Agriculture Policy Briefing

“Think Beyond Organic, Think Sustainable Agriculture”

This is an extract of a paper which C L Laxmipathi Gowda will present at a national symposium on “The role of Vrikshayurveda and Traditional Practices in Organic Agriculture” on 6-8 March in Udaipur. The event is being organized by Asian Agri-History Foudation with Maharana Pratap University of Agricultural Technology. Gowda retired as Deputy Director-General of ICRISAT in 2015. P M Tamboli, who has co-authored the paper, is Adjunct Professor, University of Maryland, USA.

The current production of food, feed and fodder needs to be doubled to meet the demand of the projected nine billion population by 2050. Most proponents of organic agriculture (OA) claim it is the only way to sustainably practice agriculture. While, the adverse effects of chemical pesticides and fertilizers on environment and human health are well recognized, OA is not a cure for all the ills of modern agriculture.

There are important reasons why it, in its present form, will not be able to feed the future global population. OA is suitable in some agro-ecologies; there are niches where it can be practiced profitably. It needs good soil fertility, which means the soil should not be deficient in organic carbon and nutrients, macro and micro. The soil structure and moisture should be adequate for good crop production.

Most soils in drylands of the arid and semi-arid tropics are low in soil fertility. A recent study at the University of Western Australia has reported that it is not feasible to maintain organic matter in soils with less than 600 mm rainfall a year and daily average temperatures of less than 15⁰C. Being poor, many smallholder farmers in developing countries cannot afford external inputs. They follow traditional farming practices, which is also known as organic by default.

There is a need to take a holistic view of soil as a ‘bank of nutrients’.  Farmers need to replenish the nutrients consumed by crops every season, especially in the tropical and sub-tropical lands.  Since farm yard manure and compost contain small quantities of nutrients, they need to be applied in huge quantities. But these organic manures are not readily available in required amounts.  Macro- and micro-nutrients need to be supplemented based on soil test results. Using GIS for geo-referenced soil fertility mapping helps scientists to make appropriate recommendations of manures, bio-fertilizers, bio-enriched compost, fertilizers, and fertigation. Recommendations for organic farming should be context-specific, since generic, one-size-fits-all solutions may lead to further deterioration of farming systems and ecology. We need to integrate traditional knowledge and insights with modern science-based technologies for ‘Sustainable Agriculture Practices’ (SAP).  A menu of sustainable agricultural technological options can help farmers choose practices that are suitable for their farms, agro-ecologies and economic conditions.

(Top photo of C L L Gowda at ICRISAT by Vivian Fernandes)

For another story on organic farming on this website click here.

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