Sustainable agriculture: how CSR initiatives are transforming rural development

Because it is more than a moral obligation, corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives are indispensable for development at scale. In India, the agriculture sector alone contributed about 39 percent to rural gross domestic product (GDP) in the financial year 2023. The interdependence of agricultural activities and socio-economic development underlines the importance of companies engaged in CSR initiatives within this sector. It is critical for promoting sustainable agricultural practices, uplifting rural communities, ensuring food security and mitigating environmental problems.

CSR in the agricultural sector

The future of agriculture lies in sustainable and inclusive practices, and CSR will play an important role in achieving this. We can introduce technology into conventional agricultural practices. It should also extend to supporting small farmers, promoting biodiversity and investing in rural development.

Companies that embrace CSR as an integral part of their business strategy will not only contribute to a better world, but also ensure their long-term success.

Challenges faced by farmers and their financial growth?

About half of Indian farmers do not have essential farming equipment. In addition, three in four companies are confronted with potential crop damage due to pests and adverse weather conditions. Not only that, as many as 50 percent of farmers do not have access to conventional sources of financing. Even for those who are able to secure credit, prevailing interest rates are often 10 to 25 percent higher than market norms, placing additional financial burdens on farmers. This limits their ability to invest in improvements to their farms and to expand their activities. Climate change also plays an important role in determining crop conditions. Unpredictable weather patterns lead to crop failures, livestock losses and increased vulnerability to natural disasters such as floods, droughts and cyclones. These events can destroy farmers’ livelihoods and financial stability. CSR can be used to provide them the necessary help they need in such unfortunate situations.

CSR benefits farmers and along with its related sectors is the major source of livelihood in India, benefiting most rural households. More than 70 percent of these households mainly depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Of these, 82 percent of farmers are classified as small and marginal. CSR in the agricultural landscape gives farmers access to crucial resources and knowledge. Through skill development workshops, technological advancements and sustainable agricultural practices, CSR can enhance the capabilities and efficiency of these farmers. It would improve yields, increase incomes and ensure greater resilience to environmental challenges.

One of the top priorities of CSR should be facilitating market linkages and value chain integration. This would allow farmers to access fair prices for their products and tap into lucrative markets.

Through strategic investments, partnerships and holistic interventions, CSR has the potential to strengthen rural economies. In the long term, it will make a significant contribution to India’s sustainable agriculture and inclusive growth agenda.

Technologies that are used for better, sustainable agriculture

Because traditional farming methods are inefficient, any company putting its CSR goals into practice must focus on offering farmers technological innovations. Precision agriculture should be implemented, using sensors, drones, GPS and data analysis. It will help farmers monitor and optimize their agricultural practices, and make data-driven decisions regarding irrigation, fertilization, pest management and crop health. In addition, renewable energy sources such as solar energy, wind energy and biogas should be widely deployed. It will help reduce dependence on fossil fuels, reduce CO2 emissions and make agricultural activities more sustainable. More emphasis should be placed on biotechnology and genetically modified crops (GMOs) as they help increase crop resistance to pests and environmental stressors.

Look at the future and how CSR can redefine it

India’s agricultural sector could potentially contribute up to $600 billion to the country’s gross domestic product by 2030. However, to achieve this goal, farmers need to be properly trained and provided with the latest agricultural technologies. We can ensure the sustainability of the sector for future generations through a strategic mix of entrepreneurial perspectives, holistic approaches and incentives.

Our shared resolve must be strong enough to create value at scale and at a rapid pace to address the challenges and opportunities that await us in the agricultural landscape.

(The author is president of Samvedna Trust and managing director of Findoc)

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