I recently attended the 23rd International Grasslands Congress which was held in Delhi for the first time in order to focus on the challenges grasslands in India face as they come under increasingly intense pressure. Some 200 international delegates attended along with about 300 scientists from across India.
The Congress was hosted by the Range Management Society of India as well as ICAR-Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute and the overall focus of the meeting was looking at how to optimize the land resources of a country: do we view grasslands as just a grazing opportunity for open range stock or do they provide other environmental benefits? Discussion at the conference focused on the fact that grasslands offer a wealth of biodiversity – both in species growing above ground and also in the micro-organisms in the soil. It’s a rich bank of biodiversity that we all need to think about how to utilize and preserve for future generations.
I co-chaired the first session prior to the launch of the Congress with Dr A. Pattanayak, Director of ICAR-Vivekananda Parvatiya Krishi Anusandhan Sansthan (VPKAS) based in Almora, Uttarakhand. His organization is engaged in hill agricultural research for the North-Western Himalayan region of India.
One of the interesting things to come out of the discussions was the impact of solar power on the grasslands. Whilst the impact of increased cultivation for food crops is widely known to be putting pressure on remaining grasslands across the world, solar panels are also encroaching on these areas. As India pledges to increase the use of solar power – part of it’s COP21 commitments – we have to look at what are the ‘trade-offs’ and what impact this will have on the country’s grasslands.
Another interesting discussion was around carbon credits – the grasslands serve as a huge reserve for carbon – and we need to intentionally manage that aspect. So as we talk about mitigation of climate change we shouldn’t overlook the important role that soil and organic matter – and by extension the grasslands – has to play in managing the world’s environment.
The following week – again in Delhi – I attended an event celebrating the 50th anniversary – or Golden Jubilee – of the Green Revolution in India. Here I had the great pleasure of meeting with Dr NGP Rao, a sorghum breeder who developed the first sorghum hybrids back in 1972 – just at the time that ICRISAT was formed. Dr Rao’s improved varieties of hybrid sorghum were tested through a co-ordinated network within India to complement the other breakthroughs at that time – increased use of fertilizers and better access to irrigation.
So this meeting was to celebrate and acknowledge the important contribution that improved crop genetics has made to realizing the first Green Revolution; but also taking stock of what’s needed for a second Green Revolution in India.
In my discussions with Dr Rao we spoke of the need to think differently about sorghum – what are the new market opportunities for sorghum? We need to reverse the trend of its declining area and think about its critical role in adapting to climate change – through the use of hybrid technology – to increase productivity & profitability and help create opportunities for smallholder farmers.
I think the key takeaway from this meeting was that while the first Green Revolution focused on rice & wheat there was strong recognition that the second Green Revolution needs to be broader. We first need to look at the crops that are included – so that its not just the cereals but also pulses, oil seeds, fruits, vegetables, and even livestock and fisheries. Plus we have to think about profitability: how do we reduce input costs, reduce labor requirements, and how do we integrate farmers into markets? All of these are part of ICRISATS inclusive strategy to support broad based economic development in the semi-arid tropics.