Let’s contribute our bit to make agriculture sustainable and eco-friendly

Let’s contribute our bit to make agriculture sustainable and eco-friendly

Let’s contribute our bit to make agriculture sustainable and eco-friendly

Rahul Bhandari, IAS

The world has come full circle. Or so it seems. Worry is writ large on the face of the people boasting of the green revolution technologies and yielding almost double the harvest over those using traditional methods of farming. They are gradually waking up to the reality that these high production techniques not only require massive quantities of fertilizers, pesticides, groundwater for irrigation and equipment but threaten ecological integrity including forests and water resources, endanger flora and fauna. They also learned it the hard way that such practices yielding higher yield cannot be sustained over generations.

How to feed the world?

A pertinent question of how to feed the world without wrecking the environment has started resonating across geographical boundaries. About 7.8 billion people inhabit the Earth. They need food. Therefore, the nations have started exploring sustainability with high food production.  

The farmers are in a booby trap. They realize that modern agricultural practices are one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases causing climate change. Conversely, climate change affects their farm yield. They want to go back in time adopting traditional methods of agriculture while simultaneously embracing smart agricultural practices.

People are returning to their roots

More people have been returning to organic farming. It optimises energy and nutrient cycles in agro-ecosystems. Organic practices avert the emission of nitrous oxides and methane. It is scientifically evident that organic fertilisation of soil increases its organic carbon content and sequesters huge atmospheric carbon dioxide.

They have also started considering crop rotation – one of the most sustainable agricultural strategies. It involves cultivating different types of crops in the same field in sequential seasons. Leguminous crops including pulses are grown after the cereal crops like wheat and rice. Legumes have nitrogen-fixing bacteria Rhizobium on their root nodules. They convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia, which then acts as an organic fertilizer for crops. It reduces the use of chemical fertilizers while supporting long-term fertility of the soil.

Solutions to reduce greenhouse gases

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reveals that 30 percent of the world’s available energy is consumed by the agricultural sector while the agri-food chain generates 35 percent of total greenhouse emissions. There is a need to switch over to renewable sources of energy for powering agriculture, where possible. Solar energy may be a better substitute for powering irrigation water pumps, drying grains and crops, and lightning farms.

There is also a need to optimise tillage (mechanical agitation of soil to prepare it for crop production). Lesser overturning, digging and stirring of land would lead to lesser fossil fuel consumption and emission of greenhouse gases. Agroforestry may be another option for agriculture to ensure sustainability.

The change is evident globally and the farmers have started embracing sustainable methods of agriculture. As several small tea producers in Assam have been reaping the benefits, a village in the northern Italian region of Tyrol wants to go pesticide-free and fights a legal battle against big pro-pesticide apple farmers. A chef in Thailand – Daniel Bucher – has developed ways to recover unused ingredients and improve food storage.

The wind of change has started blowing. All we need to add our bit to make agriculture sustainable and eco-friendly.

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