Challenges before farming sector

| | in Oped

From the right farming techniques to efficient and not wasteful use of water for irrigation purposes, new and modern agricultural methods can help optimise production and save the environment from degradation

At a time when a burgeoning population is putting immense stress on available resources, foodgrains production as a critical and life supporting resource is exceedingly finding itself on the back foot, thanks to a rapidly degrading environment. The state of natural environment has undergone many changes due to unsustainable human practices and activities, and the consequences are now starting to effect food production in a significant manner. The visible impact is on the quality of water, its availability besides soil nutrients and climate, all of which play a vital role for a normal crop yield.

The state of ecosystem also influences the abundance of pathogens, weeds and pests, all of which have a direct bearing on the quality of available crop land and harvests. About two billion hectares of the world’s arable land has already been degraded because of inappropriate agricultural practices, and it is estimated that by 2050, crop land availability would reduce by eight to 20 per cent due to land degradation and conversion to non-food-producing use such as biofuels and cotton. Additionally, water scarcity coupled with insect infestations and soil erosion will further reduce the crop yields by 25 per cent by 2050, unless rectification measures are deployed. The expansion of urban settlements at the cost of crop land is yet another cause for degraded environmental conditions leading to the compromised food production.

The task is a daunting one as the world’s agricultural systems need to overcome environmental challenges and produce more food for a population that is expected to touch 9.6 billion by 2050. The system needs to be built on sustainable practices that are capable of providing economic opportunities for the rural population, reducing adverse environmental impacts and containing greenhouse gas emission.

In the backdrop of a demanding global scenario such as this, India needs to be sensitive to its food production requirements for the future and put in place suitable mechanisms that identify problems and provide for sustainable solutions. The Indian agricultural scenario suffers from an irregular implementation of modern agricultural technology. An appropriate policy intervention combined with awareness-generation and basic education will go a long way in helping the sector to uniformly adopt latest agricultural technology such as advanced machinery, high-yielding crop varieties and sophisticated irrigation methods, to help optimise production. This in turn will help food production to keep pace with the rising population.

As an impetus to newer technologies, the Government needs to propagate and generate awareness on biotechnology methods — improving soil fertility through nitrogen fixing. This will help in reclaiming an environment that has been degraded due to inappropriate agricultural practices such as excessive use of pesticides and fertilisers. Increasing food production without further degrading the environment is a delicate balancing act that will require the Government to redefine the support that it currently provides to the farmer community. Ensuring uniform assistance to the farmers irrespective of the size of their land holding will help increase the confidence of small-scale farmers and enable them to come into the national fold.

The Union Government should ensure that the State Governments and district-level agriculture authorities should reconstruct the farmer manifesto and include critical issues like sensitising farmers on environmentally-friendly agricultural practices. Besides, they must impart technical knowledge to incorporate green technologies into everyday farming. The Government should also focus on training the farming community on managing extreme rainfall and using inter-cropping so that the dependency on environmentally-degrading resources such as fertilisers and pesticides is reduced.

As agriculture races forward to meet the food requirements of an ever-increasing population, the implications it can have for the environment cannot be ignored. Direct impacts of rapid agricultural development are taking a toll in the form of degraded soil quality and land salination. Coupled with this is the aggressive drive for green revolution, which does not take into account the collateral impact on environment. As a result, land and water resources are being extensively exploited. Unfortunately, the Government is unable to ensure that the farming community is made aware of the harm the latter is inflicting on environment.

According to the European Environmental Bureau, it is estimated that globally 70 per cent of the fresh water is consumed by agriculture. The introduction of more efficient irrigation practices, more drought-resistant crops and increased efficiency in the transference and application of water could save up to 60 per cent of the water used. This underlines the potential for improvement that is evident at nearly every stage of the current agricultural practices.

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