The country has seen a huge transformation from a situation of hand-to-mouth to food security through the green revolution. The situation in the past demanded enhancement in food production to feed millions at the risk of starvation and to avoid the occurrence of a famine-like situation. In the present scenario, while all sectors suffered from slowdown, agriculture sustained its growth and improved its contribution to the GDP of the country. In a country with 58% of its rural household dependent on agriculture, farming is and will continue to be a major sector to sustain the food and nutrition security of people, and also the economic security of farmers and all those involved in the trade.
No doubt the green revolution took us from a state of insufficiency to a state of surplus, but at the same time it left behind some serious issues to be tackled. During this period two things were the most affected, one the soil health and nutrient imbalance, and second the biodiversity. The adoption of high yielding varieties showing good response to chemical fertilisers and irrigation made the choice of farmers limited to a few, thus narrowing down the genetic resources available in the country. According to some reports, India has lost more than one lakh varieties of indigenous rice since 1970. So, one can imagine how fast we are losing our biodiversity. Cultivating High Yielding Varieties is need of the hour but being ignorant of conserving vast genetic resources is something very serious to take note of. It is the vast genetic resources that have enabled scientists to develop novel region and location-specific varieties with desired traits in many crops.
High adaptability and some special traits make local land races very important for breeders. According to a report from Inter-Governmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem (IPBES), the rate at which species are disappearing is faster than ever. The report says that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within a decade which is more than ever before in human history. The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. The health of ecosystem on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever, says Sir Robert Watson, Chair IPBES. He further says, “We are eroding the very foundation of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”
The same report indicates that the things can be improved and it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global through transformative change. In view of this report and other findings, conservation of indigenous crop varieties especially those at the verge of extinction is really very important. Realising this, the government of India enacted Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act 2001, a timely intervention. According to the information available in the Compendium of Registered Varieties under PPV&FR Act, 2001, published by the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority, Department of Agriculture and Co-operation, Ministry of Agriculture, a total of 3,504 registration certificates were issued for varieties of notified crop species up to October 30, 2018. Of these, 1143 registration certificates were issued to public research organisations/SAUs, 774 to private seed companies and 1,587 to individual farmer/farming community.
People all over the globe are also realising the importance of conserving such traditional and local land races and efforts have been intensified over the past few years to check the genetic erosion and to conserve the precious germplasm. In our Valley, more than 100 local land races of paddy suited to different agro-ecological situations are reported and fortunately most of these are being conserved at Mountain Research Center for Field Crops, MRCFC-SKUAST-Kashmir. Plant diversity between the species and within is therefore crucial in sustaining agriculture production and profitable. There are numerous studies which indicate that diversification of agriculture enterprises leads to better sustainability through reducing both low level and high level risks. For this, one of the reasons is believed to be the biological barriers created by diversity of crops in an area or a region which reduces disease and pest incidence. Mono-cropping over a large area, on the other hand, breaks these biological barriers and make crops prune to associated diseases and pests problems.
There is great emphasis on area expansion under High-density apple in the Valley at present. It will definitely boost the production per unit area with better quality fruit. Here again we must be careful in maintaining the biological barriers by creating diversity within the fruit crops. For that we have to give importance to other temperate fruits as well and make them competitive through research and policy initiatives. Apple, apple, apple everywhere will again break the biological barriers and encourage disease and pest incidence. The costs involved in managing the diseases and pests will be huge not only in terms of pesticides but also in terms of the damage it may cause to the environment, ecology and human health.
We can also think of integrating other agriculture components into our existing horticulture, especially the animal component, based on location and farmers resources, to make the cropping system more profitable and simultaneously a sustainable one. By Integration of agriculture, horticulture and animal components, we can harvest many benefits as components are interactive among themselves and farm wastes are recycled for productive purposes. Better soil health, fertility and productivity through on-farm recycling of organic wastes, nutritional security through round-the-year availability of nutritious food enriched with protein, carbohydrate, fat, minerals and vitamins, a clean environment as a result of effective recycling of waste from animal activities, reduced production cost of components and increased farm income through input recycling from the byproducts of allied enterprises, regular income through the diverse agro-products and generation of regular employment for the farm families are some other benefits.
Horticulture-based integrated farming systems (IFS) with livestock as a component are often found viable and quite sustainable in Himalayas. Judicious integration of crop enterprises suited to the specific agro-climatic and socioeconomic situation of the farmer will surely augment the income of a farm and increase the farm employment opportunities. The IFS models therefore need to be standardized both under irrigated and rainfed conductions in which some situations like mono-cropping, may need complete diversification and other just up scaling of existing ones by putting scientific knowledge and skill in existing systems.
(The views expressed are personal and any feedback in this regard will be highly appreciated)
—The writer is Sr Scientist & Head, KVK-Kulgam, SKUAST-Kashmir. [email protected]