Agriculture and environment

By Mr. Anjanabha Bhattacharya, PhD

I have been working with Mahyco as a research scientist for about 4 years. Seeing my colleagues write some innovative, thought provoking mouthpiece, I thought I should also write a piece or two. Hence, I am penning down a two part series, in which, I would like to draw your attention, towards the vital role of agriculture in preserving our environment. Lots have been heard and said, about the state of our natural resources, and possible detrimental impact of modern agriculture on the environment. However, one needs to bring focus back to the glass half full outlook- i.e. optimistic view, refocusing our thought process and finding answers to the key question - how can modern agriculture contribute to preserve our environment and at the same time answer the burning debate on food crisis?

In this blogpost, I am going to discuss two aspects – one is how to reinvent food and use land innovatively and effectively, thus preserving our natural resources. There is no doubt that today, people are more conscious, of what they eat and want to know, where their food comes from i.e. food carbon footprint. People prefer locally grown farm food, and are supporting their local farming community. The growing movement is allowing farmers to be more particular about their inputs and outputs. This calls for precision farming, leaving nothing to chance. Using advances in science and technology, farmers are determining when, where and how to sow, and grow food, which is healthy, nutritious and cost effective. Seed technology plays an important role to augment this process. It is a pivotal determining factor for the produce. Recently, I met a farmer at the Mahyco Innovation Day, who said, sixty years ago, there were not enough innovations in agriculture and therefore found it difficult to feed a population of 120 million. Today, with a population of 1.2 billion, even the idea of growing food without seeking help from recent scientific advancement is bane. Something we have to ponder upon.

My second theme is on land usage. I read somewhere that according to the founder of the Land Institute, grains are grown globally on 70% of land. With farming and rapid urbanization, the pressure on land is mounting and therefore, only innovative use of land, cannot make these practices sustainable. From vertical gardens to rotation cropping, the alternatives are being explored. However, challenges continue to mount; soil is losing microbial load and vital life giving nutrients. There is erosion and deforestation, top soil is being lost, and the challenges are expanding day by day. I recall reading somewhere, that the rate at which our top soil is depleting, we have only some sixty more years left, before land goes completely barren. Hence, we need to find a way to produce food that uses the same land area but yields more, consistently, year after year. Here, seed technology comes into play to mitigate the uncertainty related to crop production. When the core of the crop input i.e. seed is high yielding and vigorous, then the crop produce is expected to be bountiful! With simple steps in everyday agriculture, by bringing innovation to the core of everyday practices, agriculture can play a role in slowing down the process of environment degradation, and maybe even reverse it someday. Years of research and investment of time, efforts and monitory resources is needed, in this area, but most importantly are the support, understanding and patience of the stakeholders of the ecosystem.

I hope you found these two themes, thought provoking. I will soon write, with the second part, highlighting some other aspects of this interconnected fragile relationship.