Faster agricultural growth in the past was largely the result of promoting higher use of water, fertilisers and other energy-intensive inputs and technologies. But now, the need is to carry the growth forward even while economising on the use of all such inputs to reduce costs and forestall their ill-effects on the health of natural resources and environment. The model of farming that helps to achieve this goal has been termed aptly as “conservation agriculture”.
This system involves basically the use of novel concepts such as minimum or zero tillage; planting of crops on raised seedbeds; meticulous leveling of land with the use of laser technology; and improved methods of irrigation, such as drip and sprinkler irrigation.
These measures, aimed broadly at bringing in greater precision in farm operations, help enhance the efficiency of input use, cut down on expenses and improve crop productivity. The net result is better economic returns for the farmers.
The growing popularity of resource conservation technologies among the cultivators following rice-wheat cropping sequence in the Indo-Gangetic plains bears out their effectiveness and overall utility in modern agriculture. Having been introduced around 2000, the use of such technologies is reckoned to have spread to over 3 million hectares in this intensive agricultural belt.
In fact, conservation farming technologies have begun to catch farmers’ fancy in neighbouring countries like Pakistan and even Nepal. These are being promoted by the Rice-Wheat Consortium of the Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) which runs several global farm research institutions.
The zero tillage concept, actually, negates the conventional notion that greater tilling of land leads to higher yields. Under the zero tillage, the land is left almost undisturbed after harvesting the previous crop. The fresh crop is sown just by drilling holes in the soil and placing the seeds at an appropriate depth with the help of specially designed seed-drills.
This results in saving not only the labour and energy needed for repeated tilling of land but also the time involved in these operations to ensure timely sowing of the next crop. The menace of weeds, too, gets alleviated to a large extent.
The raised bed planting involves sowing of crops on elevated plain seedbeds with furrows running on their sides for supplying irrigation water. This also results in cutting down the wastage of water even while improving crop yields.
Laser land-leveling is a sophisticated, yet highly gainful technology introduced in recent years. It involves the use of specially fabricated land leveling machine that utilises laser rays to create a flawlessly leveled field. A totally flat land surface ensures even spread of irrigation water to ensure uniform and good crop stand throughout the field. The consequential saving of water is estimated to be around 20 cm in kharif crops and 5 cm in the rabi crops.
While many private entrepreneurs have begun importing laser land-leveling equipment to offer leveling services to the farmers, the zero-drill machines are being manufactured locally. More than 150 zero-drill manufacturing units have come up in Punjab alone in the past few years.
“The resource conservation technologies result in improving the productivity of land and efficiency of water, energy and nutrient use to the tune of 20 to 30 per cent with an average net saving of around Rs 2,500 a hectare,” maintains Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) director-general Mangala Rai.
What is more, the conservation agriculture is good for environment and can reverse global warming and climate change. “The resource conservation technologies, if applied on a larger scale, can help in reducing the concentration of carbon dioxide as no-till fields are reported to act as carbon dioxide sinks, thereby helping in the efforts to check global warming,” Rai points out.
Considering the importance of conservation agriculture and the leading role India can play in this field, the 4th World Congress on Conservation Agriculture is scheduled to be held in Delhi in February 2009. Being jointly organised by the ICAR and several other national and international agricultural research institutes and organisations, this global meet is expected to be attended by over 1,000 experts on different aspects of resources conservation techniques.
The relevance of this technology in India is evident from the rapidly deteriorating health of natural resources that has now begun to impinge upon both soil fertility and crop productivity. Conservation agriculture is, therefore, being looked upon as the cure for various ills of the country’s farm sector.
6 months ago