|AGRICULTURE TRIBUNE||Monday, May 26, 2003, Chandigarh, India|
Hill states can treble productivity
Lack of scientific know-how and markets the hurdle
THE hill states of northwestern Himalayas have so far remained backward and traditional in agriculture despite adequate research and development infrastructure. Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttaranchal and hilly areas of Punjab and Haryana mostly have small and marginal farmers in widely scattered and remote villages.
Hill states can treble productivity
THE hill states of northwestern Himalayas have so far remained backward and traditional in agriculture despite adequate research and development infrastructure.
Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttaranchal and hilly areas of Punjab and Haryana mostly have small and marginal farmers in widely scattered and remote villages. Most of these states continue to be net importers of food grains and animal products. However, these states do have a comparative advantage of growing a few crops suitable to these environments only. For instance, tea, fruits, off-season vegetables, potato and a few other commercial crops are exported from these states.
Horticulture, forestry and animal husbandry contribute nearly 50 per cent of the domestic produce of these states, which so far have remained backward. The agricultural conditions in hill states are very different from the plains, as a result of which the Green Revolution has bypassed them.
Though the hills have an advantage of their unique environment, yet these areas suffer from certain constraints that hamper agricultural development:
Small farmers: Nearly 82 per cent of the farmers are small or marginal or are women with land holdings of less than 2 hectares. Only 9.5 per cent have more than 3 hectares. This calls for consolidation of the small and scattered holdings through land reforms. Women mostly act as a labour force and their skills need to be improved and upgraded for any successful transfer of agricultural technology.
Rain-fed system: High precipitation is a common feature in hills. However, a large part of the rainfall is received only during the rainy season. Thus, uncertain and unevenly distributed rains adversely affect productivity, especially of rabi crops, whereas the high intensity rainfall during the rainy season results in excessive run-off and soil loss. There is, thus, a need for efficient conservation and management of rainwater. Run-off water should be collected, to be used later for at least one or two crop-saving irrigations for rabi crops. In order to sustain the rain-fed system there is need for strengthening soil and water conservation programmes.
Subsistence farming: Hills are mostly characterised by traditional and subsistence farming. This leads to low income and high risk. The introduction of horticulture, floriculture, off-season vegetables, dairying, beekeeping, etc., on scientific lines would make agriculture remunerative and sustainable.
Neglected grasslands: The livestock density in the hills is almost equal to that of human population. However, the productivity of these animals is low. Interestingly, the area under grasslands and pastures in these states is nearly double that under crops, including horticulture. But it has not received the deserved attention. The pastures are overgrazed, over-stocked and degraded. Increasing the productivity of natural grasslands and alpine pastures holds the key to the development of animal husbandry.
Lack of adequate markets: Apart from growing cereal crops, farmers in certain regions cultivate commercial crops. However, the lack of proper marketing facilities lowers the profits, particularly in the high-altitude areas. Similarly, farmers also face serious problems with selling maize, soybean, vegetables, mushroom, honey, etc., in the low and mid-hill areas.
Technology development and transfer
Owing to large agro-climatic variation in the hills, the role played by agricultural universities and state development departments is slightly different and indeed challenging as compared to that of the plains.
Owing to the difficult terrain and low awareness among hill farmers, the adoption rate of improved practices is very low. Nonetheless, scientists in hill states have evolved technologies suitable for different agro-climatic regions of the states. It is a continuous process. Simultaneously, the state development departments are also committed to disseminating the technologies developed among the farmers.
To assess the impact of technology, different components of technology have been tested on farmers’ fields through on-farm trials by the HP Krishi Vishvavidyalaya, Palampur, during the past decade. The results have been encouraging and have made clear that the productivity can be increased threefold even in hill agriculture. However, technology adoption by the farmers has been low. This is partly due to the less innovative nature of the farmer, who otherwise is a willing partner but has so far not made use of the available technology effectively. This has also become apparent from a series of farmer-scientist interactions.
The other key issue is the production and distribution of quality seeds along with the technological packages for economising the use of costly inputs, particularly fertilisers. The nutrient use (NPK) is only 30-35 kg/ ha in the hills as compares to 100 kg/ ha at the national level.
Proper water management and rainwater harvesting, particularly in the rain-fed areas are crucial areas for technology transfer.
Technology generation and development implies its transfer also. For effective technology transfer, it requires reorientation in terms of intensive training in skills and production systems through effective demonstrations on fields. This component of demonstrations has so far been deficient.
Though watershed development projects are in operation at present, but the progress in general has not been satisfactory due to funding and execution limitations. There is a need to form a separate "Himalayan development authority" so that need-based programmes are formulated and executed in participation with the farmers.
It is increasingly felt now that as
long as the hill farmers do not appreciate and adopt a scientific
approach, it may be difficult to realise the dream of self-sufficiency
in agriculture and animal husbandry. The development departments also
have to go a long way to improve their know-how, reach the farmer
effectively at block and district levels and cultivate a culture of
FOLIAR nutrient analysis can be used as a general diagnostic tool to assess the nutritional status of fruit trees. Application of fertiliser based on foliar nutrient analysis can optimise crop performance by tailoring fertiliser levels to the specific needs of fruit trees as nutrient deficiencies, toxicities and nutrient status can be determined accurately.
However, the results are reliable only if the collection and preparation of leaf samples is done as per standard procedures. The proper collection of samples is as important as the use of reliable methods for their analysis.
When and how to sample: The concentration of nutrients in the leaves of trees normally changes as maturity advances. It changes rapidly in young expanding leaves. In fully developed mature leaves there is minimal change and this is the best period for sampling. However, there is a period of somewhat rapid change as senescence, or dormancy, approaches.
In trees like citrus and litchi, the composition of leaves is also affected by different flushes. For satisfactory leaf sampling it is important to choose leaves when the mineral element levels are constant. This is usually between three and eight months after the leaves are formed. However, the time of sampling remains the same for all trees even though they may be of different ages.
Where to sample: In a large orchard, select an area of up to five acres. This area should represent the overall health of the orchard and be marked as permanent sampling area. To get a better idea of the nutritional requirements of an orchard the samples should be collected from this particular area each year. In small orchards, leaf samples should be collected from the entire orchard.
Method: Pick one leaf from each side of the tree—four leaves per tree, one each from north, south, east and west sides of the tree. Follow diagonals (following an ‘X’ pattern from one corner to another) across the area selected. If it is not possible to collect samples diagonally, then collect from 10 to 20 per cent of the trees in the site selected in a systematic pattern, for e.g., every fifth tree. The final sample should consist of 50-100 leaves.
Preparation of samples: After collection, leaf samples are placed in clean polyethylene bags, tied and placed in an icebox. These are then brought to a laboratory as soon as possible for proper cleaning and drying. If an icebox is not available, the samples should be placed in paper or porous cloth bags and packed in polyethylene bags for storage in a refrigerator.
Refrigeration decreases respiration rate and polyethylene bags prevent drying of green samples and subsequent possible loss of nutrients in the washing operation. Blackening or drying of leaves should be avoided. The bags should not be kept in the sun, as temperature inside plastic bags rises rapidly and causes blackening of leaves.
IN many parts of our country soil has become so salty that normal crops cannot survive. Without better management of irrigation, the area of land lost to salinity will continue to expand. But with a combination of better water management, phytoremediation techniques and selected salt-tolerant crops, salt-affected land can be converted into highly productive land.
Phytoremediation technology has an important role to play in achieving this objective. It is an attractive alternative to current clean-up methods that are energy intensive and very expensive.
Water has often been used to solve salinity problems as though there is no limit to its availability. The result on irrigated lands is often a harmful concentration of salts within the topsoil from where most crops get nutrients. Soil salinity is most serious in arid and semi-arid regions where surface water is scarce and where groundwater tends to be saline. Conventionally, sodic hazards of these waters are mitigated by applying and mixing powdered gypsum in a levelled field and then flooding it with fresh water, well before the sowing of crops.
However, a new method of using gypsum is in practice today for saline water management. This method, based on the use of gypsum clods through a closed circuit, is more economical and effective than the conventional one and has resulted in much better yield and net returns.
No country can afford to waste water or abandon ever-increasing land areas to salt. The challenge is making productive and sustainable use of salt-affected land, preferably by tapping the saline groundwater. What is needed is a change in the thinking. Agriculture is traditionally carried out on the basis of suiting the soil to the plant, but it is perfectly possible to suit the plant to the soil.
There are hundreds of species of plants that are salt-tolerant, including grasses, shrubs and trees. Instead of growing salt-susceptible crops, salt-tolerant plant species can be grown for use as energy sources or as timber. What must be avoided is an excess of saline water. Moisture gauges are used to measure soil water content and thus irrigation can be better managed. Modern techniques can be used to analyse the composition of groundwater, and this information helps to assess the rate of recharge.
A biological approach coupled with
water management to reclaim salt-affected land has many advantages.
The land gradually improves in texture and fertility through the
effect of the plant biomass. Soil cover by plants reduces erosion,
provides shade, builds up organic matter and biological activity in
the soil, transforming "dead" soil into a live system.
Spirulina made even more nutritious
NEW DELHI: Scientists at the Indian Agriculture Research Institute have developed a new strain of spirulina, a minute plant known to have several health benefits, and claim it has high protein and beta carotene in comparison to normal strains. "The new strain was developed by inducing mutation in the usual spirulina strain. It has 80 per cent protein," Dr P. K. Singh, project director at the National Centre for Conservation and Utilisation of Blue Green Algae, says. The strain is also rich in a blue pigment called 'phycocyanin' that strengthens the immune system and can also be used in cosmetic industry. Usually crops do not have more than 20-25 per cent protein. Spirulina has 60 per cent protein, already a high value. It is the richest natural source of iron and Vitamin B12. PTI
NEW DELHI: Scientists
here have developed potatoes with higher yield and protein content
using genetic engineering and claim the product has been found to be
safe. "The product has cleared tests related to toxicity and
other side effects and is undergoing final field trials," says
National Centre for Plant Genome Research Director Asis Datta, whose
team is behind the new potato. The new potato has a gene from
Amaranthus hypochondriacus, popularly known as "Ram dana"
the plant is rich in protein. It also has higher yield, besides
protein content. The gene could have been used in other crops as well,
but Datta chose potato because it is consumed by all classes. PTI