Crop diversification is practiced in dryland areas to reduce the risk factor of crop failures due to recurring droughts. Crop substitution and crop shift are also taking place in areas with specific soil related problems. It also provides better conditions for food security and enable farmers to grow surplus products for sale at market and thus, help them obtain increased income to meet other needs related to household well-being. Diversifying from the monoculture of traditional staples can have important nutritional benefits for farmers in developing countries and can support a country for becoming more self-reliant in terms of food production. It can also manage price risk on the assumption that all products may not suffer from low market prices at the same time and increase theprofitability of the farming community.
Various types of complementary intercrops can efficiently utilize space, water and nutrients, smother weeds, improve natural suppression of pests, and enhance overall crop productivity relative to conventional crop monocultures, which often require more chemical inputs and fossil fuel consumption than diversified fields.
Rainfed cereal crops based intercropping systems
Cereal-legume intercropping promotes ecological intensification while ensuring quantitative dry matter yield equivalent to that produced by the same two pure crops and increases protein yield and reduces nitrogen requirement. The symbiotic relationship between the legume and the bacteria housed in the nodes of its rootsystem enables the plant to fix atmospheric nitrogen, thereby allowing it to meet its nitrogen nutrient requirements. Thus, the intercropping meets the need to reduce chemical inputs (fertilizers and phyto sanitary products).
Rainfed pulse crops based intercropping systems
More than 70% area of pulses in India is covered under intercropping systems. Pulses are intercropped with oil seeds, cereals, coarse grains and commercial crops. Pigeonpea is also inter/mixed cropped with short growing grain legumes. Having deeper and moreabundant roots, pulse crops can utilize greater amounts of water, stored deep within the soil and can withstand drought better than shallow-rooted crops.
Rainfed oilseed crops based intercropping systems
Oilseeds are typically intercropped with legumes such as pigeonpea, cowpea and lentils. It is thought that the legumes furnish nitrogen to the oilseed crops while the oilseed crops compete with weeds and use moisture not readily accessible to legumes. Additionally, there appear to be beneficial shifts in insect ecology and soil microbial populations.
Strip cropping is a method of farming which involves cultivating a field partitioned into long, narrow strips which are alternated in a crop rotation system. It is used when a slope is too steep or when there is no alternative method of preventing soil erosion. Strip cropping can improve crop yields by encouraging infiltration and thereby increasing soil moisture. It is one of the least costly measures available for farmers to reduce sheet and rill erosion.
[These are excerpts from an article by Mudalagiriyappa, W N Narkhede, A P Singh, J K Balyan, A K Khokhar, M N Thimmegowda, S Manoharan, R P Meena and R N Nandagavi of All India Coordinated Research Project on Dryland Agriculture, Bengaluru and published in November 2022 Issue of Indian Farming, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Pages 28-33]
Farming system is a complex inter-related matrix of soil, plants, animals, implements, power, labour, capital and other inputs controlled in parts by farming families and influenced to varying degrees by political, economic, institutional and social forces that operate at different levels. The term farming system refers to a particular arrangement of farming enterprises that are managed in response to the physical, biological and socio-economic environment and in accordance with farmers’ goals, preferences and resources. A common characteristic of rainfed integrated farming systems (IFS) is that they invariably have a combination of crop and livestock enterprises and in some cases include combinations of poultry, agroforestry, horticulture, apiary etc. Further, there are synergies and complementarities between different enterprises that form the basis of the concept of IFS. Integration usually occurs when outputs (usually by-products) of one enterprise are used as inputs by another within the context of the farming system. The synergy between enterprises increases with on-farm diversity and is fundamental to the IFS concept. Diversification of farming activities improves the utilization of labour, reduces unemployment in areas where there is a surplus of underutilized labour, enhances resilience to climate change, and provides asource of living for those households that operate theirfarm as a full time occupation.
Watershed based farming systems
In rainfed areas, rainfall is the only source of waterand its efficient utilization is important for successfulcrop production. In regions with rainfall of 500–700 mm, the farming systems should be based on livestock with promotion of low water requiring grasses, trees and bushes to meet fodder, fuel and timber requirements of the farmers. In 700–1100 mm rainfall regions, crop, horticulture and livestock based farming systems can be adopted depending on the soil type and the marketability factors. Runoff harvesting is a major component in this region in the watershed based farming system. In areas where the rainfall is more than 1100 mm, IFS module integrating paddy with fisheries is ideal.
Farmer/family centric farming systems
In this system, the focus is on the individual households particularly of small and marginal farmers and their livelihood security. In this approach, the strengths and weaknesses of the traditional farming systems followed by the farmers need to be assessed, based on which selective production enhancement and enterprise diversification interventions are introduced.
[These are Excerpts from the article by the same title written by G Ravindra Chary, K A Gopinath, C Radha Kumari, S B Patil, H S Latha, RakhasreeKalita, A Solamalai, C K Patel, P M Patel, B S Dhillon and V K Singh of ICAR-Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture, Hyderabad and published in November 2022 Issue of Indian Farming, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Pages 82-85]
Food and agriculture are the largest consumers of water today (70% of water used in the world). Going forward, availability of water for agriculture is going to be one of the major concerns across rural India. In this background, farmers can proactively work across the country to protect the watersheds through implementing best practices & technologies. The main focus should be to produce more crop per drop of water.
Here are the 10 ways in which farmers can save the precious water resource –
- Breaking the hard/compacted layers in soil which are preventing root penetration through implement called subsoilers. The initiative helps in increasing water-holding capacity of the farm and reduces soil erosion.
- Adopting biological interventions such as vermicom posting and organic fertilizers which increases the soil organic carbon. This intervention is found to improve the soil structure, increasing its water-holding capability.
- Conservation Tillage (Zero Till Farming) – Under this method, the previous crop residues are distributed evenly and left on the soil surface and no implements are used to turn the soil over. This practice helps in increasing water absorption and reduces evaporation, erosion, and compaction.
- Planting drought tolerant varieties that are appropriate to the region’s climate which require low water needs for getting more crop per drop.
- Deployment of protected climate smart seedling production techniques which reduces water usage by 40% to 50% during nursery.
- Using covering material called Mulch on the top soil to conserve moisture. This intervention suppress weed growth and reduces evaporation.
- Deployment of Drip Irrigation to deliver water directly to the plant’s root. This initiative saves more than 50% water than conventional irrigation, and even contributes to increased crop yields by 20%.
- Deployment of green manuring crops to cover the soil during off-season. The cover crops increase soil fertility and organic matter and allows water to more easily penetrate the soil and improves its water-holding volume.
- To avoid under or overwatering, farmers carefully monitor the soil moisture requirements, and adapt irrigation schedule based on local needs.
- Deployment of farm ponds, trenches & furrows to capture and store rainfall for use throughout the year.
An Indian farmer battles with a web of variabilities during farming. Unlike traditional business, farming is done in open environment where farmers have to fight with many known and unknown challenges in getting a healthier crop. A farmer might have done everything right, they might have used the best seeds, good inputs and might have followed all the good package of practices. But a factor called weather can completely collapse their crop and push them to poverty.
Even today with so much advancement in technology – an Indian farmer has to depend on a good monsoon for better cultivation. The current scenario of climate change and global warming make the task even more challenging for the farmers.
Now the question arises, is there any way in which this worst situation of drought or weather vagaries can be tackled in agriculture? The answer is right away yes.
Technology to solve weather vagaries in farming is already available and countries like Israel and USA are perfect examples.
India by following the footsteps of countries like Israel and US can completely change the way farming is done. The simple resolution here is to adopt technologies from these countries and start-ups have huge potential in converting adversities in Indian Farming to Opportunities for Business to grow.
Climate smart agriculture is a broader concept which includes all environment friendly agricultural approaches like integrated farming systems, conservation agriculture, natural farming, organic farming, precision agriculture, regenerative agriculture, reclamation of degraded soils and reduced food loss and waste to achieve sustainable agriculture. Climate smart agriculture is an integrated approach to managing landscapes-cropland, livestock, forests and fisheries-that address the interlinked challenges of food security and climate change. It aims to tackle three main objectives: sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes, adapting and building resilience to climate change and reducing greenhouses gas emissions wherever possible and supports FAO strategic framework 2022-2031.1
Climate-Smart Farming Practices are slowly gaining acceptance with farmers using clean energy sources like solar for irrigation. The farmers have been incentivised to transfer electricity generated through solar to the local grid. Crop yield prediction models using artificial intelligence and drones for monitoring soil and crop health have been initiated. Smart farming also enables crop diversification, which will help farmers reduce their dependence on monsoons for water. There are over 1,000 agritech start-ups in India. These assist farmers in improving farming techniques.2
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) under Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare has launched a flagship network project namely National Innovations in Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA). The project aims to study the impact of climate change on agriculture including crops, livestock, horticulture and fisheries and to develop and promote climate resilient technologies in agriculture which will address vulnerable areas of the country and the outputs of the project will help the districts and regions prone to extreme weather conditions like droughts, floods, frost, heat waves, etc. to cope with such extremes.
ICAR in collaboration with India Meteorological Department (IMD) issues Agromet advisories twice a week (Tuesday and Friday) to around 6 crore farmers of the country through Gramin Krishi Mausam Seva program. The advisories are reaching the farmers through m-KISAN portal, WhatsApp groups, SMS services etc.3
With the help of technology interventions, the negative impact of climate change on agricultural production can be dealt with effectively.
- National Mission on Natural Farming, Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, March 28, 2023, Press Information Bureau (PIB), GoI
- Agriculture and Food Management: from Food Security to Nutritional Security, Economic Survey, 2022-23, GoI
- Impact of Climate Change on Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, December 16, 2022, Press Information Bureau (PIB), GoI
Zero Till Farming is a method to grow crops each year without disturbing the soil through tillage or plowing. Under this method the previous crop residues are distributed evenly and left on the soil surface and No implements are used to turn the soil over or incorporate crop residues.
In North and Eastern India, traditionally farmers cultivate wheat in rabi season after paddy is completed in kharif. Post paddy harvesting farmers undertake 2 – 3 tillage operations and burn paddy stubbles to clear the field, thus leading to 15 – 20 days delay in wheat sowing. The burning of crop stubble adds to atmospheric carbon resulting in air pollution and also leads to loss of organic matter, a valuable component for maintaining soil health.
In a push to make farming sustainable and facilitate timely sowing. ‘Zero Till Farming’ in the major wheat growing states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal is essential. Under ‘Zero till Farming’, a zero till machine is used to sow wheat seed directly in paddy harvested fields, thus resulting countless benefits to environment, soil and farmer:
- Reduction in Carbon emission by eliminating paddy stubble burning and reduction in tractor fuel consumption.
- Soil moisture conservation and reduction in soil erosion and fertilizer usage.
- 20% reduction in water usage.
- 10% to 15% improvement in productivity.
- Cost saving of Rs.2600/ Acre due to elimination of land preparation, pre-sowing irrigation and fertilizers.
In the recent times, the burning of crop stubbles was majorly attributed to the rise in air pollution in Delhi – NCR and Zero Till Farming is one of the conversation agriculture technique which can solve this problem.
The concept of ecological agriculture, its features, principles and farm design is a complete package of Sustainable agriculture in itself. It binds the whole ecosystem in an inter-related and interdependent system to form a harmonious cycle between different organisms and environment for the mutual benefit of each other.
This type of ecological agriculture and farming practice is seen in West Bengal, taken up by the women folks in some of the villages. They are growing food in the natural and organic way by combining different elements in nature in a complementary and collaborative manner.
One such example is of Kalpana Sutradhar who has built an excellent ecosystem in her small farm itself. She grows varieties of crops to complement each other and to fulfill the needs of food year-round. Several pots of water are buried under the ground to constantly supply regulated moisture to the soil. Rainwater is harvested and collected in a pond where many kinds of fish are reared. Vermicomposting is followed by her to fulfill the requirement of organic manure instead of synthetic ones. Following these kinds of self –sustainable agricultural practices have made her almost self-dependent overruling the need for much external dependency for food.
There are various principles by which ecologically sustainable agriculture can be followed. Some of them are as follows:
- Use of varieties of crops in sequence or in combination which may be interdependent or supporting each other for various needs such as soil fertility, manure, minerals, water requirement and also shade. Crop-rotation, use of mix crop and also relay crop are some of the examples.
- Seasonal or perennial crops may be integrated with other animals and insects to derive various benefits encouraging birds in the farm will help in reducing the no. of pests and insects as well as the bird droppings can be used as good manure for the improving soil quality.
- Various plants can be grown in layers depending upon their growth, height, requirement of sunlight or shade, nutrients, water requirements, support system for creepers and climbers etc.
- Plant and animal waste may be used as bio-gas and the slurry can be used to grow earthworms for vermicompost.
- Vermicompost or compost using will reduce the requirement of synthetic inputs.
- This will help in use of renewable resources and to optimize energy efficiency.
- Pot irrigation with miniscule holes at the bottom, buried under the soil will not only keep the soil moist, but also reduce the water requirement for irrigation up to a considerable extent.
- Practice of integrated pest management system following various biological, physical and cultural methods will also eliminate the requirement of chemicals to a great extent.
- Plantation of multipurpose, local plants such as bamboo will fulfill the need for food, fodder for animals, firewood requirements, enrichment of soil nutrients etc.
- Local/ native plants can grow effortlessly in the naturally suited habitats and thereby a save a lot of money.
- Voluntary plants like water hyacinth can be used to grow oyster mushrooms or vegetables.
- Rain water can be allowed to be stored in a small reservoir to be used later during water scarcity.
- Encouraging presence of a few ducks in the paddy field helps in reducing the growth of weeds and also enriches the soil from their droppings.
Precisely saying, these kinds of mutually benefiting sustainable ecological agricultural practices contribute to the overall economic, cultural and environmental well-being of the animals and their ecosystem.
Agriculture from the time immemorial has been playing a vital role. Apart from its contribution in Indian economy, it provides food for the people. Intensification of agriculture over the years has led to overall degradation of the agro-ecosystem. Green revolution along with increasing yield came with host of problems including degradation of soil and water, health related diseases in human and animal, pollution and global warming. Indian Agriculture is in urgent need of improvement. There is need to shift from unworthy conventional farming to ecofriendly farming system.
Organic farming is a more sustainable method of farming and involves cultivation of crops and rearing of animals in a natural way. It majorly excludes the use of synthetic chemicals and pesticides, growth regulators and genetically modified organisms. Organic farming method includes crop rotation, mixed cropping, companion planting, and biological/ mechanical/cultural control of disease-pest. It relies on organic fertilizers like compost manure, green manure, bone meal etc. Advantages of organic farming system are:
- Maintains soil health and prevents soil erosion.
- Conserves water and prevents water pollution.
- Checks global warming.
- Reduces exposure to pesticides and chemicals.
- Prevents environment degradation.
- Promotes biodiversity
- Promotes human and animal health.
The Government is supporting organic farming through various measures. Organic farming is being promoted through technical capacity building of all the stakeholders including human resource development, transfer of technology, promotion and production of quality organic and biological inputs. Likewise, technology development through support to research and market development is being done. Further more it is accelerated through low cost certification system known as “Participatory Guarantee System”.
This PGS system is unique in the world and is the largest participatory organic certification programme in the world. Till December 2022, 13.98 lakh small and marginal farmers were certified under PGS certification…
PKVY was initiated in 2015-16 to promote organic farming in the country. Upto December, 2022, 32,384 clusters were formed and an area of 6.53 lakh hectares has been covered benefitting 16.19 lakh farmers. In addition, Under Namami Gange Programme, 1,23,620 hectare area was covered out of which 4.09 lakh hectare area was covered under natural farming. Farmers in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar and Jharkhand have taken-up organic farming on either side of the river Ganga to control river water pollution as well as to fetch additional income to farmers.
Government is also promoting sustainable natural farming systems through the scheme Bhartiya Prakratik Krishi Padhati (BPKP) under PKVY. The scheme aims at cutting down cost of cultivation, enhancing farmer’s income and ensuring resource conservation and, safe and healthy soils, environment and food.
Government is also providing financial assistance under various schemes like Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) , Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture , National Project on Management of Soil Health and Fertility (NPMSHF) and Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) to name a few.
After announcement of chemical free natural farming in the Union Budget 2022-23, Government has formulated Natural Mission on Natural Farming (NMNF) by up-scaling BPKP to promote natural farming on larger scale across the country. So far 4.09 lakh hectare area has been brought under BPKP.
Under BPKP, natural farming is being promoted in cluster of 500 hectare and Rs. 12,200 is provided per hectare for three years, in which Rs. 2,000 is provided as incentives to farmers through DBT.
A Digital web portal (naturalfarming.dac.gov.in) has been launched for promotion of natural farming to display information about implementation framework, resources, implementation progress, farmer’s registration, blog etc.