Conservation Agriculture: Essential for Sustainable Agriculture and Healthy Environment

GLF 2017 Blog Competition
Nikki Pilania Chaudhary

Just as I entered home after watching the paddy transplant at our farm in scorching heat, I clearly remember the dichotomy I faced between on one hand quenching my thirst with big glass of water and feeling great of being involved in agriculture and simultaneously going through confused and guilty emotions after the newspaper headline caught my eye stating “Traditional paddy planting depleting away ground water rapidly leading to water crisis in North India”

It was year 2014 and I was still very new to agriculture and so I discussed this with my Husband who is deeply involved in Agribusiness and agriculture at our family farm in Village Tanda Vijaisi, Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh and he informed me that Direct Seeded Rice (DSR) was the way out which he would be initiating on some area to see the results. This awareness to him came not from Agricultural Institutes or extension workers or field visitors but through his own continuous reading and exploration of innovative methods to practice farming.

We started reading more about DSR and then we touched the whole concept of Conservation Agriculture and soon realized that we must get our agriculture basics right and change the paddy – wheat crop rotation practice away from conventional paddy requiring lots of water, and wheat requiring burning of paddy residue and lot of land preparation before it is sown to an agricultural and economical sustainable technique of DSR in paddy and Zero Tillage in Wheat.

Paddy-Wheat crops are the dominant crops grown in the prosperous Agriculture states of Northern India namely Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh. India in fact has the largest area under rice and is one of its world’s largest producers.

Now this news for obvious reasons doesn’t make me happy and in fact it scares me as this mean we are wasting away so much of our scarce resources such as water and diesel and creating dark future for ourselves by following unsustainable practice of traditional paddy transplanting which uses water accounting for more than 50 percent of water used in agriculture. About 5000 liters of water is needed to produce just 1 kg of rice. Here I specifically mentioned the most prosperous agricultural states as these states with progressive, well off and well informed farmers are also not practicing DSR. Traditional paddy planting involves transplanting about 4 weeks’ paddy seedlings in flooded fields which involves large amount of water (about 3 to 4 inch of standing water) and labor. This involves huge production cost for farmers and at the same time the repeated puddling negatively affects soil physical properties, decreases soil aggregation and results in hardpan formation which causes reduction in the yield of following wheat crop.

Already the water table in these prosperous states have fallen by 3 to 10 meters in just last two decades which is a very gloomy picture. The data for remaining Indian states where paddy is transplanted would be even more worse. We also need to simultaneously adopt Zero tillage for wheat sowing as it is very economical and environmentally beneficial. Zero Tillage technology is very simple as it allows direct planting of wheat saving lot of money on land preparation, labour. Seed is sown directly into the residue of previous crop on the soil surface, thus saving irrigation water, increasing organic matter in soil and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Combined with DSR the zero tillage for wheat saves tremendous cost to farmer by saving diesel and labor cost involved in land preparation.

We have been successfully sowing paddy using DRY DSR and sowing wheat using zero tillage on more than 60 acres. These sustainable agriculture practices of shifting from puddled transplanted rice to Dry seeded rice and from conventional tillage wheat to minimal/zero tillage wheat not only aided us in cost savings and yield enhancement but has prevented tremendous quantity of water from being wasted, improved soil texture and saved other resources such as diesel etc contributing to reduced carbon emissions and keeping air quality healthy.

An area of one acre of land leads to total saving of Rs 6000 to Rs 7000 including the cost saved on about 25 to 30 liters of diesel in a year when the conservation agriculture practices of combine Dry DSR and Zero Tillage are adopted in Paddy-Wheat Crop Rotation. Now imagine if the entire country starts adopting these practices how much water, diesel and money we can save. Also, there would be dramatic improvement in environment, soil fertility and farmers’ livelihoods.

So why the delay. Farmers in our neighborhood have started to adopt these practices after seeing our fields and results. These practices can be adopted rapidly by medium and large farmers if agriculture extensionists, government agencies do proper planning, conduct on farm trials on these technologies in farmers’ fields with farmers’ participation. This will lead to speedy implementation and shift to improved and sustainable agricultural practices in shortest possible time which is also the need of the hour. Any further delay will mean our country turning to Desert.

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