The plan? To increase agricultural productivity and diversity while reducing negative impacts of agrochemical abuse. This implies reduced use of agrochemicals with a concomitant increase in biological controls through combined impacts of habitat creation for insectivorous bird diversity and parasitic wasps. It also inculdes land use diversification as well as fragmentation of the agricultural matrix to reduce pest movement, while increasing habitat and connectivity in support of biological controls. Dr. Rahman and Dr. Vasudeva Rao, from the 'All Indian Coordinated Research Project' (AICRP) on Biological Control, are collaborating with Dr. Kuldeep and the Alliance of Boversity International and CIAT on just such strategies. For instance, the project has been perfecting biocontrol measures such as the production of 2cm2 tabs of paper that can be placed in fields, releasing 16,000 parasitic wasps that prey on pests.
Furthermore, crop rotations within field and between field diversification, habitat connectivity and landscape-managed biological control will be explored as an integrated package by the Alliance team to test impact on nutritional yields, water quality, water quantity, and biodiversity conservation, both aquatic and terrestrial.
Wild biodiversity conservation: in the center of the Godavari landscape lies the 2015km2 Kuwal Tiger reserve, established to protect the critically endangered Bengal Tiger and other key species. Today, between 5-8 adults have colonized the reserve. Populations pressures, agricultural expansion, poaching and environmental contamination are the biggest threats to native biodiversity in the region, as flagged in the 2019 IPBES Global Assessment. The Anthropocene is the era where conservation and production goals have to be considered as equally intransgressible. As such, agricultural interventions modelled for the Godavari Basin will seek to maximize the retention of protected areas and intact land to support biodiversity, while maintaining environmental flows in support of both human and biodiversity needs. Agriculture should be just as much about conservation as it is about production.
Way forward: Farmers in the Godavari Basin are faced with multiple challenges. Climate change is already manifesting itself in part through climatic aberrations like increased off-season rains soaking harvests and driving pre-market germination and loss. Scientifically tested solutions to some of the challenges in the area are available through knowledge networks, nonetheless, policies supporting conventional production (e.g. subsidies for intensive rice production) and one-size-fits-all type solutions demanded by farmers and provided by commercial sellers limit the transition towards regenerative and agroecological production practices. Yet there is no shortage of potential solutions. Starting with a clear vision of long-term targets, the ICAR, SAU and Alliance team aims to co-create, together with farming communities, future food and land use system scenarios able to switc agriculture's impact from degrading to regenerating. Through extensive field work, scaling models and trade-off analyses, the team will assess the extent, targeting, and cost of potential interventions, providing policymakers with clear, costed recommendations for action. This is a long-term investment by the partnership, but one which - if achieved successfully - will serve as a model for alignment between health, production, equity and sustainability.