For decades we have produced a bulk of our food with indiscriminate usage of fertilizers and harmful pesticides. But in the recent decades questions have been raised about the safety and efficacy of such crops and their impact on the human health and environment. This has encouraged farmers and consumers to look for clean, eco-friendly, and sustainable substitutes that can help grow quality food.
Climate change, new social expectations and answer to it
Climate science is an evolving subject and has shaped the agriculture outlook as climate plays a key role in the agriculture industry and will continue to do so.Unpredictable climate shifts and severe conditions area threat to agriculture and food security.
Climate change touches the farmers daily, but sadly very few concrete solutions have been provided to address this omni-present threat. Sustaining crop production under a changing climate is a crucial test for the farmers and the agriculture industry.
Innovation and sustainability are now more important in farming than before, to reduce emissions, adapt to a changing climate and to address new social expectations for health-conscious end consumers who are demanding safe and healthy food. Additionally, COVID-19 has brought forth the gaps that were present in the agriculture system which now needs to be restoredby adopting sustainable agronomics practices for increasing productivity, improving farmer’s income and reducing environmental damage.
Asustainable agriculture system should achieve three goals:
(a) Economically feasible and profitable
(b) Social and economic elevation.
(c) Sustainable and resource conservation
Below are few sustainable agriculture practices that can help achieve the above goals:
(a) Crop rotation: Planting a variety of crops can be quite beneficial for the farm as it helps in improving pest and weed control, maintains soilstructure and nutrients, higher crop yields, helps in climate change mitigation by reduction of GHGs and ability of soil to store carbon, Integrated Pest management, water conservation and in prevention of soil erosion.
(b) Planting cover crops: Cover crops are plants that are planted to cover the soil rather than for the purpose of being harvested. They help in managing soil quality, soil erosion, soil fertility, water, pests and diseases. They are planted during the off-season when the soil is left bare. They build and protect the health of the soil by refilling it with nutrients, keeps weeds in check, reducing the need for herbicides in the future.
(c) Eliminating or reducing tillage: Reduce or conservation tillage, is a practice of reducing loss of organic carbon from the soil, allowing better crop growth. This is important for eco-friendly farming as it improves soil health, reduces loss of minerals and also reduces fossil fuel consumption during field preparation.
(d) Application of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods: Integrated pest management (IPM) combines the use of biological, cultural and chemical practices to control insect pests in agricultural production.It uses natural predators or parasites to control pests, and pesticides are only used when unable to control by natural means. Therefore, it helps in growing healthy plants, reduces environmental risk associated with pest management by encouraging the adoption of more ecologically benign control tactics, reduces air and ground water contamination, removes issues related to pesticide residue, decreases exposure of farmers to pesticides and increases the cost-effectiveness of a pest management program.
(e) Adopting agroforestry practices: It is a deliberate integration of forestry and agriculture to create productive and sustainable land use practices. It takes advantage of the benefits from growing trees and shrubs together with crops and livestock. It promotes crop cultivation taking into account regional agro-climatic conditions, soil health, market demand and availability of alternative irrigation practices. It promotes polyculture so that the farmer is able to harvest high-value crop with a healthy profit. By planting high-value trees on a portion of the farmland along with the existing crop, farmers can have a lucrative additional source of income.
Summing up, there are several sustainable agronomics practices that are prevalent in the country and currently being adopted by several farmers. Not only consumers, farmers too want to grow crops with minimal stress on the environment. We need to create awareness and keep emphasising on the economic and social benefits of such practices to encourage more farmers to reap the benefits.