Sustainability and Precision in Indian Agriculture: a need of the day

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1Simardeep Kaur and 2Mahesh Kumar Samota

1Ph.D. Scholar, Division of Biochemistry, ICAR-IARI, New Delhi-110012
2Scientist, Horticulture crop processing unit, ICAR-CIPHET, Abohar, Punjab-152116
Corresponding E-mail: Simar2809@gmail.com

Agriculture being the lifeline of rural India makes it the second-largest food producer in the world. The ongoing agricultural activities are responsible for sustainable growth in agriculture, and making the country self-reliant.

Indian agriculture sustains around 18% of the world population on just 2.3% of geographical area with only 9% of the land globally available for agriculture. With the beginning of the 21st century, India has become a global power in major economic sectors with consistently higher economic growth.

However, Indian agriculture is considered a subsistence agriculture, which causes concerns for food and nutritional security. Moreover, it has become a thankless, risky, and back-breaking job, especially as it gives marginal returns. Just one crop failure, either because of abiotic/biotic stress or any other reasons, and most of the farmers loses their sustenance.

Indian agriculture, being the victim of the green revolution, in its way to intensive agriculture is presenting the dark reality wreaked by the inappropriate adoption of green revolution. Although the green revolution played a major role in boosting farm productivity and food security, we need now to adopt strategies for the evergreen revolution by embracing conservation and precision agriculture, combined with integrated nutrient, pest, and natural resource management for wider adaptability.

In the next few decades, the agriculture sector would have to face several threats and challenges in addition to the problems emanating from the imbalanced demand and supply. Seed, fertilizers, and irrigation are some of the important inputs in agriculture, but the sadder part of it is that often the farmers are not able to get the input cost, particularly because of very less minimum support price of the produce.

Some of the crops, like rice, require a considerably higher amount of irrigation water, causing the lowering-down of the water-table, soil salinity, and deterioration of water quality. Therefore, it would be appropriate to grow the water-demanding crops in the places with plenty of rainfall and/or in the areas having a shallow water-table. Moreover, to overcome the barrier of declining productivity, there is a need to herald a rainbow revolution by making a shift from wheat rice crop-rotation and including the nitrogen-fixing pulse crops in-between.

Studies indicate that nearly 121 million ha land in India degraded due to soil erosion and more than 8 million ha area is affected by soil salinity and water-logging, and the situation is becoming worse day by day. Problems are further infuriated by the imbalanced use of chemical/synthetic fertilizers and excessive mining of micro-nutrients from soil by crop plants, leading to the deficiency of nutrients in soil and reduced quality and quantity of produce.

As the Law of Marginality indicates that “cultivation on marginal soil with marginal inputs produces marginal yields and supports marginal living”, we need to adopt Zero Budget Natural Farming to minimize the input cost and to maximize the output to the marginal farmer.

With the increasing population, the demand for food and other commodities will increase, and it has been estimated that demand for food grains would considerably increase to 345 million tonnes by 2030. Hence, the production of food grains needs to be increased at a rate of 5 million tonnes annually. This is where science/technology can help further improving productivity for higher and sustainable agriculture. Therefore, to tackle the issues of food security and to feed the burgeoning population, we need to move from conventional farming to more efficient, sustainable, conservation, and precision agriculture with better natural resource management.

Since the natural resources are continuously shrinking and deteriorating, necessary attention is needed to improvise the agricultural sector, and the tools and techniques of molecular biology, biotechnology, and nanotechnology have the potential to address many of the future challenges.

In addition to crop husbandry, horticulture, animal husbandry, aquaculture, poultry, fishery, and post-harvest processing and value addition to the agricultural products are very much essential. The condition of agriculture market in India is not good, and unorganized supply chain from producer to consumer suffers from a loss of 18-25% of the produce.

To improve the shelf-life and demand-driven commodity traits of certain perishable commodities through different post-harvest processing can increase the availability of food materials to feed the ever-growing global population. Supports from the government would be equally important by promoting research and development in agricultural technologies, providing the timely supply of Agri-inputs, infrastructures to minimize the wastage, and agricultural e-marketing.

Numerous challenges concerned with climate change are appearing in the way to agriculture as it is aggravated to more frequent natural calamities like drought and flood, particularly in India. By the end of 21st century, the global temperature is likely to increase by 1.8-4.0°C, which might lead to more frequent extreme environmental conditions.

Therefore, to produce sufficient nutritious food for the continuously growing population under the changing climatic conditions and diminishing natural resources, a challenging task in front of the agricultural scientists of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research is to focus on the climate-resilient agriculture, conserving the stress-tolerant genetic resources of plants and animals, and minimizing the wastage of food materials by post-harvest processing technologies. Towards the protection of the environment, efforts should be made on the adoption of integrated pest management, developing more effective and safer pesticides, and promoting bio-safety/security components in the country.

The need of today is strategic thinking and rapid but thoughtful action that would result in increased production and reduced wastage of food materials. Continuous efforts have to be made to keep India moving forward and maintaining self-sufficiency in food production for sustainable food/nutritional security.

At the same time, the need of the hour is to improving farmer’s skills to adopt newer technologies for sustainable/precision agriculture. As Indian agriculture is heavily dependent on the natural resources, we need to give due consideration to the conservation and precision agriculture, zero tillage practices, integrated crop, nutrient, water, and pest management practices, and to integrate the various public sector support system with private initiatives (publicprivate partnership) for holistic development.

References
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