Back to nature: Immense need for crop diversification and role of agroforestry

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News: This article discusses how crop diversification can help in dealing with numerous issues faced by the Indian agriculture and how agroforestry can add to it.

What are the issues associated with Indian Agriculture?

One, farmers face numerous challenges and climatic vagaries during agricultural production, such as untimely rainfall, stone hail, drought, flood etc. Other challenges include post-harvest losses, storage and unavailability of proper marketing which increases the problem.

Two, the human-wildlife or human-crops conflict, forest fires, organic matter deficit soil, monoculture, plant disease and infestation, migration are a new set of problems. Also, the mono-cropping pattern reduces resource-use efficiency.

Three, other issue is rising input cost. Increase in input, increases the productivity initially but then progressively declines. Also, Green Revolution has changed the cropping pattern resulting in nutrient deficiency along with a declined population of microfauna.

How traditional approach of ‘crop diversification’ can help?

One, crop diversification is a strategy applied to grow more diverse crops from shrinking land resources with an increase in productivity.  It helps in breaking the mono-cropping pattern by the introduction of diverse crops which helps in reviving the soil health and increasing the resource-use efficiency.

Two, it is more stable and pro-nature. For example, in the Garhwal Himalayan region of India, Barahnaja is a crop diversification system for cultivating 12 crops in a year.

Three, the persistent use of chemicals, weedicides and insecticides in mono-cropping pattern reduces productivity, resource-use efficiency, result in accumulation of chemical residue and deteriorates soil health.

How agroforestry can help in sustaining crop diversification?

 First, integration of trees in the cropping system is known as agroforestry. It is a part of primitive and tribal agriculture which includes indigenous technical knowledge

Second, agroforestry balances both ecological and economic interactions of biotic and abiotic components for efficient utilisation of available resources.

 Third, agroforestry can generate food, feed, fruits, fibre, fuel, fodder, fish, flavour, fragrance, floss, gum, resins and other non-wood products for food and nutritional security. It can also support livelihoods and promote productive, resilient agricultural environments.

For instance, in North America, farmers preferred agroforestry over agriculture to improve their economic gain and natural resource conservation.

Major agroforestry practices in India include multifunctional improved fallows, home gardens, plantation crop-based mixed-species production systems, alley cropping, woodlots, windbreaks, protein banks, shifting cultivation and Taungya.

Fourth, agro-forestry enhances biodiversity by creating diverse habitat for macro and micro-organisms and maintains landforms for future generations.

Sixth, it integrates traditionally grown crops with other commercial crops such as cereals, oilseeds, pulses, vegetables, fruits in agri-horticulture, horti-silviculture, silvolericulture, silvo-floriculture, silvi-medicinal, agri-hortisilviculture, aqua-forestry, silvi-pasture, horti-pasture.

Seventh, trees also increase the resiliency in the cropping system and reduce negative externalities. Hence, it promotes crop diversity.

What is the way forward?

First, there is an urgent need to adopt modified cropping system, agroforestry and integrated cropping pattern with changing agronomical practices. It will help in adaptation to the climate change and promote sustainable cropping to support small and marginal farmers.

Second, there is need to promote integrated farming system which advocates diversification of the agri-production with other associated secondary and tertiary agriculture practices.

 

Source: This post is based on the article “Back to nature: Immense need for crop diversification and role of agroforestry” published in Down To Earth on 9th Feb 2022.

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