AGRICULTURE TRIBUNE Monday, December 24, 2001, Chandigarh, India
  Priorities for Indian agriculture
T. K. Gill and S.S. Gill

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NDIA with 2.4 per cent of world area has to support 17 per cent of world population. Such a high population pressure has forced it to plough 13.5 crore hectares out of its entire area of 32.87 crore hectares reported for land utilisation purpose. Since Independence, foodgrain production has more than tripled and dependence on imported grains has declined substantially, but a large number of people are underfed and still larger are facing chronic undernutrition and are living below the poverty line.

Asia’s useful trees and plants — Ritha
K. L. Noatay

R
ITHA is a large-leaved deciduous handsome tree of the Asian continent. Better known as soap-nut tree in inter-continental trade, it is one of the very important trees of tropical and sub-tropical regions of the Indian subcontinent. It has close resemblance to tun, viz. cedrala toona and is also called doadni or dodan or doda in local Indian dialects. Scientific name of the species being Sapindus mukorossi, it belongs to the main plant order Sapindaceae and family Sapindeae.

Farm operations for December

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Priorities for Indian agriculture
T. K. Gill and S.S. Gill

INDIA with 2.4 per cent of world area has to support 17 per cent of world population. Such a high population pressure has forced it to plough 13.5 crore hectares out of its entire area of 32.87 crore hectares reported for land utilisation purpose. Since Independence, foodgrain production has more than tripled and dependence on imported grains has declined substantially, but a large number of people are underfed and still larger are facing chronic undernutrition and are living below the poverty line. By 2025, the population will rise to about 1440 millions and requirement for non-agricultural purposes such as housing, industry, etc will further decrease the land under cultivation. It seems difficult that food production targets will keep pace with the increasing millions of population at such an alarming rate when the carrying capacity of the eco-system has already been subjected to severe stress. In such a situation the higher agricultural education will have to evolve new strategies not only to maximise productivity but also to improve nutritional security, optimise various inputs without harming the resources for further generations and keeping a balance in the eco-system. In addition to these priorities, scientists will have to touch the emerging areas and opportunities to bring about improvements in the quality of life of people.

India is the world’s second largest food producer and has the potential to be the world’s number one. Though the productivity has increased manifold, there exists still a wide gap between the productivity and actual potential in many areas. Nearly one-sixth of the land area has serious limitations like erosion, aridity, acidity, salinity and alkalinity which limits agricultural production. Focus of research should be on evolving strategies towards ecologically less endowed areas where the present level of productivity of crops is still low even though cultivated area under different crops is still large as rainfed areas. The reasons for low productivity like low inputs, low quality of seeds, low level of mechanisation, inefficient plant protection measures, huge post-harvest losses etc must be overcome.

Post-harvest losses of food in India are too high i.e. about 65 million tonnes which is more than the total consumption in the UK. By evolving better post-harvest technologies and processing the food items, more than 50 per cent of post-harvest losses can be reduced. FCI godowns are overflowing with grains stored improperly, lying in open, exposed to sun and rain. What for the government is storing heaps of grains when they become unfit for human consumption after some time? The government should frame certain policies to distribute stored grains among people who are still underfed.

Due to piling up of grains, farmers should be made aware about diversification and going beyond crop raising i.e. for horticulture, floriculture, sericulture, fisheries, genetic engineering, plastic culture, agribusiness, etc. The role of agriculture in the process of development has changed in the present system which has been affected by globalisation and liberalisation. People are shifting from subsistence foods to basic food as their income is increasing. Due to vast diversify in the country’s agro-climatic conditions, a variety of products can be produced. There is need to identify and exploit the areas of the domestic and international markets. Plastic culture should be promoted so that farmers can turn towards earning more profits through commercial production for off season products.

Efforts should be done not only to maximise production but also to do it in a sustainable manner by searching innovative ways for reducing the use of chemicals through integrated pest management, integrated nutrients management, integrated crop-livestock management, use of biomass residues and renewable energy sources. On-farm biological production and recycling of inputs should be expanded, thus lowering off-farm mineral fertilisers and other chemicals. Intensive cultivation of land without conservation of soil fertility and soil structure will lead ultimate to the springing up of deserts. Research is also needed for improving irrigation water management, finding more economic ways of preventing deterioration of the existing water resources, development of simple, efficient and economical waste water treatment methods, waterlogging, conservation of rainwater, etc. Biotechnology can contribute to more sustainable use of resources by gradually raising crop yields and reducing land requirements, thereby lowering the pressure chemical inputs per unit of production.

Another area which needs attention is that in spite of the farmer’s hard labour, his returns are low. It is a great setback to the Indian farmer that he gets poor remunerative prices for his agricultural produce. There is five-fold difference between the prices secured at the farmgate and at which a house holder buys it. So there is need to educated the farmers about agri-business and to deviate from their traditional role and explore domestic and international markets. Though agri-business they can earn more profits rather than disposing of the produce directly at throwaway prices in peak seasons. The key link between the producer and the consumer is marketing. But in our country, inefficient transportation and marketing system result in the falling of cash prices and high wastage of farm produce. About 25-30 per cent loss has been estimated in horticultural crops. High losses can be attributed to poor transport facilities such as low quality and rough surface roads, exposure to high temperature, etc. an efficient marketing system decreases the number of intermediaries, minimises the cost of marketing, increases the share of producer, reduces the effects of seasonal gluts and geographical differences and handles the farm surpluses efficiently. So we should learn lesson from the past and the government should provide for better transportation facilities like refrigeration vans, good quality roads and other infrastructure for storing, dry ports for airlifting perishable items for export and simplify the export procedures.

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Asia’s useful trees and plants — Ritha
K. L. Noatay

RITHA is a large-leaved deciduous handsome tree of the Asian continent. Better known as soap-nut tree in inter-continental trade, it is one of the very important trees of tropical and sub-tropical regions of the Indian subcontinent. It has close resemblance to tun, viz. cedrala toona and is also called doadni or dodan or doda in local Indian dialects. Scientific name of the species being Sapindus mukorossi, it belongs to the main plant order Sapindaceae and family Sapindeae. The species is indigenous to India and China and widely cultivated in upper reaches of the Indo-Gangetic plains, Shivaliks and sub-Himalayan tracts at altitudes varying from 200m to 1500m above mean sea level. The species flourishes well in deep clayey loam soil and does best in areas experiencing nearly 150 to 200 cm of annual rainfall.

So far as northern India is concerned, ritha is quite a common tree in Shivaliks and the outer Himalayas of Utter Pradesh, Uttranchal, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. On this entire scene, starting from China, it is found growing naturally in suitable tracts right up to Afghanistan and even beyond.

The bole (main trunk) of ritha is straight and cylindrical, nearly 4 to 5 m in height. The canopy comprising side branches and foliage constitutes an umbrella-like hemispherical top measuring 4 to 6 m in diameter. The tree can reach an overall height of 20 to 25 m and a girth of about 3 to 5 m at breast height in nearly 60 to 80 years of its existence. Ritha is thus an excellent avenue tree and it is grown even in tea gardens at places.

The bark of ritha is shinning grey and fairly smooth when the plant is young. It is dark grey when the plant approaches maturity. Ritha leaves are alternate and peripenate compound. The rachis is nearly 30 to 50 cm long and bears 5 to 10 pairs of leaflefts. An individual leaflet is about 7 to 15 cm long and 2 to 5 cm wide. It is acuminate and lanciolate in shape. The size of leaflets towards the tip of the rachis is smaller.

Ritha flowers during May - June. The flowers are small and greenish white, polygamous and mostly bisexual in terminal thyrses or compound cymose panicles. These are sub-sessile; numerous in number and at times occur in lose panicles at the end of branches.

The fruit of ritha appear in July-August and ripen by November-December. These are solitary globose i.e. round nuts of 2 to 2.5 cm diameter, fleshy and saponaceous. The seed is enclosed in a black, smooth and hard globose endocarp. The fruit is collected during winter months for seed and or sale in the market as soapnut.

The dried ritha fruit is most valuable part of the plant. Its fleshy portion contains saponin, which is a good substitute for washing soap and is as such used in preparation of quality shampoos, detergents, etc. In fact the skin of the fruit is highly valued by the rural folks as a natural produced shampoo for washing their hair. They also use these for washing woollen clothes. That perhaps is the reason that some scientists have given the species the alternate as Sapindus detergens also.

Ritha foliage is useful as fodder for cattle, especially during grass famines. The fruit is of considerable importance for its medicinal value as well. As per ayurveda, Unani and Tibetan systems of medication, it is useful in treating a number of human maladies like bad cold, facial pimples, irregularity in salivation, chlorisis, epilepsy, constipitation, nausea, etc. It is also used as expectorant and enthelmintic in small doses. It is now gathered that the Central Drug Research Institute, Lucknow, has recently developed a contraceptive cream out of ritha fruit. The same is being marketed under the trade name “Consap”.

The ritha wood is light yellow in colour. It is close-grained, quite compact, rather hard, weighing nearly 28 to 30 kg per cubic foot. Although there is little documentary evidence to suggest conversion of ritha tree into timber, this otherwise is very useful shady and fruit giving tree. The wood is utilised for modest rural building construction, oil and sugar presses, agricultural implements, etc.

Propagation-wise, ritha seed germinates easily. However, for ensuring 100 per cent germination, the seed is soaked in lukewarm water for 24 hours and then sown, either directly in already prepared 60 x 60 cm pits at 5m x 5m spacing or sown in polythene bags filled with clavey loam soil mixed with farmyard manure or similarly prepared nursery beds.

Lastly, the central and state governments are laying stress on stocking of vacant gaps in the canopy in natural forest crops, or roadside avenues or spaces in between residential flats and bungalows. The forest departments, therefore, raise sufficient stock of the seedlings of this plant, amongst other useful species, for meeting the requirement of needy non-government organisations and or land owners, village bodies or individual farmers. Further, with a view to encouraging the people to plant the maximum number of trees the forest departments provide one to two years old ritha seedlings to the people at a highly subsidised rate.

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Farm operations for December

Horticultural operations
— The best time for the application of farmyard manure and compost to the fruit trees in Punjab is the second fortnight of December. Inorganic fertilisers like superphosphate and muriate of potash are also applied along with the farmyard manure, especially in deciduous fruit plants like pear, peach, plum, etc.

— If the growers have not properly covered the young fruit plants uptil now, they should do so without any further delay to save them from frost.

— The dead and diseased wood and criss-crossing branches from the bearing citrus trees should be removed soon after the harvest of fruit crops.

— The ber trees need an irrigation or so during the period as the fruits are in the developing stage. If there is rainfall, this irrigation can be skipped. If the attack of powdery mildew is still persisting, give another spray with 0.25 per cent wettable sulphur or 0.5 to 0.08 per cent Karathane 50 EC immediately.

— The harvesting of malta and grape fruit will be in full swing. The fruit should be properly sorted, graded and packed for market.

— Young nymphs of mango mealy bug should be prevented from crawling up the trunks of mango trees by applying slippery or sticky bands one metre above the ground level by middle of December.

— To control the citrus canker, the infested plant parts should be cut off and destroyed by burning. The pruned trees should be sprayed with Bordeaux mixture (2:2:250) periodically. In papaya, spray the plants with 0.2 per cent Ziram or Captan or Diathane M-45 (200 g in 100 litres of water) at fortnightly intervals to check the attack of anthracnose.

— It is the right time for layout. Preparation of fields (digging and filling of pits) for planting deciduous plants in January.

— For hastening maturity of grapes pruning should be completed in December. After pruning apply/spray Dormax 2.5 per cent on buds for breaking dormancy. Pruning of deciduous plants like peach, pear, plum, etc. may start during the end of this month.

Ornamentals

Annuals: Annuals both in flower beds and pots should be given proper attention to get the desired effect. Timely irrigation is essential for good growth and to save the annuals from the adverse effect of cold nights. To boost the growth of seasonals in pots, application of liquid manure can be very useful.

Chrysanthemum: Well-developed plant must be producing wonderful flowers in this month. This is the best time to select and label the plants required to be used as mother plants for getting cuttings in the next season.

Rose: Rose plants must be at their best as far as growth and flowering is concerned. Foliage and flowers both are attacked by insects in this month, spray of monocrotophos is recommended to save the plants. High rate of growth suckers shoot up in great number, keep on removing the same.

Lawn: Rate of growth decreases so lawn may not require frequent moving, but frequent irrigation will certainly help to save the grass from cold injury.

Cannas: Cannas will be giving their last flash and may be watered well and if required application of manure can enhance the flowering. Double dahlia plants developed from cutting require constant training to get one or two big sized flowers for pots.

Permanent plants: To protect the newly planted samplings of ornamental trees, shrubs and creepers and other tender plants against frost, sarkanda koolies may be constructed on them. Keep south-west side open for providing sun-shine.

Progressive Farming PAU

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