Growing population, changes in lifestyle and rapid urbanization – all have significant impact on the land use pattern around the globe and India is no exception to this fact. Loss of land is one of the major problems facing agriculture. As more agriculture land is lost, it will become increasingly difficult to feed the growing population around the globe. In other words, we are into a situation where, on the one hand, agricultural land is shrinking and on the other, the number of people to feed is increasing day by day. The rapid loss of agricultural land is prevalent throughout the world, and clearly shows that crops cannot compete with the sprawl characteristic of cities. But also remember that the more we move away from the source of food, the more will be the need to use chemicals like preservatives and pesticides in what we eat.
If we look at the statistics of loss of agricultural land it is staggering. Worldwide, around three million hectares of agricultural land are lost each year because the soil degrades and becomes unusable due to erosion, which is when soil components move from one location to another by wind or water. An additional four million hectares are lost each year when agricultural land is converted and used for highways, housing, factories, and other urban needs. China lost close to one million hectares of farmland each year to urbanization and the expansion of roads and industries. In India figures are not readily available but sure, it (statistics) will not make us comfortable. In India, urbanisation has just started picking up pace and in the coming years it is likely to become rapid.
Take the case of Bengaluru city, one of the fastest growing cities in India and also country’s sixth largest. Statistics reveal that the city covered only 0.5% of the geographic area of the state while 10.5% of the state’s population in 2011 lived in the Garden City, once known as Pensioner’s Paradise. While in 2001, 2,985 people per square kilometers lived in the city, this number had gone upto 4,381 persons in 2011. According to a study, Bengaluru had 446.56 square kilometers of built up area in 2014 which was made up of 212.49 square kilometers of agriculture land and 234.07 square kilometers of other land. Bengaluru is just a case in point and other cities are not immune from this problem. In fact, it is a global problem neglected by all of us as we have the habit of sweeping everything under the carpet.
Hence, there is urgent need to realise the seriousness of our problem which if not handled right away may turn into a crisis. As the population is growing, it becomes important to conserve and protect the potential farmland. At the same time we cannot avoid urbanisation which is a worldwide phenomenon. So we are in a catch-22 like situation. Providing higher compensation to acquire agricultural land is not the solution but it may be one of the factors responsible for aggravating the problem itself. So efforts should be directed towards ensuring the developmental projects in certain areas other than productive agriculture land, strengthen the zoning regulation and enact policies to reduce agriculture land losses. Hiking the acquisition cost of agricultural land may encourage the farmers to sell their land, and therefore, the government should formulate a policy to compensate the farmers with productive agriculture land to keep their land agriculturally active than selling it to developmental projects.
In such a situation, vertical growth may be the only option to go for to accommodate the massive urbanisation that is taking place all around the country. Of course, such a move will be opposed by the environmentalists, conservationists and conventional urban planners and the government should make efforts to arrive at a consensus and formulate a policy taking into consideration the interests of all concerned.
Urban farming is an area which we need to consider very seriously that can kill several birds with single stone. Urban farming is growing or producing food in a city or heavily populated town or municipality. Urban farming can be a means to increase access to locally grown food and a way of reintroducing the public to the many aspects of food that we have lost as a culture. Though at the outset it may appear to be a laughable proposal, it needs a serious consideration as it can solve many of our problems like, space, scarcity of food items, employment and to an extent, pollution.
Urban farming for many in crowded cities is unimaginable but still it is possible. Though the number of people and organisations propagating urban farming have increased in last few years, the concept is still an unknown for many. The concept needs lot of support from the government and local authorities and possibly from NGOs to make them popular and drive home the benefits of urban farming. Big corporates and religious establishments should be the first target for such an exercise and ultimately it should be made mass programme. Mere workshops may not solve the purpose as it needs consistent follow ups.
Most importantly, city planners, developers and urban architects need to be prevailed upon, encouraged and convinced about the necessity to bring agriculture back to cities and urban spaces. Remember agriculture is the oldest profession and in many regions it is not even considered as a profession but a way of life. So there is no need to create a new wave as was the case with computerisation. Its just a matter of convincing the people the need to grow ones own food. Just as in the case of water people are increasingly becoming aware about the need for conservation, in case of urban farming there is urgent need to drive home a point about impending food crisis which is staring at us. To do that our policy makers need to get themselves convinced about the gravity of the situation.