IMPORTANCE OF TECHNOLOGIES IN AGRICULTURE

M.R. CHAUDHRY
Sep 17 - 23, 2007

Agriculture encompasses the entire range of technologies associated with the production of useful products from plants and animals, including soil, cultivation, crop and livestock management as well as the activities of processing and marketing. In the broader sense, agriculture covers the whole range of economic activities involved in manufacturing and distributing the industrial inputs used in farming, farm production of crops, animals and animal products; the processing of these materials into finished products and the provision of products at a time and place demanded by consumers.

Agriculture was probably first developed in South Asia and Egypt. Then agriculture spread to Europe, Africa and rest of Asia, the lands of Central and South Pacific and finally North and South America.

"Economic growth resides in the process of technologies advancement" is a well established fact.

The countries, which have become affluent and strong, have been able to acquire their prosperity and strength through acquisition of technologies. Technology is considered as the end result of human intellect, which needs minimum of capital investment but more of human resource development and creation of environment of peace, harmony and encouragement for recognition and reward. Technologically, there is a yawning gap between technologically rich countries and those that are poor in that respect. Let's admit that Pakistan is a technologically scarce country, which needs to be abreast with advanced countries.

SCIENTIFIC & TECHNOLOGICAL TRENDS

IN SOIL WATER CONSERVATION: In economizing water use in irrigation and saving water losses, on site, approaches of conservation include retention of rain-fall by decreasing run-off and increasing infiltration of water in rain-fed culture and reducing irrigation water application in irrigated culture. Historical approaches to conserve culture in irrigation practices include reducing losses during conveyance of water from the source to irrigated area, such as leakage and evaporation from the water channels.

WATER MANAGEMENT TECHNOLOGY: Irrigated agriculture consumes 80 percent of the world's water supplies, and the water use efficiency of the traditional gravity irrigation system is only about 40 percent. It has been assessed that sprinkler irrigation systems efficiency is about 70 percent and that of drip irrigation has been found to be as high as 90 percent. Thus it is abundantly clear that about one half of the irrigation water could be saved through increased irrigation efficiency.

There is a great scope for improvement of productivity of water on technical grounds but with existing irrigation and other water using systems, we are not only as inefficient as they are commonly thought to be as compared to the level of global efficiency but there will also remain a large scope for further water development projects. This will require better and systematic use of surface and sub-surface water supplies, water conservation techniques, small and large dams and possible trans-basin diversion to areas of high potentials and needs.

INTEGRATED NUTRIENT MANAGEMENT, SOIL FERTILITY AND SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE: Plant growth depends on a process involving the plant synthesizes, solar energy, carbon dioxide, water and nutrients from the soil. The primary nutrients are Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium, which are collectively called as NPK. As these nutrients in our lands are insufficient, the plant growth is limited. Nitrogen is the most intensively required element in agriculture. Nitrogen is in unlimited quantities in the atmosphere and is recycling continuously among the plants, soil, water and air. However, it is often unavailable in adequate quantity for proper absorption and synthesis by the plant. Secondary nutrients are Sulfur, Calcium and Magnesium, which are also necessary for plant growth. A number of micro-nutrients like chlorine, iron, manganese, zinc, copper, boron and molybdenum also have an impact on plant growth. These micro-nutrients are required in small quantities.

FREE FERTILIZER FROM THE AIR: Nitrogen can be obtained freely from the air and made available to plants by means of bacteria that exist in root nodules of legumes. This process is known as biological nitrogen fixation and some times it eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers.

Some 40 years ago a Barazalian lady scientist, Johanna Dobereiner began to develop sound, practical and cost effective methods of applying biological nitrogen fixation agriculture in tropical areas. Her work enabled Brazil to produce the world's second largest Soybean crop (22 million tons) with the use of nitrogen fertilizer. In her speech in 1989 she said: "We obtain commonly a quantity of nitrogen from the atmosphere that is worth more than $1.5 billion. More recently we have found even still more efficient rhizobial (microbial) strains, which transfer most of the fixed nitrogen directly to the grains and their introduction into commercial inoculants should provide further yield increase at least 20% without any increase in cost". She and her other colleagues succeeded in identifying several new nitrogen fixing microbes associated with crop plants, some of which enhanced yields of crops including cereals, sugarcane and grasses.

SOIL CHARACTERISTICS: Besides nutrients soils productivity depends upon organic matter in the soil, acidity, textures, depth, water retention capacity all indicate soil fertility. Soil quality affects agricultural productivity.

Good soil management includes use of cover crops and soil conservation measures, addition of organic matter to the soil and judicious and balanced use of fertilizers, pesticides and farm machinery. Organic matter is important for the proper management of the soil. Organic matter helps plant growth by improving water holding capacity and drought resistance. In addition, it ensures better aeration, enhances the absorption and release of nutrients and makes the soil less vulnerable to leaching and erosion.

RECLAIMING ACIDIC AND SALINE SOIL: When pH of the soil is low, the land becomes acidic. Calcium and gypsum are frequently applied to raise soil pH. Saline soils with high soluble content, which are known as sodic soils (with high soluble salt and high sodium) are alkaline soils. Drainage and nutrient application are usually sufficient to mitigate the effects of salinity. Such soils can usually be reclaimed over time through leaching. Growing Kaller grass and Junter have has been found to have dual benefits, one for reclamation of the land and the other for serving as a source of green fodder for livestock. The subject of water logging and salinity control warrants a detailed discussion and will, therefore, be dealt with comprehensively in a separate article.

WATER MANAGEMENT IN BARANI AREAS: While irrigated agriculture is the main contributor of agriculture in Pakistan. The scope of efficient water management extends to Barani and Rod-Kohi (Hill Torrent) agriculture also. Out of 5.5 million hectares outside the Indus Basin, 2 million hectares are under the Rod-Kohi system and 3.5 million hectares under the Barani farming. Barani agriculture entirely depends upon rain-fall, whereas Rod-Kohi system depends on diverting the hilly torrents.

Development of water resources is imperative for the Barani areas. Rain-water is a precious irrigation resource, particularly in the Barani areas. It is unfortunate that a good part of this free gift of Nature is not harnessed rather it is allowed to cause devastation and destruction through floods and land slides. It has been estimated that about 50 percent of this water is lost due to runoff, which is an overwhelming loss of a wealthy resource. . Only 25 percent conservation of water is made. . Many countries using modern water harvesting technologies collect 90 percent of rain-water for conservation. They get almost similar yields in rain-fed areas as in irrigated areas.

To save a plenty of water deep ploughing must be applied. It helps retention of moisture in the soil. Stair-type terraces building in sloping ground helps capturing a lot of water for irrigation and preventing water and soil run-off.

The Government must construct mega and mini water reservoirs to avoid wastage of plenty of rain-water. Seasonal canals and water channels should be constructed for irrigation of crops in the rain-fed areas to increase food production and alleviate poverty in the rural areas.