IISF 2019: Experts advise sustainable, climate-smart, diverse farming

With reduced land holdings, increasing populations and climate change looming large, this was the solution to farmers’ problems, they said

By Moushumi Basu
Published: Wednesday 06 November 2019

Agricultural experts advised Indian farmers to switch to sustainable, self-sufficient, climate-smart and diverse agriculture to enhance their incomes at the ongoing India International Science Festival (IISF) in Kolkata on November 6, 2019.

Nearly 400 scientists from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), professors and students from various agricultural universities, besides 60 farmers from 17 states attended the one-day agricultural scientists meet at IISF.

JP Sharma, coordinator of the meet and joint director of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) – PUSA, New Delhi, enumerated the various difficulties faced by farmers in today’s India.

Eighty-five per cent were marginalised, owning less than two acres of land, he said. Another 23 per cent owned barely 100 metres of land. Besides, availability of water was also reducing alarmingly.

Hence, the need of the hour, said Sharma, was to increase income per acre of land with innovative community driven practices. He explained that one acre can actually generate a lakh rupees for the farmer through cultivation of diversified crops, vegetables and fruits integrated with the region specific livestock and cattle.

He pointed out that growing cost of inputs, through purchase of seeds, chemical fertilisers and pesticides was leading to increasing cost of cultivation, pushing small farmers to acute poverty. However, getting soil health cards can help farmers to learn about scientific the status of their soil and go for the right kind of fertilisers, necessary for their fields.

He further advocated concepts of roof top farming, window farming, processes such as straw mulching of mushrooms and vegetables to overcome the reducing availability of land.

Santosh Devi, a farmer from Rajasthan, claimed to earn Rs 25 lakh from 1.25 acres by practicing horticulture-based farm diversification. Growing pomegranates and other fruits in her field without chemical fertilisers, she claimed to add jaggery to organic pesticides.

This attracted honeybees to the developing flowers of the fruit trees, resulting in more pollination. Further, the continuous use of organic fertilisers also made the soil fertile, reverting it back to its natural bio-diverse health, and getting back insects, birds and earth worms, she added.

“With reduced landholdings, the farmers are also resorting to mechanisation processes beyond their means in a desperate bid to increase produce,” said Dinesh Kulkarni, a farmer himself who is also the organising secretary of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh.

He said including cows in the process of organic farming was a sustainable solution to the problem and could effectively reduce cost of cultivation manifolds. Use of cow urine and dung can increase soil fertility and growing native crops and vegetables instead of the more expensive genetically modified seeds, can fetch attractive remunerations for farmers, Kulkarni said.

Migration of farmers especially from rural, rain-fed in search of daily wages was another area of concern for the participants.

“For this, farming has to be made a lucrative career option,” said Amit Kumar Goswami, agricultural scientist at IARI, New Delhi. He suggested commodity and region-specific cooperative farming, whereby different kinds of crops including oilseeds, pulses are alternated with the staple crop of the region.

Further, raising fish in paddy wetlands or making ducks float in paddy water fields are also good ways to improve earnings while enriching the biodiversity in the fields, he said.

Meanwhile, another major challenge to Indian agriculture continued to be the unpredictable impacts of climate change. The distribution of rains is erratic. The quantum of rains in total may be good, but their intensity and time occurrence are scattered, Sharma pointed out.

“We are developing climate-friendly crop seeds that can weather the vagaries, while maintaining the yield,” said Sharma. Hence, region-specific seeds suited to micro climates are being proposed to farmers.

Awani Kumar Singh, principal scientist, protective cultivation technology, ICAR explained how vegetables and fruits can be grown commercially with green house technology in poly houses during off season by controlling the micro-climatic conditions.

The technique, according to him, can also help in minimising the impacts of climate change, using the right impact of sunshine and save crops from birds and animals. The process is however expensive and may not be suitable for marginalised farmers.

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