting of resources from low value crops to high value crops, usually intended for human consumption such as fresh market fruits and vegetables. With globalization of the market, crop diversification in agriculture means to increase the total crop productivity in terms of quality, quantity and monetary value under specific, diverse agro-climatic situations world-wide. There are two approaches to crop diversification in agriculture. First is horizontal diversification, which is the primary approach to crop diversification in production agriculture. Here, diversification takes place through crop intensification by adding new high-value crops to existing cropping systems as a way to improve the overall productivity of a farm or region's farming economy. The second is the vertical diversification approach in which farmers and others add value to products through processing, regional branding, packaging, merchandising, or other efforts to enhance the product. Opportunities for crop diversification vary depending on risks, opportunities and the feasibility of proposed changes within a socio-economic and agro-economic context. Crop diversification may occur as a result of government policies. The "Technology Mission on Oilseeds", "Spices Development Board", "Coconut Development Board" etc. are examples where the Indian government created policies to thrust change upon farmers and the food supply chain at large as a way to promote crop diversity. Crop diversification is the outcome of several interactive effects of many factors:
- Environmental factors including irrigation, rainfall, temperature, and soil fertility.
- Technology-related factors including seeds, fertilizers and water technologies, but also those related to marketing, harvest, storage, agro-processing, distribution, logistics, etc.
- Household-related factors including regional food traditions, fodder and fuel as well as the labor and investment capacity of farm people and their communities.
- Price-related factors including output and input prices as well as national and international trade policies and other economic policies that affect the prices either directly or indirectly.
- Institutional and Infrastructure-related factors including farm size, location and tenancy arrangements, research, in-field technical support, marketing systems and government regulating policies, etc.
All these five factors are interrelated. The adoption of crop technologies is commonly assumed to be influenced primarily by resource-related factors when institutional and infrastructure factors can play as much or more of a role in their adoption.
Area Expansion Problems under Rice and Wheat Crops
Scaling up production area poses several new problems of significance such as:
- Excessive use of groundwater leading to poor water use efficiency and depletion of groundwater.
- Deterioration of soil health or soil fertility.
- Multiple infestations of weed flora, insect pests and diseases.
- Indiscriminate use of energy such as chemical, electricity or disease, etc.
- Reduction in the availability of other protective food and high value crops.
- Pollution of agro-ecosystems.
On the other hand, crop diversification has potential as an economic driver in agricultural regions. It may prove to be of paramount importance in meeting challenges that arise from a post-green revolution scenario. In view of shrinkage of agricultural land and operational holdings due to expansion of urban centers, changes in consumer food habits, exponential population growth rate, farmers are pressured to include or substitute additional crops in to the cropping system.
Major Driving Forces for Crop Diversification
The major driving forces for crop diversification are:
- Increasing income on small farm holdings.
- Withstanding price fluctuation.
- Mitigating ill-effects of aberrant weather.
- Balancing food demand.
- Improving fodder for livestock animals.
- Conservation of natural resources (soil, water, etc.).
- Minimizing environmental pollution.
- Reducing dependence on off-farm inputs.
- Decreasing insect pests, diseases and weed problems.
- Increasing community Food security
Indian agriculture is characterized by a dominance of small and marginal farmers (almost 68 per cent) who suffer as a result of difficult socio-economic conditions. 75 per cent of the farm holdings are below 2 hectares, and a large portion of rural people subsist as small holders. Income from these farms can not be raised up to the desired level to sufficiently alleviate poverty in the countryside unless existing crop production systems are diversified through inclusion of high value horticultural and arable crops. Furthermore, increased dependence on one or two major cereal crops (wheat, rice, etc.) witnessed after the green revolution makes the farming economy vulnerable to price fluctuation arising due to demand-supply or export-import equations especially after the WTO began influencing markets. Crop diversification on the other hand, can better tolerate the ups and downs in the market value of farm products and may ensure economic stability for farming families of the country. The adverse effects of aberrant weather, such as erratic and scanty rainfall and drought are very common in a vast area in agricultural production of the country. Incidence of flood in one part of the country and drought in the other part is a very frequent phenomenon in India. Under these aberrant weather situations, dependence on one or two major cereals (rice, wheat, etc.) is always risky.
Hence, crop diversification through substitution of one crop or mixed cropping/inter-cropping may be a useful tool to mitigate problems associated with aberrant weather to some extent, especially in the arid and semi-arid drought-prone/dryland areas.
Crop diversification in agriculture in India is taking place vertically or horizontally, mostly due to market forces and occasionally due to domestic needs. Where there are concerns regarding land and water use and quality, there is immediate need to consider:
- Processing of farm produce into value added products offers scope for employment in non-farm works such as distillation of active ingredients from medicinal and aromatic plants (herbal products), scope of industrialization in agriculture for sugar, paper board manufacturing, etc. to increase employment in rural areas.
- There is a need to generate place-based approaches for diverse farming situations under various socio-economic conditions, domestic needs, market infrastructure, input supply, etc.
- The research on crop diversification is best done in a farmer-participatory mode in which a multi-disciplinary team of scientists involves farmers from project planning through arriving at conclusions.
- A concept of sustainable productivity for each unit of land and water through crop diversification needs to be fostered.
- There is need for promoting co-operatives in rural areas to solve micro-level and location-specific problems.
- Major thrust should be given on horticulture (vegetables, fruits, flowers, spices, etc.) and animal husbandry (dairying, poultry, goatery, piggery, duckery, etc.) to support a vigorous and expanding export market, balanced with supplying local markets with affordable, healthy food.
- Strengthening food processing and other value-added industries in rural areas is a means to provide employment to rural youth.
- There is need to develop rural infrastructure such as roads, markets, medical and educational facilities in the villages with efficient utilization of local resources for farming community in a more pragmatic way.
- Crop diversification provides efficient use of farm inputs and contributes to a strong rural economy.
- Alternate cropping systems and farm enterprise diversification are most important for generating higher income, employment and protecting the environment.
- There are numerous opportuntiies to adopt subsidiary occupations to the rice-wheat cropping systems common in India. These include vegetable farming, fruit cultivation, floriculture, medicinal and aromatic plants cultivation, mushroom farming, dairying, piggery, goatery, poultry and duckery, fishery or aquaculture, bee-keeping, agroforestry, biodiesel farming with Jatropha Curcas (veranda), palm, neem, Karanja, etc. to provide ample scope for diversification of rice-wheat cropping system in north-western and south India and north-eastern states.
- Enterprise diversification generates more income and rural employment year round.
Diversification in agriculture' has tremendous impact on the agro-socio-economic impact and uplifting of resource-poor farming communities. It generates income and employment for rural youth year round for the ultimate benefits of the farmers in the country. It implies the use of local resources in a larger mix of diverse cropping systems and livestock, aquaculture and other non-farm sectors in the rural areas. With the globalization of markets in the WTO era, diversification in agriculture is one means to increase the total production and productivity in terms of quality, quantity and monetary gains under diverse agro-climatic situations of the country. There are many opportunities of crop diversification both in the irrigated and non-irrigated vast areas in the rural India.