I GUESS change is the only constant in the world. Everything has to change with time sooner or later. Agriculture is one of the most important and old occupations. People used to grow crops and rear animals to meet their food and accommodation requirements since ancient times. These requirements have climbed enormously with the passage of time. Agriculture has changed and is still changing with modern trends of time. Modern agriculture is quite different from conventional one. Previously, lands were disturbed with bullocks and seeds were dispersed by hands. A person used to grow grains and grasses on small piece of land by adding dunghill of his domestic animals to feed his family and the same animals. Milk, meat and eggs were available at the cost on-farm produced grains and forage. Groundwater was sweet enough to drink, to bath and to grow crops and vegetables. Yields far below than present levels, were sufficient to feed farming community and to earn necessary money through give and take trading system.
Lands were blackish with maximum organic matter and crop produce was pure and healthy. Incidence of diseases in plants and animals were not as much frequent and severe as now. Meanwhile, people were contended with lesser income and profits. Environment was safe due to the absence of agro-chemicals, synthetic fertilizers, growth regulators, heavy machinery, industry and luxury. This was the story of old agriculture which is not prevalent anymore because of elevated levels of population, increased urbanization, industrialization, commercialization, rising desire for money and eagerness for so-called “modernization”.
The modern agriculture is a broad spectrum term covering all the advances being used in agriculture to enhance per unit production and per capita availability of food. It relates to the production process and marketing regimes. Modern agriculture requires heavy inputs along with mechanization to ensure maximum production. The process of crop production begins from sowing. The manipulation of soil for the provision of good environment to plants is necessary. This process of soil tillage and its intensity in modern agriculture is of key importance. It has been a common practice to cultivate, shuffle and level the soil intensively at frequent basis. It is inevitable as people are trying to get more crops per year and then more production of each crop. Keeping in mind the fact that all the nutrients required to crop has to be taken up from soil, disturbance of soil becomes first priority. The same soil which was strong enough to provide essential elements to plants previously has become deficient of all. It is because of increased intensity of crops. Cropping intensity of Pakistan has increased from 25 per cent to 150 per cent. This much exploitation of soil has made it less fertile and less productive. People are trying to explore maximum potential and maximum crops from a unit area. Most of the time crops cultivated are exhaustive in nature. It means modern agriculture has also deviated from basic principles like planned crop rotations. There is no such involvement of restorative crops indeed.
Trend of mono-cropping has introduced the problems of specific weed flora development, insect-pests attacks, diseases incidence, weeds herbicide resistance, micronutrients deficiency and reduction in yield. Salient feature of modern agriculture is the maximum use of synthetic chemical fertilizers, growth regulators, soil conditioners, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, insecticides, nematocides and wormicides. I refer “homicidal” as single but comprehensive word for all these. These are being added to the environment without any check just to have a quick control of problematic agents in crops. The farmer who was once reluctant to adopt these “poisons” has embraced the luxury and is blindly using all these. We are ridiculously feeding the earth with poisons to get blessings in the form of food grains, fruits and vegetables. Perhaps the modern age has scratched the saying “as you sow, so shall you reap” from our greedy brains. Same dismal picture is for all natural sources like water, air, light, forests, deserts, mountains, flora, fauna and biodiversity. Modern man with its modern agriculture is playing havoc with all these beauties. Land is being degraded through accelerated erosion, salinity, waterlogging fertility loss. The ground water is not fit for irrigation because of more soluble salts and heavy metals in it.
Rivers, lakes and oceans are being awarded with industrial effluents, agro-chemicals, municipal wastes and bio-excreta. Non-judicious use of farm machinery has increased fuel consumption, green house gases (GHGs) emission and soil degradation simultaneously. Oxides of N, O2, C and S are being released through agro-ecosystem in biggest proportion which cause the haunting catastrophe of modern age and global warming. This mechano-chemical setup has induced drastic changes around the globe.
The global temperature is rising furiously, glaciers are melting and floods are coming. Rainfall patterns are changing that cause alternate flooding and drought onsets. Heat, cold, drought and submergence stresses are affecting the very same crop production due to which they prevails. Our needs have compelled us to apply the same irrational formula of production on livestock, poultry and fishery sectors. Factory-farming of meat and milk animals is also the “blessing” of modern agriculture. It is again due to increased food requirements. Animals are reared at sub-standard health conditions at commercial basis. The high use of synthetic feed and regulators irrespective the animal health and requirement is done. It is an immoral way to fulfil food requirements by human-beings. Utilization of such chemicals offer sub-optimal conditions for animals and influence their health severely.
No doubt, science has gifted us modern technologies. These facilitate and provide ease, efficiency and perfection in agricultural processes. But the intensity, timing and frequency of their use make them blessing or calamity. In modern day agriculture focus is on resource exploitation, energy exploration, production enhancement and profit maximization. Food quality management, environmental protection, economic stability, moral obligations, natural resource conservation and system sustainability has been given secondary importance. This is injustice with us, coming generations and nature.
My knowledge is poor, my abilities are fragile, my intellect is faint and my experience is small but my sense of realization of this matter is bigger than me. That realization is key for thinking about solution. Being an agrarian I have some simple but pragmatic points that can help in this regard:
l Immediate adoption of resource conservation technologies
l Start moving towards conservation agriculture slowly but surely
l Adopt sustainable measures in farming
l Proper but minimum use of agro-chemicals along with mechanical, manual and cultural approaches to control agricultural pests may help a lot
l Ecological options like cover crops, intercropping and true crop rotations must be considered
l Agricultural lands should not be devoted for industry or urban settlements
l Water bodies must be protected and addition of drains water, industrial effluents and municipal wastes should be strictly banned
l Agro-forestry should be promoted to enhance sustainability and biodiversity
l Use of natural products, manures and amendments should be encouraged
l Integrated approaches must be adopted. As we can neither reduce our population nor leave modern agriculture but decrease in use of harmful technologies and increase in use of natural options is possible. So, integrated weed management (IWM), integrated pest management (IPM), integrated disease management (IDM) and integrated nutrient management (INM) can make modern agriculture safe and suitable.
l Proper policy making and then fair implementation is very much necessary
l Action plans should be developed by research organizations, extension wing and educational institutes to discourage harmful practices of modern agriculture
l Awareness must be provoked in farming communities in this regard
l Influence of low standard pesticide companies in rural areas must be restricted
l Focused and comprehensive research is much needed to develop resource efficient techniques, to frame sustainable practices, to modify cropping schemes and cropping rotations, to improve farming systems and to reinforce natural phenomena
l Improved cultural practices (ICPs), recommended crop husbandry practices (RCHCs), on-farm management practices (OMPs) and good agricultural practices (GAPs) are collectively key to success and must be adopted
l Consistent efforts with logical modifications are pre-requisite for a better production system
Modern agriculture is not a bad thing at all and we cannot shift towards the agriculture of our fathers. But some poor management is governing us to the destruction which we can stop easily by adopting the above-mentioned rules. It could be a safe agriculture within the same resources, conditions and requirement just through better management. It is need of the hour to regulate our farming practices once again for secure future of us and our coming generations. I believe its the time to take these issues seriously and to make our mind for certain changes. A crucial initiative in this regard is required somewhere from government, research organizations or farming community. Someone has to break the ice and to embark upon the expedition of reform. Changing political and organizational setups will not help unless or until we decide to move with this enlightened vision.
The writers are associated with Department of Agronomy, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad.