For Farm Mechanisation Prioritise Forestation and Soil Conservation too

The burning question of climate change, seriously affecting country’s agricultural production, might find solution in Indian government’s willpower to ascertain some priorities. The climatic adversities such as floods, droughts, landslides, etc, - most probably taking place so frequently nowadays - due to human activities, tending to deforest mountain ranges and pollute soil, water and air. The accelerated carbon dioxide emission due to industrialisation and retarded photosynthesis (consumption of carbon dioxide by green plants to yield back the atmospheric oxygen in presence of sunlight) due to deforestation in several horizontally urbanising and mountain mineral extracting countries, like India, is considered as a major factor responsible for ozone layer depletion, resulting into global warming and climate change. The farmers in India have been struggling hard to save crops in the changing climatic conditions – monsoon disturbances up to the extremes of floods and droughts – and reasonably requiring countrywide, the best suite of practices for natural resource conservation so that with gradual improvement in water and soil quality agricultural productivity might be maintained despite climatic adversities. The farmers also require dense forestation to such an extent in the country which can ensure the improvement in agricultural produce in future.

In context of prevention of crop loss due to climatic adversities or otherwise, normally coordination among actors (farmers) is highlighted. “The poor coordination the more food loss; the good coordination the less food loss” is the theory which urges farmers to work smarter not harder to prevent loss of farm produce. Direct marketing, drying, spray drying, cold room storing, cold chain transport, etc, are often suggested as smarter ways to market agricultural produce and to increase food industry’s processing potential. But role of soil conservation is seldom discussed in Indian society. It is said that farm mechanisation best works with conserved soil, and dense forestation leads to soil conservation. No doubt Indian agriculture is very much sustained by mechanisation, but unfortunately constrained by deforestation.

Limitation of Food Processing Industry Potential

Discussions to motivate farmers normally do take place in society with the aim to prevent crop loss, often with a mention of contexts of adverse climatic conditions. Now food processing industries too are addressed by authorities to reduce waste through partnerships with government. At an interaction organised by CII in June 2014, Harsimrat Kaur, Minister, Food Processing Industries, appealed to food industrialists to come forward to identify food clusters across the country and ensured for setting up small food processing vans and units as government initiatives. She added that the food map will not only help identify strengths in terms of crop strength, production, processing, but also help the ministry to ensure the desired interventions to expand the Indian food export market and develop brand India.

She further said that the food processing ministry is working to devise new schemes to provide last mile delivery to farmers, which include farm-to-shelf schemes like setting up mobile processing vans which could reach out to farmers, and setting up small food processing units providing business incubation, training and a processing centre at village level so that farmers’ produce is processed and reach markets.

However, food processing industry potential to control crop loss in climatic adversities has its own limitations. In the cases of serious climatic adversities leading to droughts and floods, it works a little. In fact, Asian countries including India need dense mountain forestation for photosynthesis enhancement, soil conservation and monsoon system resetting.

India's Priorities Demand Densely Forested Environment

Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveyed a priority-based agenda to the Cabinet on May 29, 2014. To plan the top priority for each ministry in coordination with other ministries is really a challenging task at PM’s end. The entire spectrum of ministries can be viewed in three groups by nature:

1. Eco-friendly ministries such as Forest, Health, Water Resources & the Ganges cleaning, Agriculture, MoFPI (Ministry of Food Processing Industries);

2. Eco-adverse ministries such as Mining, Urban Development & Housing, Chemicals & Fertilisers, Civil Aviation, Industry (heavy);

3. Ministries neither eco-friendly nor eco-adverse in nature, mainly concerned with economic, industrial, educational and social planning such as Industry & Commerce, Skill Development, Human Resource, Consumer Affairs, Micro-small-medium industry.

However the eco-behaviour of these ministries depends upon how the priorities of ministries are coordinated, in eco-friendly or eco-adverse manner.

Forest-pasture and mining-housing are two poles of national planning. It is solely government’s discretionary power to select any of these two poles, while coordinating ministerial priorities. No doubt, no government in the world can ignore the latest technological and industrial advancements. But whether the country would technologically and industrially advance on the cost of forest-pasture land resource or by means of limiting mining-housing tract, it primarily depends upon government’s discretion. The forest ministry is the pivot of eco-friendly group of ministries. It is expected that the government would work towards gradual expansion of dense forest-pasture tract so that forest policy target of minimum 33.33 percent dense forest and pasture tract might be established in three or four decades. Naturally the industry and commerce ministry is expected to effectively support biotechnology and dairy units in the country. The broadly expanded mining-housing tract on Himalayas and other mountain ranges poses challenge in follow-up, but a determined government led by Narendra Modi perhaps can find out the way.

India’s priorities demand densely forested environment for cost effective organic farming, elevated ground water resources, sound public health as well as strong currency and wealth. Let us see how the new government coordinates the priorities of all ministries to achieve the goal of establishment of dense forest-pasture cover on one-third area of the country in coming three or four decades which is currently less than five percent.

Short-term Plan for Soil Conservation

The Natural Resources Conservation Service of USDA suggests a few steps to be followed for the sake of soil conservation. Even in a deforested country, these steps - concerned with enrichment of soil organic matter - work to some extent despite climatic adversities.

Apply Practices that Enhance Soil Organic Matter:

• Diverse, high biomass crop rotations;
• Cover crops;
• Reduced tillage;
• Rotational or prescribed grazing.

With enhancement of soil organic matter, following improvements can take place:

Organic Matter Dynamics Change: Increased surface residue forms a physical barrier to wind and water erosion. Higher residue rotations and cover crops contribute more organic matter and nutrients to the soil. Less soil disturbance means lower organic matter losses.

Soil Properties Change: Surface structure becomes more stable and less prone to crusting and erosion. Water infiltration increases and runoff decreases when soil structure improves. Soil organic matter holds 10 to 1,000 times more water and nutrients than the same amount of soil minerals. Beneficial soil organisms become more numerous and active with diverse crop rotations and higher organic matter levels.

Air & Water Quality and Agricultural Productivity Improve: Dust, allergens and pathogens in the air immediately decline. The sediment and nutrient loads decline in surface water as soon as the soil aggregation increases and runoff decreases. Ground and surface water quality improves because better structure, infiltration, and biological activity make soil a more effective filter. Crops are better able to withstand drought when infiltration and water holding capacity increases. Organic matter may bind pesticides, making them less active. Soils managed for organic matter may suppress disease organisms, which could reduce pesticide needs. Crop health and vigour increase when soil biological activity and diversity increase. Wildlife habitat improves when residue management improves.

Conclusion

The adequate production and safety of crops in Indian farms now depend largely on soil conservation. Dense forestation is the major demand of Indian soil which depends on how much is the government’s priority to coordinate eco-friendly ministries such as Forest, Health, Water Resources and Agriculture. Until India is densely forested, a short-term plan for enhancement of soil organic matter can work well to multiply the outcome of farm mechanisation.



About Author: Ramesh Kumar Sharma is a Freelance Writer.