SPOTLIGHT ON AGRICULTURE

The vanishing organic factor in our agriculture needs serious thought

M.R. CHAUDHRY
Nov 06 - 12, 2006

With the unabated use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides and giving no respite to the soil by continuous cultivation and cropping, our lands have become miserably short of organic matter. Organic matter in the soil should be 2 - 5 per cent, whereas its present average is about 0.8 per cent and with the passage of time it is likely to go down. Resultantly the productivity of our lands is decreasing. This matter should not be taken so lightly and casually - rather it needs a serious thought and it should invariably be ensured that sufficient organic matter is maintained to obtain good results from our lands.

Role of organic matter: Presence of organic matter in the soil plays a very important role. It improves the quality of the land to absorb and retain the moisture. The retention of moisture in the land helps in the dry weather and safeguards the crops from shortage of water to a great extent or when there is some scarcity of irrigation water. The land, in which there is shortage of organic matter, gets eroded. Preservation of the soil also depends upon its structure and its capacity of absorption of water. Suitable quantity of organic matter in the land protects it from erosion. Organic matter in the soil saves wastage of water and increases the power of resistance of the land against erosion and land sliding.

Besides, organic matter increases the productivity of the land and boosts better yields. High growth of crops and organically weak soil bring low crop yields. Organic matter facilitates the roots of crops to go deep into the soil to give strength to the plants. Water results in the increase of the organic matter quantity in the land and this circle helps in improving the land and production of crops. The crops residues increase, which increase the organic matter in the land. Organic matter makes the land porous and this porosity provides a good scope of aeration in the land, which promotes the growth and nourishment of the plants. Organic matter in the land improves its natural structure.

Role of organic matter in the growth of crops: Organic matter gives favourable impact on the growth of seeds directly or indirectly. The use of mechanical machinery hardens the surface of the land, which results in compaction and crust formation. Presence of sufficient organic matter saves the land from such ill effects. It also facilitates easy ploughing of the land and better results in crops production are achieved with this cheap input. Organic fertilizers bring the pH down, save wastage of fertilizers and increase their efficiency.

Protection against diseases: Using organic matter suitably improves the health of crops and provides the soil and plants power of resistance against diseases, pests and insects.

Wastes and leftovers of crops: Crops on harvesting leave behind sufficient organic matter in the form of roots, stocks and other leftovers, which can either be buried in the field or used as a part of the compost to fertilize the land.

Rotation of crops: Suitable rotation of the crops to an appropriate level proves very helpful in maintaining the balance of the organic matter in the soil.

Green fodder crops: Several years ago green fodder crops were grown, which had been maintaining fertility and quality of the land. But now because of certain reasons this old practice has been abandoned. This is advisable that it should be vigorously re-introduced. Growing green fodder crops is a reliable method for increasing and maintaining organic matter in the soil. By cutting, smashing and burying the green fodder crops in the soil would provide good quantities of organic matter. When this organic matter decomposes in the land, it results in the formation of many chemical compounds, which preserves the land from sliding/erosion, besides increasing the productivity of the land. In rain-fed areas, where rainfalls are adequate, junter, guar gum and other leguminous crops can be grown for providing green manure to the land. The roots and residues of grams and different pulses on harvesting serve an important source of organic matter.

Animal dung/cattle manure: For centuries it was a traditional way of providing animal dung and cattle manure to the land before growing a crop. Maximum use of chemical fertilizers has minimized the use of livestock manure. Unfortunately providing manure to the cultivable land has almost become extinct, which has resulted in the deterioration of the quality of the land, and its productivity has suffered a great setback. Consequently use of chemical fertilizers is now not giving the desired results. The lands would go on losing their productivity if the pattern of fertilizing the land is not changed. In the past, farmers used to have a good number of cattle heads, which were a nice source of cattle manure besides other benefits like provision of milk, mutton and beef.

The storage of manure is usually defective because of which a substantial quantity of manure is wasted and even quality thereof does not remain intact. A suitable method is to store it in pits or within the enclosure of small walls so that its quality and quantity do not suffer any loss. To increase the quantity of manure, leaves of trees, grass, stalks of crops and other wastes should be spread under the cattle so that animals' urine may further enrich its quality and increase its quantity. This material should then be stored with other manure in its store for use at the appropriate time.

Growing trees and plants: In Barani (rain-fed) areas, the land has become barren and unproductive. Ipple and Ipple is a multi-purpose plant, which should be grown in such lands. This plant has many benefits. It increases the quantity of organic matter of the land. Being a leguminous plant, it provides fodder for the cattle, goats etc. and fire-wood and building material for the huts. Growing trees, in general, saves the land from sliding and erosion. Forestry/tree plantation also contributes a lot towards environmental protection and ecological improvement. Grass and other herbs, which grow under the trees, provide fodder for the cattle. This grass and herbs after cutting and smashing can be added to the animal dung to substantiate and increase the quantity of manure.

A research has proven that by growing Ipple and Ipple, 90 per cent of water that flows down from the surface of the earth and is wasted uselessly, is saved as this plant absorbs and retains the moisture. Leaves of this plant help considerably in preparing compost etc.

Residue of crops: Residue of crops is a valuable material for the farmers and farming. It is used as fodder for the cattle when there is shortage of green fodder and in the hearths and kitchens for burning in place of fire-wood. Its suitable use to fertilize the land is also beneficial to stop erosion of the land and is an important source of organic matter. It can also be used as an important component in composting. Compost can be prepared by mixing wastes of the crops, like herbs, roots of harvested crops, stalks of wheat etc., with manure systematically. In order to accelerate this process and improve the quality of compost some quantity of nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizers can also be added to it. The component materials of compost should be spread in the form of layers.

Sugarcane mud: For years and years sugarcane mud was wasted by the sugar mills. Now it is being used as a source of organic matter in our fields. The fresh this mud the better it would be as with the passage of time, some of the important components like nitrogen evaporates.

Poultry farm wastes: A good number of poultry farms are in operation in our villages. The manure obtained from these poultry farms is an important source for bringing fertility to the land. It should be made more and more pro-active.

Wastes and trash of cities and towns: Municipal wastes in cities and towns are increasing day by day, which is causing environmental pollution and problems of insanitation and ill-health. If these wastes and trash are collected, sorted out suitably and compost prepared from them and transported to the farms for use in the fields, it will not only solve the environmental and health problems in the cities and towns, but will also add substantially to the fertility of our lands. This circle will, of course, create good relationship between cities and villages. Inoculation soil with Azobacter, Azospiri and other tree living nitrogen fixing bacteria are the most effective and rich method of natural fertilization. It would be relevant to point out that crops, vegetables and fruits produced by applying organic method of fertilization and cultivation would be of greater value, high quality and standard. Organic way of life in many advanced countries is finding great popularity. Organic farming is friendlier to the environment. It has been experienced that organic vegetables taste far better, they also stay fresh longer and organic pulses cook faster.

The subject of organic food warrants another comprehensive article.

- The writer is a senior journalist and veteran contributor to media on diversified subjects.