Status and prospectus of conservation agriculture

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THERE IS significant advancement in research in the agriculture sector, but there are still a large number of people who are suffering from hunger and poverty. According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) about 850 million people are suffering from hunger, out of which 815 million people are from developing countries. Although recent predictions point to reduced population growth, a considerable increase in overall production is still required, its a major challenge. In 2050, the worlds population will reach 9.1 billion, 34 percent higher than today.


Nearly all of this population increase will occur in developing countries. Urbanization will continue at an accelerated pace, and about 70 percent of the worlds population will be urban (Compared to 49 percent today). In order to feed this larger and more urban population, food production must increase by 70 percent. Annual cereal production will need to rise to about 3 billion tonnes from 2.1 billion today and annual meat production will need to rise by over 200 million tonnes to reach 470 million tonnes.


In developing countries, 80 percent of the necessary production increases would come from increases in yields and cropping intensity and only 20 percent from the expansion of arable land. Agriculture is considered mainstay around the globe. In future, every country has to get outputs from his available resources because there would no expansion in agricultural land. Agricultural intensification from intensive tillage-based production systems generally has had a negative effect on the quality of many of the essential natural resources such as soil, water, biodiversity and the associated ecosystem services provided by nature.


Abrupt changes in weather and unpredictable climatic conditions impart a lot of pressure on farmers. Another challenge for agriculture is its environmental foot print and climate change. Agriculture is responsible for about 30% of the total greenhouse gas emissions of CO2, N2O, and CH4 while being directly affected by the consequences of a changing climate. Global food security demands sustainability and longevity of agricultural ecosystems. Moreover, Global warming, environmental pollution, urbanization, industrialization and abiotic stresses have a negative impact on crop production.


Researchers and farmers are working, but the rate of progress is not more sufficient to feed people. Pakistan, with its explosion of population, has been feeling the pinch more intensely than many other nations. This degradation of the land resource base has caused crop yields and factor productivities to decline and has forced farmers, scientists and development stakeholders to search for an alternative paradigm that is ecologically sustainable as well as profitable, in the process, find a better deal for the tillers of the land to meet the challenges of present times.


Conservation agriculture (CA) is a vital approach that offers quality food production through resource conservation approaches being close to natural ecosystems. It endeavors to make a judicious use of land, water, and natural resources to maximize crop yields and arrest their deterioration to make agriculture sustainable. It aims to increase input efficiency to reduce the cost of crop production and harmful effects of chemicals and fossil fuels on the environment. It is a concept for resource-saving agricultural crop production that strives to achieve acceptable profits and high and sustained production levels while concurrently conserving the environment. It is one of the most viable mitigation strategies to reduce the climate change impacts.


Conservation agriculture not only reduce the impact of climate change on crop production but also mitigate the factors that cause climate change by reducing emissions and by contributing to carbon sequestration in soils. It also enhances biodiversity in crop production systems above and below the ground to improve ecosystem services for better productivity and healthier environment.


CA is a modern agricultural practice that can enable farmers in many parts of the world to achieve the goal of sustainable agricultural production. This approach has multiple benefits. Minimum disturbance of soil, permanent vegetative cover, judicious crop rotation and integrated weed management are the key principle of conservation agriculture. Human population is escalating at alarming rates and demand for legumes, pulses and vegetables are also increasing to meet the demand of such humongous number of people. To practically fulfill this need, intensive cultivation of the soil, mono-cropping, heavy use of synthetic chemicals, frequent flooding of water and elevated use of mechanization is inevitable. All these practices degrade soil, water, and air. But conservation agriculture gives a reasonable package of techniques based on minimum disturbances in natural condition.


Monocropping is always discouraged in CA, and multiple crops are cultivated to maintain the biodiversity in terms of soil microflora and fauna. It also facilitates nutrient cycling, acquisition, uptake and transformations and helps to acquire maximum nutrient use efficiency. Surface cover has significant importance and crop residues are used to cover the naked soils to preserve from wind and water erosion and these residues also improve the physical, chemical and biological attributes of soil.


Extraction of nutrients from the soil in an equitable manner is possible with the judicious rotation of crops. It should be in such a manner that exhaustive crops followed by restorative crops and deep rooted should rotate with shallow rooted crops. Moreover, a fallow period should fix which allows the soil to retain its moisture, improve its fertility and to control weeds. It ensures soil productivity and ultimately has a positive impact on food security.


Conservation agriculture focuses on less disturbance of soil, as the soil is mostly disturbed through tillage practices, such practices should reduce. Minimum tillage and Zero tillage are terms that come under the umbrella of CA. Soil should remain undisturbed and intact and minimum operations should do as it improves the soil organic matter status and biological life. Soil should consider as living entity. Land should level as it will improve water use efficiency of soil and the better option for leveling is laser land leveler.


Many people argue that CA has less productivity as compared to traditional and conventional agriculture, but it is proved through many types of research and experiments that CA has better results than any other system, the only flaw which is still unsolvable is high weed infestation and researchers are trying to sort out through herbicide resistant varieties. There should no comparison of CA as it saves soil, water and environment as compared to traditional agriculture that deteriorates the resources of the future generation.


In a nutshell, CA is most feasible and suitable technology because, in next decade, crop production will have to produce more food from less land by efficient utilization of natural resources. One message should spread to whole farming communities that use the land according to its capability. This will not only reduce the cost of production but also boost the crop productivity. Long-term policy and fair implementation can lead to bright future.


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Published in: Volume 06 Issue 42

Short Link: http://www.technologytimes.pk/?p=14550