Important Current Issues In Agriculture
Man has been practicing farming for food and livelihood since time immemorial. However, demand for food, shelter and clothing continued to increase over time and posed challenges to human population during the entire course of civilization. In order to counter these challenges, remarkable innovations were made by man from time to time which revolutionized farming and enabled it to fulfill basic needs of ever increasing human population. Some of the recent advances and hotly debated issues such as genetically modified crops, protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, Precision farming and impact of climate change on farming are discussed as under:
1. Genetically Modified (GM) crops:
A crop which has been genetically improved by transfer of a novel gene from an unrelated plant or organism through the use of specialized genetic engineering technologies is known as a genetically modified crop. An important example of such crops is Bt cotton. The abbreviation ‘Bt’ is derived from the name of a soil bacterium ‘Bacillus thuriengiensis’. The DNA molecule i.e. hereditary material of this bacterium contains a specific gene (Bt gene) which produces a crystalline protein, endotoxin, which is highly toxic to the bollworms; insect pests of cotton. Bt cotton has been developed as a result of transfer of Bt gene from this bacterium to a normal cotton plant. When a bollworm feeds on flower bud or flower or boll of a Bt cotton plant, this toxic protein damages the digestive system of the insect and kills it. In this manner, cotton crop gets saved from these harmful insects without the use of any insecticidal spray. Bt cotton was first introduced in Punjab in 2006.
At present, about 99% of the area under cotton is covered under Bt cotton hybrids. Initially Bollguard-I hybrids had only one Bt gene. Now a days Bollguard-II hybrids such as RCH 650 BG II and NCS 855 BG II possess two Bt genes which protect the crop from all four types of bollworms namely:American bollworm, pink bollworm, spotted bollworm and tobacco caterpillar. Prior to introduction of Bt cotton, cotton crop was being severally damaged every year, resulting in a very poor yield of 2 to 3 quintals of lint per acre. After introduction of Bt cotton in Punjab in 2006, the yield of lint has significantly improved to about 5 quintals per acre and use of insecticides has also declined.
Besides Bt cotton, several other GM crops like brinjal, soybean, maize and rice have been developed.
Possible risks of GM crops:
Ever since introduction of GM crops several environment protection organizations, social activists, human welfare groups and even some scientists have been raising their voice against GM crops. According to the
m, adoption of such crops will have adverse effect on human health, environment, biodiversity of plants and species of cultivated plants. Though, no substantial evidence could be produced in the favour of such arguments yet several countries have not allowed cultivation of GM crops.
2. Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act-2001:
India is a signatory to World Trade Organization (WTO) conventions. In order to fulfill its international obligations and commitments, Government of India enacted ‘Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act (PPV&FR Act) 2001 with the aim of encouraging innovation in agriculture sector. For the effective implementation of this act, Government of India established the “Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority” on 11th November 2005. The main objectives of this was to recognize and protect the farmers’ rights in respect of their contributions made at anytime for the development of new plant varieties and to protect the rights of plant breeders to encourage development of new plant varieties.
Rights protected under this act:
Farmers’ rights, Breeders’ rights and researchers’ rights are protected under this act.
A variety which is being traditionally cultivated and evolved by the farmers on their fields or a landrace of a variety about which farmers possess common knowledge can be registered as a Farmers’ variety.
Farmers are entitled to save, use, sow, re-sow, exchange, share or sell their farm produce including seed of protected varieties but without putting the brand name.
Varieties which cannot be registered:
A variety which contains any technology that is harmful to human beings or animals or plants including terminator technology cannot be registered under this act.
Duration of registration:
Initially this act provides protection for six years to general crops and nine years to trees and vines. However protection period may be renewed and extended up to 15 years for crop varieties and 18 years for trees and vines.
Penalties for infringement:
If a person gives different denomination to a registered variety, changes its name and address of its breeder and country and sells it in the market, such an infringement of this law is punishable with an imprisonment or fine or both. More information about this act can be obtained from website www.plantauthority.gov.in
3. Precision Farming:
Precision farming is a new concept of farming. This concept is based on the judicious use of various inputs as decided and calibrated by various scientific technologies so as to save the natural resources and enhance the productivity of a crop. For instance, fertility status of soil in different parts of a field is never same. If a farmer applies fertilizer uniformly in whole of the field, he may be wasting resources because in parts where soil was rich, lesser amounts of fertilizer was required whereas in other parts of the field where soil fertility level was poor, higher amounts of fertilizer was needed.
Similarly, applying other inputs such as insecticides, weedicides and micronutrients uniformly throughout the field without ascertaining their need in different parts of a field, may also lead to wastage of natural resources and result in comparatively low yields. In developed countries, nitrogen sensors, a special kind of device is used to find out requirement of nitrogenous fertilizer in different sections of a field. Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) has recommended use of leaf colour chart (LCC) for need based use of nitrogen fertilizer in wheat, rice and maize. Precision farming can also play an important role in providing need based irrigation to a crop and thus saving precious water.
PAU has developed a special instrument (Tensiometer) for this purpose. Tensiometer is used to decide when and how much irrigation should be given to rice crop. Giving need based irrigation to a crop not only enhances the crop productivity but also helps to save precious diesel and electricity which is consumed in running tubewells. Introduction of laser land leveler is another example which helps in saving precious water resources especially in case of rice crop. In developed countries, several other precision farming technologies such as drip irrigation, sprinkler irrigation for irrigating big farms, various types of sensors, pneumatic planters for precise planting and global positioning system (GPS) for accurate measurement of the fields, Information and Communication Technology, Satellite Technology, Auto steering for plant spacing are deployed to maximize crop productivity with minimum use of natural resources. In Precision farming, every single agricultural input is applied at right time, in right manner, at right place and in right quantity.
4. Climate change and its Impact on Agriculture:
Climate change due to global warming has become a serious issue and a hotly debated subject these days. According to various scientific reports, the earth has warmed about 0.5o C over the past 100 years and it is estimated that by the end of 21st century, temperature will further increase by about 1.8 to 4.0oC. As a result, the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of polar snow and ice have reduced, sea level has risen and concentration of Greenhouse gases has increased. As a consequence, warm days have become warmer and cold days colder, rains have become erratic and seasons have started overlapping. The seasonal variations have been converted into daily variations.
Factors responsible for climate change:
Following factors are responsible for global warming and climate change:
Increased concentration of greenhouse gases ·
Burning of fossil fuels
Large scale deforestation
Industrialization and urbanization
Ever increasing human population
Unabated use of refrigerators, air conditioners and foam industry which emit chloroflouro carbon gases
Excessive use of agro-chemicals
Green House Effect:
Some gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxide (NO2) chloroflouro carbon (CFC) and methane (CH4) are the major factors responsible for pollution, global warming and climate change. These gases are known as Greenhouse gases. This name is derived from Green House which is made from a polythene sheet or glass. This polythene sheet allows sun rays to enter the green house but it does not allow infra red rays to go out after striking earth surface as reflection. As a result, temperature inside green house increases. These gases form a blanket type thick layer around the earth and trap the sun rays inside thus leading to increase in the temperature on the earth. Excessive use of nitrogenous fertilizers in crops leads to production of nitrogen oxide (NO2) gas. Rice cultivation which involves cultivation of crop in continuous ponded water also results in production of methane (CH4). The Green House effect can result in a rise of temperature to the tune of 3.2oC by 2050 in India.
Impact of climate change on agriculture
Climate change will affect different parts of the earth differently. In some countries, it may adversely affect agricultural production and thus food security but in other countries, climate change may have positive effect on crop productivity.
Duration of crops, sequence of crop rotations and cultural practices of raising crops may change due to global warming
As a consequence of rise in temperature and moisture, new diseases and insect pests may emerge in areas where these were not present previously and may seriously affect production of crops.
Climate change may lead to unpredictable changes in the monsoon rainy season in India.
Rising night temperature may adversely affect crop productivity.
Any increase in day temperature during February and March will have adverse effect on wheat production in Punjab.
In order to mitigate climate change effects, use of solar energy, hydro-electricity generation and bio-energy should be encouraged and sole dependence on fossil fuel should be reduced by minimizing vehicular and industrial emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases.