SPR 2021: Sustainable Agriculture Technologies

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What is Sustainable Agriculture?

  • The concept of sustainable agriculture has gained prominence since the publication of the Brundtland Report in 1987. 
  • Sustainable Agriculture involves the processes that would enable to meet the current and long term societal needs for food, fibre and other resources while maximizing benefits through the conservation of natural resources and maintenance of ecosystem functions.

Principles of Sustainable Agriculture:

The three main principles of sustainable agriculture are:

  • Environmental sustainability: through e.g. protecting, recycling, replacing and maintaining the natural resources base such as land (soil), water and wildlife
  • Economic sustainability: through e.g. improving soil management and crop rotation which raise yields
  • Social sustainability: through upholding social justice and cultural cohesion

Modern Agricultural Practices

  • Modern agriculture includes animal husbandry, poultry farming, apiculture, fisheries and mushroom culture etc. to provide additional food supplements like milk, meat, fish, egg, mushroom etc.
  • In addition, to provide nutritional food for the masses, they also reduce the load on the consumption of cereals and pulses.

Salient features of Indian Agriculture

Subsistence agriculture:

  • The type of agriculture in India is mostly Subsistence agriculture. In Subsistence agriculture the agricultural produce is for self-consumption only, there is no surplus production to sell in the market.

Commercial agriculture: 

  • Large-scale commercial agriculture is also practised in India, such as tea plantations in Assam, coffee in Karnataka, coconut in Kerala, etc. Commercial Agriculture is the agricultural practice where large agricultural produce is sold in the market by the firms for making profits.
  • Since the land resource in India is limited the pressure of increasing population on agriculture is increasing day by day.

Mechanization: 

  • After Green Revolution, there has been an increasing trend in the use of machines in farm operations. This has led to the mechanization of Indian agriculture. Punjab, Haryana, Western Uttar Pradesh, River valleys of Andhra, and Tamil Nadu are major agriculturally mechanized areas in India.

Monsoon dependent:

  • Due to lack of irrigation facilities Two-third of Indian agriculture is dependent on monsoon rains

Variety of crops:

  • Due to the presence of different types of topography, diverse soil (like alluvial, red, black cotton soil, etc), and different types of climate, India is blessed with the production of different varieties of crops in different regions. For eg., hilly areas are suitable for tea cultivation, plains for rice cultivation

The predominance of food crops:

  • In order to feed a large population and predominance of subsistence agriculture, food crops are mainly grown in order to keep with the food security demands of the huge Indian population.
  • There are basically three cropping seasonal patterns in India namely Kharif, Rabi, and Zaid.

Policy ecosystem for sustainable agriculture in India:

  • Since 2014-15, India has had a National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA) to promote sustainable agriculture.
  • It consists of several programmes focusing on agroforestry, rainfed areas, water and soil health management, climate impacts, and adaptation.
  • Beyond NMSA, the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana promotes the adoption of precision farming techniques such as micro-irrigation, and the Integrated Watershed Management Programme supports rainwater harvesting.
  • Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana is an elaborated component of Soil Health Management (SHM) of major project NMSA.
  • Under PKVY Organic farming is promoted through the adoption of an organic village by cluster approach and Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) certification.
  • With the help of PKVY, the government aims to support and promote:
    1. Reduction in dependence on fertilizers and agricultural chemicals
    2. Organic farming
    3. Improvement of soil health while increasing yields.
    4. Organic food, thus produced will be linked with modern marketing tools and local markets.

Various Agricultural Activities

  • Silviculture: Cultivating forest trees
  • Sericulture: rearing of silkworms for the production of raw silk
  • Apiculture: maintenance of honey bee colonies, commonly in hives, by humans
  • Olericulture: science of vegetable growing, non-woody (herbaceous) plants for food
  • Viticulture: science, production and study of grapes
  • Floriculture: flowering and ornamental plants for gardens
  • Arboriculture: cultivation and study of individual trees, shrubs, and other woody plants
  • Pomology: focuses on the cultivation, production, harvest, and storage of fruit, etc.
  • Aeroponics: growing plants in a mist environment without the use of soil medium
  • Hydroponics: growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions, in water, without soil.
  • Geoponic: refers to growing plants in normal soil
  • Aquaponics: symbiotic environment of aquaculture and hydroponics

 

Sustainable Agricultural Practices/Techniques

Zero Tillage

  • Tillage: Tillage is an agricultural land preparation through mechanical agitation which includes digging, stirring, and overturning.
  • Zero tillage is the process where the crop seed will be sown through drillers without prior land preparation and disturbing the soil where previous crop stubbles are present.
  • Zero tillage not only reduces the cost of cultivation it also reduces the soil erosion, crop duration, and irrigation requirement, and weed effect which is better than tillage.
  • Zero tillage (ZT) is also called No-Tillage or Nil Tillage.

Zero tillage in India

  • The No-Till approach was started in the 1960s by farmers in India. The zero-tillage system is being followed in the Indo-Gangetic plains where rice-wheat cropping is present.
  • Wheat will be planted after rice harvest without any operation. Hundreds of farmers are following the same system and getting more yields and profits by reducing the cost of cultivation.
  • In the South, the southern districts like Guntur and some parts of West Godavari of Andhra Pradesh state follow the ZT system in the rice-maize cropping system.
  • The green revolution paved the way for the rice-wheat production system in the north-western parts of India. But in due course of time, the yields of rice and wheat become stagnant due to inappropriate soil and water management system and late planting of wheat, as in the hot season rice is being grown and in the winter wheat follows the rice.
  • In the 1990s the zero tillage came to mitigate the problem, by planting the wheat by drilling without any land preparation and tillage.
  • The success of zero tillage depends on the machinery to drill seed in the uncultivated land. In the late 1980s, CIMMYT introduced a prototype for drilling the seed.
  • In India, the first localized seed drill was manufactured by GB Pant University with a motor to reduce the cost and make it available and affordable. The drills are tractor-drawn and used in the rice-wheat cropping system.
  • Zero tillage proves better for direct-seeded rice, maize, soybean, cotton, pigeon pea, mungbean, cluster bean, pearl millet during Kharif season and wheat, barley, chickpea, mustard and lentil during rabi season.
  • Wheat sowing after rice can be advanced by 10-12 days by adopting this technique compared to conventionally tilled wheat, and wheat yield reduction caused by late sowing can be avoided.
  • ZT provides an opportunity to escape wheat crops from terminal heat stress.
  • Zero tillage reduces the cost of cultivation by nearly Rs 2,500-3,000/ha through a reduction in the cost of land preparation and reduces diesel consumption by 50-60 litres per hectare.

Advantages:

  1. No-till farming decreases the amount of soil erosion tillage causes in certain soils, especially in sandy and dry soils on sloping terrain.
  2. No-till management results in fewer passes with equipment and the crop residue prevent evaporation of rainfall and increase water infiltration into the soil.
  3. Reduction in the crop duration and thereby early cropping can be obtained to get higher yields.
  4. Reduction in the cost of inputs for land preparation and therefore a saving of around 80%.
  5. Residual moisture can be effectively utilized and the number of irrigations can be reduced.
  6. Dry matter and organic matter get added to the soil.
  7. Environmentally safe – The greenhouse effect will get reduced due to carbon sequestration.
  8. No-tillage reduces the compaction of the soil and reduces the water loss by runoff and prevents soil erosion. 
  9. Zero tillage reduces the water requirement of crops and the loss of organic carbon by oxidation.
  10. As the soil is intact and no disturbance is done, No-Till lands have more useful flora and fauna.
  11. This practice has carbon-sequestration potential. Apart from reducing carbon emissions, the no-tilling practice can also reduce nitrous oxide emissions by 40 to 70%.

Disadvantages:

  1. The initial cost of zero tillage equipment (the upfront costs can be high, but they should be recouped through higher crop yields and fuel and labour savings)
  2. Gullies can form in the fields (low-pressure tires and changing traffic patterns across the field can help prevent these)
  3. increased use of herbicides.
  4. the learning curve for zero tillage farming.

Zero budget natural farming (ZBNF)

  • Zero Budget Natural Farming, a type of farming that involves the elimination of chemical pesticides, sustaining agriculture with eco-friendly processes, and restoring soil fertility and organic matter.
  • It is a unique chemical-free method that involves agroecology. For the zero-net expenditure of manufacturing, yields are known as the term zero budget.
  • ZBNF reduces farming expenses and promotes the use of natural fertilizers, biological pesticides, and local seeds.

Advantages:

  • As both a social and environmental program, it aims to ensure that farming – particularly smallholder farming – is economically viable by enhancing farm biodiversity and ecosystem services.
  • It reduces farmers’ costs by eliminating external inputs and using in-situ resources to rejuvenate soils, whilst simultaneously increasing incomes, and restoring ecosystem health through diverse, multi-layered cropping systems.
  • Cow dung from local cows has proven to be a miraculous cure to revive the fertility and nutrient value of soil. One gram of cow dung is believed to have anywhere between 300 to 500 crore beneficial micro-organisms.
  • These micro-organisms decompose the dried biomass on the soil and convert it into ready-to-use nutrients for plants.
  • Zero budget natural farming requires only 10% water and 10% electricity than what is required under chemical and organic farming. ZBNF may improve the potential of crops to adapt to and be produced for evolving climatic conditions.

Four wheels of ZBNF to be implemented practically:

  • The “four wheels” of ZBNF are ‘Jiwamrita’, ‘Bijamrita’, ‘Mulching’ and ‘Waaphasa’, says Palekar, a Padma Shri awardee.
  • Jiwamrita is a fermented mixture of cow dung and urine (of desi breeds), jaggery, pulses flour, water, and soil from the farm bund. This isn’t a fertilizer, but just a source of some 500 crore micro-organisms that can convert all the necessary “non-available” nutrients into “available” form.
  • Bijamrita is a mix of desi cow dung and urine, water, bund soil, and lime that is used as a seed treatment solution prior to sowing.
  • Mulching, or covering the plants with a layer of dried straw or fallen leaves, is meant to conserve soil moisture and keep the temperature around the roots at 25-32 degrees Celsius, which allows the microorganisms to do their job.
  • Waaphasa, or providing water to maintain the required moisture-air balance, also achieves the same objective.

Important Terms

Mulching

  •  This involves covering the soil layer in between the crops with organic matter such as leaves, grass clippings, straw. It helps to maintain soil moisture. 
  • Mulching also adds nutrients to the soil by way of slow decomposition of the organic matter.

Contour barriers

  • To create barriers along contours, stones, grass, soil are being used. Trenches are made to collect water in front of the barriers.

Rock dam

  • Rocks are stacked up to slow down water flow and also help to stop gullies and further erosion of soil.

Terrace farming

  • On the steep slopes, wide flat steps or terraces are designed so that flat surfaces are used for cultivation, thus minimizing surface run-off and soil erosion.

Intercropping

  • Various crops can be grown in alternating rows and are planted at varying times to protect the soil from rain washing.

Ploughing of contours

  • Ploughing parallel to the contours of a hill slope creates a natural obstacle for fluid to drain down the slope.

Shelterbelts

  • In the coastal and dry areas, rows of trees are cultivated to track the passage of air and preserve the cover of the soil.

Cover crops

  •  
  • A cover crop is a specific plant that is grown mainly for the benefit of the soil rather than the crop yield. 
  •  
  • Cover crops are commonly used to suppress weeds, manage soil erosion, help build and improve soil fertility & quality, control diseases, and pests, and promote biodiversity.
  • Cover crops are typically grasses or legumes but can be comprised of other green plants.
  •  
  • A cover crop is grown in the off-season before the field is required for growing the cash crop. In essence, a cover crop readies the land for a received cash crop.
  • Commonly used Grass cover crops: Rye, Winter wheat, Oats, Ryegrass, Pearl millet, and Barley.
  • Commonly used legume cover crops: red clover, Field peas, Hairy vetch, White clover, berseem clover, sweet clover, and alfalfa.
  • Commonly used Non-Legume Broadleaves cover crops: Buckwheat, and Oilseed radish.

 


Plantation Agriculture

  • Plantation agriculture is a type of commercial farming in which a single crop is grown for the entire year.
  • The major crops grown during plantation agriculture are Tea, coffee, sugarcane, cashew, rubber, banana, or cotton.
  • Major plantations are found in the tropical regions of the world. Plantations exist on every continent possessing a tropical climate.
  • Rubber in Malaysia, coffee in Brazil, Tea in India, and Sri Lanka.
  • It is capital intensive and demands good managerial ability, technical know-how, sophisticated machinery, fertilizers, irrigation, and transport facilities. Plantation agriculture is export-oriented agriculture.
  • In India, This type of agriculture has developed in hilly areas of north-eastern India, sub-Himalayan West Bengal and in Nilgiri, Anamalai and Cardamom hills in peninsular India.

Advantages:

  1. The entrepreneurs inject substantial capital which is paid off. 
  2. As it is totally export-oriented, the net volume and value of national export in­creases, adding valuable foreign exchequer to the national exchequer.
  3. It absorbs thousands of labourers, reducing the growing unemployment prob­lem.
  4. Plantation farming is a complex mechanism; it involves the creation of not only in­dustrial plants but also the construction of civic amenities like roads, housing projects, schools, colleges, hospitals, administrative projects etc. Eventually, the urbanization rate is accelerated.

Disadvantages:

  1. It produces only one product- tea, coffee etc.- which is sold in the external mar­ket. So, the local people suffer from food shortages that might have been culti­vated.
  2. An exodus of money in the form of profit goes to foreign lands which in no way improves the local economy.
  3. In most cases, cheap labourers are collected from outside and technical ex­pertise from faraway lands. This system fails to deliver any good to the local unemployment scenario and aggravates social tension. Sons of soil clash with outsiders.
  4. Planters, to expand their business, try to grab the land of farmers in several ways. This creates more and more landless, uprooted people.
  5. Due to dependence on the international market for the sale of the product, any price and demand fluctuation may have catastrophic results on farming. The local economy may badly suffer following the retrenchment of labour; unemployment may increase.
  6. Plantation farming is not good for ecology. Over-exploitation and absence of crop rotation deplete soil fertility and increases soil erosion.

Crop Rotation

About: 

  • This refers to the growing of the number of Crops one after the other in a fixed rotation to maintain the fertility of the soil.
  • The rotation of crops may be complete in a year in some of the areas while it may involve more than one year’s time in others.
  • Pulses or any leguminous crop is grown after the cereal crops.
  • Legumes have the ability to fix nitrogen in the soil.
  • Highly fertilizer intensive crops like sugarcane or tobacco are rotated with cereal crops.
  • The selection of crops for rotation depends upon the local soil conditions and the experience and the understanding of the farmers.

Advantages:

  1. Crop-rotation increases soil fertility by controlling deficient or excess nutrients because it replenishes nutrients that are not available or absorb nutrients that are in abundance.
  2. Crop rotation increases the harvest obtained from a single seasonal harvest.
  3. It allows the land to regenerate and rejuvenate its self-nutrients without having to apply more nutrients through the use of fertilizers. 
  4. It also helps reduce raindrop impact on the soil and general erosion by water because the roots of the plants hold the top layer of soil together. Trees planted together with crops in the farms also assists in preventing soil erosion.
  5. It prevents soil compaction, thus improving the physical condition of the soil. Crop rotation improves the soil structure as well as soil texture. 
  6. The constant application of fertilizers to soils causes soil leaching (excessive buildup of nutrients in the soil to a toxic and harmful level) that does not allow plants to grow well. Crop rotation increases the nutrients in the soil and prevents leaching.
  7. Crop rotation helps in increasing the nutrient uptake of the plants from the soil as in crop rotation, different crops require different nutrients in different quantities.

Disadvantages:

  1. Certain locations and their climates are more favourable for monoculture.
  2. Requires more knowledge skills, and machinery.
  3. It does not allow a farmer to specialize in a single type of crop. 

Dryland farming

About:

  • They are practised in the region receiving low rainfall, like Rajasthan, some parts of Gujarat and Maharashtra, etc. The soil is sandy and has a low water retention capacity.
  • Crops like Peas, millets, grams, and other drought-resistant crops or varieties can be grown. 

Advantages:

  1. Dryland farming helps in soil and water conservation.
  2. Dry farming works to conserve soil moisture during long dry periods primarily through a system of tillage, surface protection, and the use of drought-resistant varieties.
  3. While these techniques do not produce the largest yields, they work with nature with little to no supplemental irrigation or fertilizer. 

Disadvantages:

  1. Dry farming crops are characterized by very low and highly variable and uncertain yields. Crop failures are quite common.
  2. Long breaks in the rainy season is an important feature of the Indian monsoon.
  3. These intervening dry spells when prolonged during the crop period reduces crop growth and yield and when unduly prolonged crops fail.

Wetland Farming

About:

  • It is practised in the regions receiving high annual rainfall, mainly done in river plains, north-east India, the Ghats of India, etc. Crops requiring high irrigation can be easily grown.
  • Wetlands provide food and other agricultural products such as fuel and fibre directly through agricultural production activities that take place within wetlands, such as in rice paddies, coastal grazing marshes, recession agriculture and aquaculture in large floodplains, and cropping of small seasonal wetlands.
  • Many current agricultural practices are reducing the need to use water from wetlands. Examples- the planting of drought-resistant crop varieties, reusing water including wastewater and implementing more efficient irrigation.
  • Types of crops under wetland farming in India are Rice, sugarcane, cotton, Jute, etc.

Advantages:

  1. Not only do wetlands harbour an incredible diversity of life, they also benefit farmers by creating cleaner water through their natural filtration system.
  2. Reduce erosion and retain sediments and nutrients as well as reduce the potential for salinity and acid sulphate soils.
  3. They also assist in drought resilience.

Disadvantages:

  1. Some agricultural practices can lead to increased levels of nutrients and pollutant loads (in the form of pesticides, fertilisers and animal faeces), resulting in increased phytoplankton and aquatic plant growth leading to algal bloom. 
  2. Some of the largest impacts are through the drainage or conversion of wetlands to cultivated land and the disturbance of ecosystem functions due to heavy machinery use or livestock presence.

–Recessional agriculture is a form of agricultural cultivation that takes place on a floodplain. Farmers practice recessional agriculture by successively planting in the flooded areas after the waters recede. Thus recessional agriculture serves as a rudimentary form of irrigation.

 


Terrace Cultivation

About:

  • The hill and mountain slopes are cut to form terraces and the land is used in the same way as in permanent agriculture.
  • Since the availability of flat land is limited terraces are made to provide a small patch of level land.
  • There are two main types of terracing, graded and level, and each comes with some advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages:

  1. One of the principal advantages of terrace cultivation is that it can protect the terraced area's soil from overly rapid erosion.
  2. Soil erosion is also checked due to terrace formation on hill slopes.
  3. Level terraces can not only reduce the rate of the soil erosion but can also trap and hold rainwater.

Disadvantages:

  1. Terracing requires huge inputs of labour to construct and maintain, and when not properly maintained, the effects can be catastrophic.
  2. Unmaintained terraces can lead to mudslides, the creation of deep gulleys and increased soil erosion, particularly in sandy soils or on extremely steep terrains.
  3. One major disadvantage of terracing is the rainwater saturation of the ground. This happens when terracing retains too much water, which is absorbed into the ground.

Permaculture

About:

  • Permaculture is a food production system with intention, design, and smart farming to reduce waste of resources and create increased production efficiency.
  • Permaculture design techniques include growing grain without tillage, herb and plant spirals, hugelkultur garden beds, keyhole and mandala gardens, sheet mulching, each plant serving multiple purposes, and creating swales on contour to hold water high on the landscape.
  • It focuses on the use of perennial crops such as fruit trees, nut trees, and shrubs all together to function in a designed system that mimics how plants in a natural ecosystem would function.

Advantages: 

  1. Permaculture can help to mitigate soil pollution, air pollution, and groundwater pollution.
  2. Resources can be used quite efficiently.
  3. Improved human health, increased resilience to environmental changes, and reduction of input costs. 
  4. In general, permaculture also advocates the use of renewable energy sources in agricultural processes.
  5. Another benefit of permaculture is that this concept can also help farmers to diversify against risks related to farming.
  6. Composting is another big part of permaculture. It can be a great way to improve the efficiency of our natural resource use.

Disadvantages:

  1. High labour input, the infestation of pests and diseases, and lack of knowledge on permaculture practices.
  2. It can be quite costly to adjust agricultural processes and infrastructure in a way that the concept of permaculture can be really lived on a daily basis.

Integrated Pest Management 

About: 

  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices.
  • IPM programs use current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment.
  • This information, in combination with available pest control methods, is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.
  • The IPM approach can be applied to both agricultural and non-agricultural settings, such as the home, garden, and workplace.
  • Methods used in IPM include one or a combination of the following: Cultural control (crop rotation, use of locally adapted or pest-resistant/tolerant varieties, sanitation, manipulating planting/harvest dates to avoid pests).

Bio intensive Integrated Pest Management

  • Biointensive IPM is defined as ‘A systems approach to pest management based on an understanding of pest ecology.
  • It begins with steps to accurately diagnose the nature and source of pest problems and then relies on a range of preventive tactics and biological controls to keep pest populations within acceptable limits. 
  • Once a pest problem is identified, Biointensive IPM will ensure that chemical solutions will only be used as a last resort.
  • Instead, the appropriate responses would be the use of sterile males and biocontrol agents such as ladybirds.
  • Biointensive IPM includes biodiversity, cultural control, host plant resistance and transgenic crops and reactive measures include mechanical control, biological control and use of reduced-risk pesticides.
  • The most recent bio-intensive integrated approaches for pest management utilizes:
    1. cultural methods viz., crop rotation, summer ploughing, fallowing, intercropping, pruning, mulching, spacing, planting date, trap cropping, etc and use of resistant cultivars; 
    2. bio-agents viz., predators, parasitoids and bio-control agents, mycorrhizal fungi, botanicals including bio-fumigation, oil cakes, FYM, crop residues, green manuring and other organic amendments,
    3. physical methods viz., hot water treatment of planting material, soil solarization and bio-rational chemicals like pheromones.

–Soil solarization (also called plasticulture) is an eco-friendly soil disinfestations method for managing soil-borne plant pathogens. This is the process of trapping solar energy by moist soil covered with transparent polyethene films and chemistry, biology and physical properties of soil are involved in pest control

–Biofumigation is an agronomic practice that consists of finely grinding a plant cover set up during the fallow period and incorporate the chopped biomass into the soil.
This practice releases organic compounds which are naturally produced during the development of certain plant species as a defence mechanism (allelopathic effects), and which are likely to reduce the biotic pressure of certain pests on the next crop.

–Pruning is the removal of plant parts like branches, buds, or roots for plant growth. It is referred to as the selective cutting away of a portion of a tree or shrub for horticultural production improvement. Pruning can affect the plant's size and shape, quality and quantity of fruit, overall health, and even safety.

Push-pull agricultural pest management

  • Push-pull technology is an intercropping strategy for controlling agricultural pests by using repellent “push” plants and trap “pull” plants.
  • For example, cereal crops like maize or sorghum are often infested by stem borers. Grasses planted around the perimeter of the crop attract and trap the pests, whereas other plants, like Desmodium, planted between the rows of maize, repel the pests and control the parasitic plant Striga.
  • It enhances soil quality by increasing soil organic matter, nitrogen content, and soil biodiversity, as well as conserving moisture, moderating soil temperature and preventing erosion.

Advantages:

  1. Eliminates or mitigates economic and health damage caused by pests; minimizes the use of pesticides and the risk to human health and the environment associated with pesticide applications.
  2. The introduction and spread of invasive species can also be managed with IPM by reducing risks while maximizing benefits and reducing costs.

Polyculture Farming

About:

  • This technique is similar to crop rotation that tries to mimic natural principles to achieve the best yields. It involves growing multiple crop species in one area.
  • These species often complement each other and helps produce a greater diversity of products at one plot while fully utilizing available resources.

Advantages:

  1. Polyculture is advantageous because of its ability to control pests, weeds, and diseases without major chemical inputs. As such, polyculture is considered a sustainable form of agriculture.
  2. It enhances soil health, eliminates fossil-fuel fertilizers and pesticides, and promotes clean water runoff.
  3. High biodiversity makes the system more resilient to weather fluctuations, promotes a balanced diet and applies natural mechanisms for maintaining soil fertility.

Disadvantages:

  1. The central downside of polyculture is the number of control issues a farmer has over the crops. Unlike a single plot of land where one crop would grow, polyculture has one plot of land where multiple plants could grow.
  2. When soil is used for multiple crops, plants have a tendency to grow stronger and with more plants near each other, so the immune systems increase.
    • Increased immunity in crops, leads to a decrease in yield- the plants may be stunted because they're constantly prepared to fight infection, rather than growing.

Agroforestry

About:

  • Agroforestry is a collective name for land-use systems and technologies where woody perennials (trees, shrubs, palms, bamboos, etc.) are deliberately used on the same land-management units as agricultural crops and/or animals, in some form of spatial arrangement or temporal sequence.
  • Agroforestry has become one of the powerful tools of farmers in dry regions with soils susceptible to desertification.
  • It involves the growth of trees and shrubs amongst crops or grazing land, combining both agriculture and forestry practices for long-lasting, productive, and diverse land use when approached sustainably.
  • Trees have another important role that maintains the favourable temperature, stabilizes soils and soil humidity, minimizes nutrient runoff and protects crops from wind or heavy rain.
  • Trees in this farming system are additional sources of income for farmers with the possibilities for product diversification.
  • The Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare (DAC & FW) has been implementing the Sub-Mission on Agroforestry (SMAF) Scheme since 2016-17 as part of the recommendation of the National Agroforestry Policy 2014.
  • India was the first country to have such a comprehensive policy which was launched at the World Agroforestry Congress held in Delhi in February 2014.

Advantages:

  • Evidence associated with agroforestry’s carbon-sequestering abilities (above and below ground) is well established. 
  • It also helps in:
    1. Soil fertility and closed nutrient cycles and soil salinity control
    2. Prevention of runoff and better water management
    3. Stabilization of soils and microclimate
    4. Low input of agrochemicals
    5. Improvement of wildlife and pollinator habitat
    6. Remediation of polluted soils
    7. Provision of diverse products and poverty reduction
    8. Prevention of damage to forests
    9. Climate change mitigation

Disadvantages:

  1. Labor intensive system
  2. Long waiting time
  3. Limited market opportunities
  4. Knowledge and technology-intensive
  5. Competition for resources
  6. Invasive species and alternate hosts to pests
  7. Allelopathy

Biodynamic Farming

About:

  • Biodynamic farming is an enhanced or alternative method of organic farming.
  • It incorporates ecological and holistic growing practices based on the philosophy of “anthroposophy.”
  • Biodynamic uses traditional farming techniques and a prescribed list of biological or natural “preparations”, whilst acknowledging and working with universal or cosmic forces that are at play in the farming environment.
  • It focuses on the implementation of practices such as composting, application of animal manure from farmed animals, cover cropping or rotating complementary crops for generating the necessary health and soil fertility for food production.
  • Biodynamic practices can be applied to farms that grow a variety of produce, gardens, vineyards, and other forms of agriculture.

Advantages:

  1. The biodynamic approach focuses on enhancing soil fertility and the nutritional composition of food through the use of special compost preparations and other means. 
  2. The production of crops in biodynamic farming will be consistent and the returns will also be high.
  3. Soil and water pollution can be prevented completely as there is deliberately no use of chemical inputs. 

Disadvantages:

  1. It requires more labour than conventional farming practices, which makes the produce more expensive.
  2. It's also not very conducive to mechanization, so it's difficult to practice on a large scale.
  3. It can also also be seen as pseudoscience by non-believers, a fact that contributes to a general lack of mainstream acceptance.

System of Rice Intensification

About:

  • The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) involves cultivating rice with as much organic manure as possible, starting with young seedlings planted singly at a wider spacing in a square pattern; and with intermittent irrigation that keeps the soil moist but not inundated, and frequent inter cultivation with weeder that actively aerates the soil.
  • SRI is not a standardised, fixed technological method.
  • It is rather a set of ideas, a methodology for comprehensively managing and conserving resources by changing the way that land, seeds, water, nutrients, and human labour are used to increase productivity from a small but well-tended number of seeds. 
  • SRI is an amalgamation of multiple beneficial practices.

Advantages: 

  1. Promotes aerobic soil conditions reducing methane emissions,
  2. Higher yields– Both grain and straw,
  3. Reduced duration (by 10 days),
  4. Lesser chemical inputs,
  5. Less water requirement,
  6. Less chaffy grain %,
  7. Grain weight increased without change in grain size,
  8. Withstand cyclonic gales,
  9. Cold tolerance,
  10. Soil health improves through biological activity.

Disadvantages:

  1. Intermittent irrigation, an intrinsic component of SRI, can increase nitrous oxide emissions. 
  2. Higher labour costs in the initial years.
  3. Difficulties in acquiring the necessary skills.
  4. Not suitable when no irrigation source is available.

Precision Farming

About:

  • Precision agriculture (PA) is an approach where inputs are utilised in precise amounts to get increased average yields, compared to traditional cultivation techniques such as agroforestry, intercropping, crop rotation, etc.
  • This approach applies information technology (IT) to ensure that the crops and soil receive exactly what they need for optimum health and productivity
  • It is based on sustainable agriculture and healthy food production and it consists of profitability and increasing production, economic efficiency and the reduction of side effects on the environment.

Advantages:

  1. Increases agriculture productivity.
  2. Yield and soil characteristics can be mapped.
  3. Prevents soil degradation.
  4. Reduces chemical application in crop production.
  5. Efficient use of water resources.
  6. Disseminates modern farm practices to improve the quality, quantity and reduced cost of production.
  7. Provides opportunities for better resource management and so could reduce wastage.
  8. Changes the socio-economic status of farmers.

Disadvantages:

  1. Lack of local experts, funds, knowledgeable research and extension personnel.
  2. Initial capital costs may be high and so it should be seen as a long-term investment.

Conservation Agriculture

About:

  • Conservation Agriculture (CA) is a set of soil management practices that minimize the disruption of the soil's structure, composition and natural biodiversity.
  • CA has proven potential to improve crop yields while improving the long-term environmental and financial sustainability of farming.
  • CA shares three core principles. These include:
    1. maintenance of permanent or semi-permanent soil cover (using either a previous crop residue or specifically growing a cover crop for this purpose);
    2. minimum soil disturbance through tillage (just enough to get the seed into the ground);
    3. regular crop rotations to help combat the various biotic constraints;
  • CA uses or promotes where possible or needed various management practices listed below:
    1. Utilization of green manures/cover crops (GMCC's) to produce the residue cover;
    2. No burning of crop residues;
    3. Integrated disease and pest management;
    4. Controlled/limited human and mechanical traffic over agricultural soils.

Advantages:

  1. Conservation agriculture improves soil structure and protects the soil against erosion and nutrient losses by maintaining a permanent soil cover and minimizing soil disturbance.
  2. Enhances soil organic matter (SOM) levels and nutrient availability by utilizing the previous crop residues or growing green manure/cover crops (GMCC's) and keeping these residues as surface mulch rather than burning. Thus, arable land under CA is more productive for much longer periods of time.
  3. Soil nutrient supplies and cycling are enhanced by the biochemical decomposition of organic crop residues at the soil surface that are also vital for feeding the soil microbes.
  4. Soil fertility is built up over time under conservation agriculture, and fewer fertilizer amendments are required to achieve optimal yields over time.
  5. It protects soil biota – insect pests and other disease-causing organisms are held in check by an abundant and diverse community of beneficial soil organisms, including predatory wasps, spiders, nematodes, springtails, mites and beneficial bacteria and fungi, among other species.
  6. Conservation agriculture requires significantly less water use due to increased infiltration and enhanced water holding capacity from crop residues left on the soil surface.
  7. Mulches also protect the soil surface from extreme temperatures and greatly reduce surface evaporation, which is particularly important in tropical and sub-tropical climates.
  8. The risk of total crop failure is significantly reduced due to enhanced water use efficiency.

Disadvantages:

  1. High initial costs of specialized planting equipment, farmers also require relevant skills. 
  2. It can be many years before a producer will start to see better yields than he/she has had previously.

Intercropping

About:

  • It is the cultivation of two or more crops simultaneously on the same field.
  • The main goal is to produce a greater yield on a given piece of land by making use of resources of ecological processes that would otherwise not be utilised by a single crop.
  • There are different approaches to intercropping such as:
    1. Mixed intercropping – two or more crops are planted in a mix without a distinct row arrangement.
    2. Row intercropping – two or more crops are planted in distinct rows.
    3. Temporal intercropping– uses the practice of sowing a fast-growing crop with a slow-growing crop, so that the fast-growing crop is harvested before the slow-growing crop starts to mature.
    4. Relay intercropping – two or more crops are grown at the same time as part of the life cycle of each i.e. a second crop is sown after the first crop has been well established but before it reaches its harvesting stage.
    5. Strip intercropping – growing two or more crops at the same time in separate strips wide enough apart for independent cultivation.

Advantages:

  1. More efficient use of light, water and other nutrient resources compared to single crops.
  2. It allows for the effective management of cover crops because crop mixtures have lower pest densities.
  3. Potential increased crop yields per unit area.
  4. Improved soil fertility by leguminous intercrops e.g. nitrogen-fixing.
  5. Reduced soil erosion.
  6. Lowered soil surface evaporation.

Disadvantages:

  1. Intercropping is not always suited to a mechanised farming system.
  2. Time-consuming- it requires more attention and thus increased intensive, expert management.
  3. There is reduced efficiency in planting, weeding and harvesting which may add to the labour costs of these operations.
  4. The biggest challenge to adopting intercropping systems is the advanced planning of planting, cultivation, fertilisation, spraying and harvesting of more than one crop in the same field. 

Natural Farming

About: 

  • Natural Farming is a chemical-free alias traditional farming method. It is considered an agroecology based diversified farming system that integrates crops, trees and livestock with functional biodiversity.
  • Natural farming is also referred to as “the Fukuoka Method”, “the natural way of farming” established by Masanobu Fukuoka (1913–2008) a Japanese farmer and philosopher.
  • Natural farming is related to fertility farming, organic farming, sustainable agriculture, agroecology, agroforestry, eco-agriculture and permaculture, but is distinguished from biodynamic agriculture.
  • Natural farming is a closed system, one that demands no human-supplied inputs and mimics nature. Neither chemical nor organic fertilizers are added to the soil.
  • In India, Natural farming is promoted as Bharatiya Prakritik Krishi Paddhati Programme (BPKP) under the centrally sponsored scheme- Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY).

Advantages:

  1. Reduced tillage preserves the crop residues on the top of the soil, allowing organic matter to be formed more easily and hence increasing the total organic carbon and nitrogen when compared to conventional tillage. 
  2. Reduced exposure to pesticides and chemicals.
  3. Supports water & soil conservation and health.

Disadvantages: 

  1. Labor intensive system.
  2. Long waiting time.
  3. Farmers must have specific knowledge about localized growing systems.

Vermicomposting

About:

  • Vermicomposting is the scientific method of making compost, by using earthworms. They are commonly found living in soil, feeding on biomass and excreting it in a digested form.
  • Vermiculture means “worm-farming”. Earthworms feed on organic waste materials and give out excreta in the form of “vermicasts” that are rich in nitrates and minerals such as phosphorus, magnesium, calcium and potassium.
  • These are used as fertilizers and enhance soil quality.
  • It comprises two methods:
    1. Bed Method: This is an easy method in which beds of organic matter are prepared.
    2. Pit Method: In this method, the organic matter is collected in cemented pits. However, this method is not prominent as it involves problems of poor aeration and waterlogging.

Advantages:

  1. Develops roots of the plants.
  2. Improves the physical structure of the soil.
  3. Vermicomposting increases the fertility and water resistance of the soil.
  4. Helps in germination, plant growth, and crop yield.
  5. Nurtures soil with plant growth hormones such as auxins, gibberellic acid, etc.

Disadvantages:

  • It is a time-consuming process and takes as long as six months to convert the organic matter into usable forms.
  • It releases a very foul odour.
  • Vermicomposting is high maintenance. The feed has to be added periodically and care should be taken that the worms are not flooded with too much to eat.
  • The bin should not be too dry or too wet. The moisture levels need to be monitored periodically.
  • They nurture the growth of pests and pathogens such as fruit flies, centipede and flies.

Floating farming

About: 

  1. Floating agriculture is a way of utilising areas that are waterlogged for long periods of time in the production of food. The technology is mainly aimed at adapting to more regular or prolonged flooding.
  2. The approach employs beds of rotting vegetation, which act as compost for crop growth.
  3. These beds are able to float on the surface of the water, thus creating areas of land suitable for agriculture within waterlogged regions.
  4. Scientifically, floating agriculture may be referred to as hydroponics. 
  5. The practice is similar to hydroponic agriculture whereby plants can be grown on the water on a floating bed of water hyacinth, algae or other plant residues.

–Floating gardens, a concept which is not new to India thanks to Srinagar's Dal Lake– are farms made on water bodies. Bamboo beds are constructed and floated on the water bodies. At the bottom of the bed surface, dried water hyacinth is intertwined to form a mesh. Flood affected areas in coastal Odisha have also adopted floating gardens.

Advantages:

  1. The practice helps mitigate land loss through flooding, by allowing cultivation of these areas to continue.
  2. The area under floating cultivation is up to 10 times more productive than traditionally farmed land and no additional chemical fertilisers or manure is required.
  3. When the crops have been harvested and floating rafts are no longer required, they can be used as organic fertilisers in the fields or incorporated into the following years floating beds as a fertiliser.
  4. It also helps supplement the income of local communities and contributes to the alleviation of poverty.

Disadvantages:

  1. While the technique is applicable in several mega-deltas such as the Ganges-Brahmaputra, the success of a more general application of this approach seems unlikely.
  2. This practice may encourage insect and rodent infestation.
  3. Can also cause conflict within the community if common property areas are dedicated to the practice. 

Trap Cropping

About: 

  • Trap crops are the plant stands that are grown to attract insects or other organisms to protect target crops from pest attacks.
  • Protection may be achieved either by preventing the pests from reaching the crop or by concentrating them in a certain part of the field where they can economically be destroyed.
  • The principle of trap cropping rests on the fact that virtually all pests show a distinct preference to a certain crop stage.
  • Manipulation of stand in time and space so that attractive host plants are offered at a critical time in pests and the crop phenology leads to the concentration of the pests at the desired site, the crop.
  • Yet another function of trap crops is their use of attracting natural enemies of pest insects to the fields and concentrating them there to enhance naturally occurring biological control. 
  • The essential features of trap cropping are that the trap crop must be attractive to the pest than the main crop, it should occupy a small area as far as possible and it should be established early or later or along with the main crop.
  • The important trap crops commonly used in pest management include bhindi/okra in cotton to trap bollworms at the ratio of 1:10 and marigold at the border of the field.
  • Sesamum is commonly being used as a trap crop to attract Diamondback moth in both cabbage and cauliflower.

Advantages:

  1. Besides its potential role in improving the environmental soundness, trap cropping techniques may have a special preference of conventional agriculture to sustainable farming in developing countries.
  2. Trap cropping has indicated a great benefit in terms of economic returns mainly resulting from reduced insecticide use and pest attack.
  3. Trap cropping is a useful strategy in the management of several pests in various cropping systems. 

Disadvantages:

  • There may be a build-up of populations of the target insect pest on the trap crop plants and potential spilling over to the cash crop.

Verticle Farming

About:

  • In vertical farming, crops are grown indoors, under artificial conditions of light and temperature. It aims at higher productivity in smaller spaces.
  • It uses soil-less methods such as hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics.
  • With a growing population and not much operational farmland to go around, vertical farming may be used to fulfil the growing food demands of the world.

Types of Vertical Farms:

  1. Vertical Farms in buildings- Abandoned buildings are repurposed for vertical farming. Depending on the requirements new buildings are also used to construct vertical farms.
  2. Shipping-Container Vertical Farms- Old or recycled shipping containers are equipped with LED lighting, vertically stacked farms, climate controls and monitoring sensors. Such types of farms can save space and get a higher yield in the process.
  3. Underground Vertical Farms- Also known as ‘Deep Farms’, these types of vertical farms are built in underground tunnels, abandoned mine shafts or any subterranean environment. The constant temperature and humidity mean that they require less energy for heating and as for water supply, the underground water source can be used.
    Such farms can also produce 7 to 9 times more food than a conventional farm.

Techniques of Vertical Farming

Hydroponics:

  • Hydroponics is the method of growing plants without the involvement of soil. Here, plant roots are submerged in magnesium, nitrogen, potassium calcium etc.
  • These solutions support roots, improving chances of higher yield and reducing dependence on water.
  • Studies have shown that there has been 11 times yield compared to conventional farms at a cost of 13 times less water. Thus hydroponics is the most widely used method in Vertical Farming.

Aquaponics:

  • A slightly advanced method that hydroponics, aquaponics integrates the production of plants with that of aquatic organisms in a closed-loop system resembling nature itself.

Aeroponics:

  • As the name suggests, Aeroponics does not use mediums like solid or liquid, instead, it uses air to grow plants.
  • A liquid solution is used in the air where the plants are located, through which the plants absorb nutrients.
  • It is the most suited method as it requires neither water nor soil and requires no growing medium.

Advantages:

  1. Vertical farming uses significantly less water and pesticides than traditional agricultural methods.
  2. Being indoors, the crops aren't subject to seasons and hence give high productivity year-round. Lettuces, tomatoes and green crops can be produced through this practice.
  3. Traditional farming is subjected to unpredictable weather patterns and natural disasters such as floods, droughts, wildfires, etc.
    • In a controlled environment of vertical farming, such factors are negated and thus less susceptible to disruption in the supply chain process.
  4. Producing food indoors reduces or eliminates conventional ploughing, planting, and harvesting by farm machinery, protecting soil, and reducing emissions.

Disadvantages: 

  • It is quite costly and some use urban settings where the real estate prices are high, thus, its maintenance costs are even higher.
  • During the growing season, the sun shines on a vertical surface at an extreme angle such that much less light is available to crops than when they are planted on flat land. Therefore, supplemental light would be required.

 


*Read this Article for a comprehensive study on the Status of Sustainable Agriculture in India.



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