Farming is a complex, unpredictable and individual business. Our resources are getting depleted, land is shrinking, biodiversity is getting disturbed and environment is increasingly getting toxic. The major challenge in the coming decades is to ensure food and nutritional security for all with limited resources and without disturbing the natural environment further. Incorporation of advanced technologies into existing farming methods to increase production efficiency and quality of agricultural products becomes imperative. There is thus an urgent need to explore other options not in vogue, for augmenting agriculture production to meet the needs of the growing population. Some of these approachable agricultural operations, procedures and cutting edge technologies have to be transferred from laboratory to fields and may include:
Urban agriculture: Agriculture production is largely confined to the village side. The percentage of the urban population growing their own food is minuscule. With the unabated trend of migration from rural to urban settlements, the rising pressure for ensuring food security will be a challenge to meet. With the climate change threat looming large on the agriculture sector, the problems regarding food security are bound to increase manifold in the days to come. Another fact is that the food and nutritional security of urban dwellers is compromised by many factors, including non-availability of food, price fluctuations, and poverty. The urban areas are also characterised by considerable malnutrition and deficient calorie intake. In recent years, urban agriculture has emerged as one of the solutions for enhanced food and nutritional security, which is under threat due to migration and a good number of farmers leaving this profession. Urban agriculture or peri-urban agriculture can not only provide food and nutritional security but also help find sustainable solutions to the growing challenge of waste water and solid waste management. Urban agriculture can be practiced on a variety of sites: in homes, malls, government buildings, and other institutions. Food can be produced in balconies, areas like terraces which are used for keeping water tanks, open areas in cities, vacant plots, ponds, parks community structures, road side, railway lines and institutional areas like schools, colleges, hospitals, universities and many more where it can be managed by community institutions.
Hydroponics: Hydroponics refers to growing of plants without soil. The word hydroponic comes from hydro meaning water and ponos meaning labour or work, i.e., ‘working with water’. In simple words, it is the art of growing plants without soil. The underlying principle of hydroponics is that if you give a plant exactly what it needs, when it needs, the plant will be as healthy as is genetically possible. With hydroponics this is an easy task; in soil it is far more difficult. With hydroponics the plants are grown in an inert growing medium. The growing medium is the material in which the roots of the plant are growing. The growing medium can vary from substances like rockwool, perlite, vermiculite, coconut fiber, gravel, sand and many more. The growing medium is an inert substance that doesn’t supply any nutrition to the plants. The nutrition comes from the nutrient solution which is a combination of water and different fertilisers. The nutrient solution has a perfectly balanced pH. This nutrient solution is delivered to the roots in a highly soluble form. This allows the plant to uptake its food with very little effort as opposed to soil where the roots have to search out the nutrients and extract them. This does not mean that it is a very complicated process. Hydroponics is as simple as growing a plant in a hand-watered bucket or nursery pot, using any number of inert growing mediums. It does not require any automation, electricity or lights. The whole process can be automated. The net advantage over conventional agriculture is it grows more biomass in less time irrespective of season under controlled conditions. We can have such vegetable or fodder all the year round and such off season vegetable will fetch higher prices.
Aeroponics: The word aeroponics comes from “aer” (air) and ‘ponos’ meaning labour or work. So, aeroponics means ‘labour of air’. Aeroponics is a specialised version of hydroponics where the roots of the plant extend only in air and the roots are directly sprayed with a nutrient water mix (the recipe). The primary difference between aeroponics and hydroponics is the availability of oxygen to the roots. In hydroponics, one has to be sure to supply oxygenated water. Both aeroponics and hydroponics give better results and yield than soil gardening and are suitable for indoor and urban spaces, but aeroponics gives bigger yields, healthier plants, has lower running costs and looks set for future developments, while hydroponics is easier to set up and manage.
Protected cultivation: In regions like Ladakh and Lahaul Spiti of Himachal Pradesh and some other parts in the north eastern region of the country, the season for open cultivation is very short and to meet the demand of food grains and other commodities adequately, the region has to get the produce from other parts of the country during winter months. In such regions, protected cultivation has immense potential. It ensures that the people get year-round supply of fresh vegetables. It has also proved to be a boon for the farmers by way of giving them more livelihood opportunities. Protected Cultivation includes poly houses, trenches, and black plastic sheets. With the help of this, the farmers raise early nurseries of vegetables, produce early vegetables, extend the growing season and vegetable production to the winter. Leafy vegetables like spinach are now cultivated in trenches and poly houses in extreme winter when land gets frozen and nothing grows outside. Trenches prove to be most efficient and low-cost greenhouse structures for vegetable production. Studies in cold regions have proved that capsicum cultivation during summer season is a profitable alternative, if the crop is grown under greenhouses.
Trench Technology: This is one of the oldest, cheapest and easy to use protected cultivation technologies in operation in cold arid regions.
Low Tunnel Technology: This provides a cheap and better way for off-season cultivation of vegetable production. Low tunnels also offer several advantages like protection of the crop from adverse climate along with crop advancement up to 20 days over their normal season of cultivation. Healthy and early nursery can be obtained under low tunnels.
Vertical Farming: The use of the term vertical farming pertains to growing plants in layers, whether in a multi-storey skyscraper, used warehouse, or shipping container. The modern ideas of vertical farming use indoor farming techniques and controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) technology, where all environmental factors can be controlled. Ecologist Dickson Despommier argued that vertical farming is legitimate for environmental reasons. According to him the natural landscapes are too toxic for natural, agricultural production, despite the ecological and environmental costs of extracting materials to build skyscrapers for the simple purpose of agricultural production. Because vertical plant farming provides a controlled environment, the productivity of vertical farms would be mostly independent of weather and protected from extreme weather events except for earthquakes and other shocks. Vertical farming also reduces the need for new farmland due to overpopulation, thus saving many natural resources that are currently threatened by various human activities. As vertical farming lets crops be grown closer to consumers, it would substantially reduce the amount of fossil fuels currently used to transport and refrigerate farm produce, thereby also reducing pollution and considerably reducing the emission of green house gases. Raising crops indoors also means an elimination of conventional agricultural operations like ploughing and other inter culture operations. Vertical farming is the right strategy to augment agricultural production without compromising with environment and ensuring availability of fresh produce to the consumers.
Container/Pot Farming: Container or Pot farming is the practice of growing plants, including edible plants, exclusively in containers instead of planting them in the ground. A container in gardening is a small, enclosed and usually portable object used for displaying live flowers or plants. It may take the form of a pot, box, tub, basket, tin, barrel or hanging basket. Pots, traditionally made of terracotta but now more commonly plastic, and window boxes are the most commonly seen. In common cases, this method of growing is used for ornamental purposes. This is also useful in areas where the soil or climate is unsuitable for the plant or crop in question. Many types of plants are suitable for the container, including decorative flowers, herbs, cacti, vegetables, and small trees and shrubs.
Terrace Farming: In agriculture, a terrace is a piece of sloped plane that has been cut into a series of successively receding flat surfaces or platforms, which resemble steps, for the purposes of more effective farming. Such cultivation of crops on sides of hills or mountains by planting on graduated terraces built into the slope is a labour-intensive method but it can be employed effectively to maximise arable land area in variable terrains and to reduce soil erosion and water loss.
All these techniques come with some distinct advantages, like using very less space or utilising the spaces left unused, very less or no investment, conservation and optimal use of natural resources and efficient use of human capital. These are an answer to the food requirement of the growing population and thus need to be practiced and popularised.
The writer is Director Extension SKUAST Kashmir and Director, Sameti, SKUAST Kashmir. [email protected]