[Editorial] India’s natural & organic farming strategy for rice and wheat

Quick revision mind map

Context

  • According to the agriculture department of the Government of India, India’s wheat export surpassed $872 million (2021-22) and rice export in 2021-22 is likely to surpass the record $10 million.

What the editorial is about?

  • The need for natural and organic farming with high yields at an affordable price to the common man in India.

Agriculture in post-independent India

  • India is predominantly agrarian — 80 per cent of the population is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture.
  • Rice and wheat are the staples for 90 per cent of the country’s people.

Till the early 1960s

  • Till the early 1960s, the predominant mode of cultivation was what is now called “organic farming”, with no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides available or known.
  • At that time, farmers relied on cow dung, twigs of leguminous plants like Crotalaria juncea, Tephrosia, neem and jeelugu.
  • These materials mulched the fields ploughed for rice plantation.
  • Oil cakes of groundnut, castor and neem were also used which is a good source of nitrogen.

From the beginning of the 1960s

  • Since the use of urea from the beginning of the 1960s, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium-based fertilizers became available after the establishment of industrial plants at Sindri (Bihar) and Udyog Mandal (Kerala).
  • Fortunately, in this decade, synthetic pesticides like dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), endrin, and others entered the market.
  • Another spectacular discovery was that of the high-yielding hybrid wheat and rice.
  • The high-yielding wheat was discovered by Norman Borlaug (Nobel Prize winner) and was rapidly adopted by India largely due to the pioneering work of Dr Swaminathan and MV Rao.
  • Swaminathan is remembered as the ‘father of Green Revolution’ and Rao as the “wheat man of India”.
  • With hybrid varieties and synthetic fertilizers and insecticides, the production of rice per acre increased to 40 quintals from 10 quintals, a tremendous victory in fighting hunger.

Setbacks during the 1960s and 70s

  • India’s budget is dependent on the monsoon season, as George Curzon pointed out in 1905.
  • Due to drought from 1964-to 70, India had to import food and became heavily dependent on the United States for wheat supplies under the Public Law 480 agreement.

Green Revolution

  • Ultimately, the Green Revolution was initiated.
  • The theme of the initiative was to boost foodgrains’ production of rice and wheat using any method and at any cost.

Pesticide-free food

  • After DDT, other insecticides like monocrotophos, metasystox, cypermethrin came into use but these are equally harmful to humans, livestock and fish.
  • The “turn to nature” to get pesticide-free food has become a priority.
  • The order of the day is organic farming — natural farming or zero-budget agriculture — which is welcome and most wanted in the agriculture sphere.

Some considerations

Usage of organic manures

  • The first and foremost sound solution is the usage of organic manures from compost, cow dung and ploughing and mulching of leguminous plants.
  • Several plant-based botanical pesticides were discovered. Neem oil, neem kernel extracts, which contain azadirachtin, is the active principle discovered by Germans, the United Kingdom and the US.

Growing awareness

  • There is a growing awareness in India to cultivate the crops by natural fertilizers such as cow dung, leguminous green manures, compost, vermicomposting and biopesticides fungi, bacteria and virus-based pesticides like Bacillus thuringiensis, Pseuedomonas aegle, Trichoderma Verdi.
  • These bio-pesticides are chiefly produced from diseased insects and soil, among other things.
  • However, it only has limited use on too few fruits and vegetable crops.
  • The problem with bio-pesticide production is that it is confined to a small industry with no standardization and doubtful efficacy.

Symposia

  • Several symposia are held by non-governmental organizations, ideal farmers and governments.
  • Many agricultural magazines hail the miracles of higher yields from organic farming.

Concoctions

  • Some of the recently designed concoctions (such as Ramabana), gained prominence.
  • These concoctions are made from jaggery, ginger, cow milk, cow curd, cow dung, cow urine, asafoetida.
  • All the ingredients are mixed and fermented for a week, diluted and sprayed on crops.
  • The active principle of such concoctions is unknown and doesn’t stand scientific security.
  • Moreover, the cost of these concoctions is as high as pesticides and starting products like cow dung are not available in plenty as of today.

Need for a natural and organic strategy for rice and wheat

  • For about 90 per cent of Indians, rice or wheat are almost exclusively the staple food.
  • So, encouragement of organic farming in a country like India will be meaningful, if applied for rice/wheat.
  • Studies on these crops should also be prioritized.
  • The inconvenient truth, as many farmers put it, is that the land is infertile now without urea in the first few days of rice plantation, and with no application of synthetic pesticides, the entire crop is prone to pests resulting in no yield.

Challenges

Maintaining the current volume

  • The challenge for agriculture scientists is how to maintain the current volume of yield (40 quintals per acre) with organic farming.

All the available tools we have with us are bio-fertilizers, bio-pesticides, green manure and vermicompost.

Constraints of sustainable organic farming

Availability

  • None of the organic farming tools are available, especially for organic farming of rice which is the staple food in India.
  • Importantly, the whole organic farming depends on cow dung, which is dwindling even as we are particular about their protection (gosamrakshana).

The increase in cattle population

  • The staple food for cattle is rice straw.
  • While we claim rice production is high and in surplus, the cost of rice remains very high and is not affordable for the poor man.
  • Thus, the increase of cattle population is linked to paddy by rice production.
  • Both are interlinked.

Quantification for pesticide residues in food

  • Quantification for pesticide residues in food should be done by the High-Performance Liquid Chromatography / Mass Spectra / Mass Spectra (HPLC / MS / MS) method.
  • The sophisticated method has been adopted by advanced countries but is still not in use in India.

Continuous research on high yielding varieties

  • The real structure of crop production is dependent on high-yielding hybrid seeds.
  • Continuous research on high yielding varieties by cross-breeding with pest-resistant wild varieties is essential.

Examination for pesticide residues and harmful trace elements

  • Compost from urban areas and vermicompost, in particular, don’t seem to have been examined for pesticide residues and harmful trace elements such as arsenic, cadmium, mercury and lead is needed by using HPLC /MS / MS method and atomic absorption spectroscopy.

Some suggestions

Order of spraying

  • The introduction of transgenic varieties is not recommended for organic and natural farming.
  • Therefore, it is wise to use the first three sprays on crops with natural organic materials and the last two sprays with synthetic pesticides.

Research on organic farming

  • Research on organic farming should be done using robust scientific methods only. Surprisingly, rice was found to contain high pesticides and trace elements.
  • This technique should be standardized in India.

Practice Question for Mains

  1. Our slogan should be “natural and organic farming with high yields at an affordable price to the common man”. Discuss. (250 Words, 15 Marks)
Referred Sources

DTE

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