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Reclaiming degraded farmland

Ravaging annual floods destroy vast stretches of standing paddy crop in Assam.


Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  27 July 2022 4:14 AM GMT

Ravaging annual floods destroy vast stretches of standing paddy crop in Assam. In recent years, the problem of agricultural lands becoming uncultivable due to the deposition of sand-silt carried by flood waters has aggravated and has severely affected the livelihood of many paddy growers in the state. For affected farmers, choosing the right alternative crop for cultivation on paddy fields with thick layers of sand deposits is difficult for multiple reasons. The farmers, who grow paddy and other traditional crops, do not have access to knowledge and technologies of alternative crops and they also do not have market information for the alternative crops. Their preferred solution is for the Agriculture Department to provide them with new varieties of paddy or other traditional crops grown by them. The release of flood-and-drought-resistant varieties by the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) or Assam Agricultural University (AAU) has helped the farmers, but building resilience against sand casting on their cultivated land during floods is still a challenge. Official data show that over the past eight years, 1956 high-yielding stress-tolerant varieties/ hybrids of field crops, including 1622 climate resilient field crop varieties, have been released in the country of which 86% have been developed by the ICAR. The climate-resilient varieties include 807 varieties of cereals, 252 oilseeds, 270 pulses, 91 forage crops, 154 fibre crops, 42 sugar crops and six other field crops. The progress made is spectacular as over 33% of the total 5,800 varieties released since 1969 have been made over the past eight years. Since independence, more than 6,100 varieties of field and horticultural crops have been released in the country which speaks volumes about the progress made in agricultural research and the immense contribution by Indian agricultural scientists. Information furnished by the Ministry of Agriculture in the parliament shows that the productivity levels have increased to more than three times (2373 kg/ha during 2020-21 from 710 kg/ha during 1960-61) due to the genetic enhancement of different crops. These varieties resulted in 6.19 times enhancement in the production of foodgrains, 3.30 times in pulses, 7.46 times in oilseeds, 10.31 times in cotton and 7.55times in sugarcane since 1950; and 3.42 times in horticulture crops from 1992-93, according to a government statement tabled on the floor of the Lok Sabha. Since 2014, 43 varieties have been bred especially for flood/ water submergence/waterlogging tolerance, 175 varieties for drought/moisture stress/ water stress tolerance, 36 varieties for salinity/ alkalinity/ sodic soils tolerance, 25 varieties for heat stress/high-temperature tolerance and seven varieties have been bred for cold/ frost/ winter chilling tolerance, it adds. This is indicative of Indian agricultural scientists building a huge knowledge base to sustain a multi-cropping system with high cropping intensity. The diversity of crop varieties in the Indian agricultural system is a strong fundamental which needs to be preserved and is also facilitating agricultural scientists to develop new climate-resilient varieties. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations in its report titled "The State of World's Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture" highlights that of more than 6000 plant species cultivated for food, fewer than 200 varieties make major contributions to food production globally, regionally or nationally. The hard fact is only nine varieties account for 66% of total crop production which has sounded the alarm bell for the vulnerability to food security from climate change impact that has increased due to the loss of diversity in agriculture practices in most countries. Many species, including pollinators, soil organisms and the natural enemies of pests, that contribute to vital ecosystem services are in decline as a consequence of the destruction and degradation of habitats, over-exploitation, pollution and other threats. There is also a rapid decline in key ecosystems that deliver numerous services essential to food and agriculture, including supply of freshwater, protection against storms, floods and other hazards, and habitats for species such as fish and pollinators adds to the FAO report which also explains the importance of addressing the problem of deposition of sand-silt on land on which farmers in Assam grow traditional paddy and other crop varieties and practice combining it with livestock rearing for use of organic manure. If the traditional wisdom of growing the crop is lost, it will lead to erosion of the traditional knowledge base of the farmers which is critical for agriculture scientists to provide solutions like the development of new varieties and new technologies to help them adapt to changing climatic condition and disaster. Improving flood management and reducing submergence and inundation by raising and strengthening the embankment system is also important to reduce sand-silt deposition and protect the farmland from turning uncultivable. The Government supports the ICAR, and AAU with more research grants that can help agricultural scientists come up with the right solution to the problem of deposition of sand-silt on cultivable land and help farmers reclaim such degraded agricultural land.

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