By Udit DebangshiB.Sc. Agriculture (Hons.) Student (1st year)
Palli Siksha Bhavana (Institute of Agriculture), Visva Bharati
Sustainable Agriculture is the act of farming using principle of ecology, the study of relationship between organism and their environment. It has been defined as an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site specific application that will last over the long term and help the environment.
For decades, in India, farmers have produced the bulk of our food through intensive agriculture, a system dominated by farms growing the same crops year after year, using enormous amount of chemical pesticide and fertilizers, that damage the soil, water, air and climate. This system is not built to last because it squanders and degrades the natural resources that it depends on. But now a days a number of farmers and scientist are taking a different path moving toward a farming system that is more sustainable in nature: environmentally, economically and socially. Hence we generally denote Sustainable Agriculture as the “wave of the future”.
Aspects of Sustainable Agriculture
The sustainable agriculture involves the following aspects:
Conservation of water
All agricultural practices are dependent upon the clean water. Several agronomic and engineering methods used in sustainable agriculture may help to protect the water for future. Among them, Deficit irrigation practice, Alternate watering and drying method of irrigation, Alternate furrow irrigation; increasing the efficiency of irrigation system using micro irrigation; proper watershed management; use of mulching to reduce the evaporation from the soil (such as several cover crops), water conservation methods (e.g. contour bunding, graded bunding, terrace farming etc.) are popular methods of conserving the water.
Bio-intensive pest & pathogen management
It is an approach which relies on biological pest management as opposed to chemical method. It is also emphasizes the importance of crop rotation to combat infestation of pest and pathogens. Many bio-control agent such as ladybird beetle , birds and other animals are in fact natural predator of several agricultural pests which can be used in a farm checking the population of harmful pests as well as pathogens.
Soil health management
Soil is the central component of agricultural ecosystem. Healthy soil is full of life, it is estimated that only one (1) gram of soil contents more than one million of microbes; which are highly beneficial for the soil health. These soil microbes are often be killed by the indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Good soil can increase yield as well as produce more robust crop. It is very important to maintain and enhance the quality of soil health when practicing sustainable agriculture. Leaving crop residues in the field, after a harvest; use of composted plant material or animal manure; use of eliminating tillage (zero tillage, minimum tillage, mulch tillage) involves in increasing soil health by reducing soil erosion.
Crop rotation and embracing diversity
Crop rotation is one of the most important techniques practiced in sustainable agriculture. Its sole purpose is to avoid the consequences of Monoculture, i.e. planting the same crop in the same soil for years in a row. It helps tackle major pest problems very effectively as major pests of crops are generally crop-specific. If the pests have a steady food supply through monoculture, they can greatly increase their population size, resulting in havoc yield loss in every year. Crop rotation breaks the reproduction and life cycle of key pests of a certain crop helping in control of the population of that pest. During rotation farmer generally plants certain Crops, which reclaims soil nutrients as well like several leguminous crops which act as a source of Nitrogen (N). This helps in reducing the use of chemical fertilizers also. Practices like adopting Agro-forestry systems are also some perks sustainable agriculture which upgrades the overall socio-economic status of a farmer.
Benefits of Sustainable Agriculture
The environment plays a huge role in fulfilling our basic needs to sustain our life. Its sustainability helps to conserve the natural resources like water, air, soil, which in terms secure the future generation. Sustainable agriculture avoids the use of hazardous pesticides, chemical fertilizers, reduces the use of non-renewable energy resources, and lessens the pressure/exploitation on environment . Sustainable farming uses a wide variety of plant and animal resources resulting in conserving biodiversity as well as genetic variability. Sustainable agriculture also maintains the socio-economic status of a farmer, practicing sustainable agriculture techniques generate more economical yield to the farmers in long run than intensive chemical oriented agriculture. Due to rapid population increase, it is estimated that by 2050 we will be in need 70% more food to feed the world. This is not a small challenge and this challenge can only be mitigated by Sustainable Agriculture.
- Principles of Agronomy by SR Reddy