Dr. Wahied Khawar Balwan
Adoption of self-reliant farming system (SRFS) helps to meet the requirement of plant nutrients, water, animal feed and energy from farm. Moreover, safe and fresh food produced with such system is useful in enhancing disease immunity.
Now it is high time that we must know ‘what we eat’. How the food grain, vegetable, fruit, fish, egg or the meat were produced in the farm, processed and finally reached our plate. A lot of discussion occurs regarding the adverse effects of pesticides on food, environment and beneficial organisms (honey bees and earthworms). Commercial food chain has helped in easy availability of a variety food products at door step. However, this has also promoted the use of agrochemicals during production, processing, packaging and storage. These processes are energy and transport intensive. Over use of agrochemicals and energy is traditionally criticized due to adverse effect on environment and human health. In this background, we have to re-look to system of food production and consumption.
According to Gandhi, “My idea of Gram Swaraj (self-governance at village level) is that it is a complete republic, independent of its neighbour for its own vital wants and yet interdependent for many in which dependence is necessity”. Gandhi’s Gram Swaraj is mancentered, non-exploiting, decentralized, and a simple village economy providing for full employment to each one of its citizens on the basis of voluntary co-operation and working for achieving self-sufficiency in its basic requirements of food, clothing, and other necessities of life. Every village should be a democracy in which they will not depend even on neighbour for major needs. People should be self-sufficient and no one should be without food and clothing. Gandhi’s ideal village should be basically self-reliant, making provision for all necessities of life namely food clothing, clean water, sanitation, housing, education, and other requirements, including government and selfdefense.
Recently, in the year 2018 we celebrated 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and the next year humanity faced the Covid-19 pandemic. Gandhian philosophy is more relevant today as humanity is suffering from low immunity to overcome the virulence of pathogens and also due to unavailability of food under lock-down. Environment is suffocating with pollution problems due to over dependence on chemicals and energy. A huge amount of energy (diesel as fuel for truck, production of packaging materials, loading and unloading, machineries, etc.) is consumed in production, packaging and transportation of agricultural products. We must minimize such unnecessary use of energy and agrochemicals. Global climate change and uncertain political and economic changes, especially after Covid-19 have serious implications on food availability in several countries. Employment generation for masses is another important problem. Self-reliant farming system is one option to get assured and healthy food involving mass employment. There is little chemical use in such farming. Loss in production of one component is compensated by production from another component of the farming system indicating stability and sustainability of such practice
SELF-RELIANT FARMING SYSTEM
A self-reliant farming system is envisaged as a system where the requirement of water, plant nutrient, animal feed and energy is produced largely within the farm itself3 The dependence on external sources for meeting such needs is minimal. For achieving the objective of sustainable agriculture, there is a need to develop such a system which will conserve soil, water, and nutrients; and minimize the use of fossil fuels, chemical fertilizers, and synthetic pesticides. Organic farming practices are closer to such a practice on sustainability. One has to rely on crop rotation, animal manures, legumes, green manures, reduced tillage, mineral-bearing rocks, and biological pest control to maintain soil health and productivity, provide plant nutrients, and manage pests. In this system, in-situ water harvesting and use of solar energy reduces the requirement of external sources for meeting the water and energy need. This system is important in the context of increased population, cost of land, water, nutrients and energy.
PRACTISING SELF-RELIANT FARMING SYSTEM
Farm animals constitute one of the important components in self-reliant farming system. The sustainability of integrated crop livestock system relies on the complementarities between crops and livestock. Animal manure represents the main nutrient input in small holder farms. Compost or vermicompost production is very useful for soil health and good quality food grain, fruits and vegetables. Animal manure can also be used as low cost fish feed. Use of legume crops like green gram, black gram, grass pea, horse gram, cowpea, etc. after rice in rotation is useful for soil health and supplying 10 to 20 kg nitrogen per hectare (ha) for the next crop. Green manures are very useful for soil health when incorporated before rice crop. Growing of in-situ green manure crop of Sesbania for rice supplies at least 10-12 tonne (t) of fresh biomass/ha which upon decomposition provide about 45 kg nitrogen, 3 kg phosphorus and 12 kg potassium. Boundary plantation of Glyricidia may provide 10 t fresh vegetation from four cuttings of 500 trees @ 5 kg per tree. Fresh cow dung and bedding material from 3 cows and 1 calf may provide 14 t per year to meet the need for vermicompost (10 t) and fish feed (4 t). Maize stover and other crop residues may provide 4 t by-products for vermicompost production. Crop residues, cowdung and other wastes of biological origin (about 24 t) can be effectively recycled to produce 8 t vermicompost. This much vermicompost is enough for 1-ha crop area for meeting plant nutrient needs when used in combination with a green manure crop before rice. Cultivation of hybrid napier bajra in 1800 m2 area (on dyke sides), 0.45 ha under spring/ summer maize and 0.8 ha area for ground nut cultivation may largely meet feed requirement of three cows. Fish feed can be met from rice bran, oil cake and raw cowdung produced from a farm family. Thus, a farmer may not depend on market for food and feed.
It is important that production of 1 kg N fertilizer (2.22 kg urea) requires 61 mega joule energy which is very energy intensive. Fertilizer alone accounts about 50% of total energy consumption in rice cultivation. Present day urea factories use natural gas as raw material. We know it is an exhaustible and non-renewable energy resource and is used for domestic cooking. It is largely imported from other countries and its price is rapidly rising. For one US dollar rise in natural gas costs, the cost of production for urea rises by Rs1.8 to Rs 2.0/kg. Similarly, the value of Indian Rupees is constantly decreasing in recent years, and for every one rupee depreciation against US dollar, the fertilizer manufacturing price rises by Rs. 0.24/kg at a constant gas price. Actual cost of urea fertilizer manufacture is about Rs 22/kg. Government is providing a subsidy amount of Rs16.60/kg and the remaining amount of Rs 5.40/ kg is paid by the farmer. Annual subsidy on urea fertilizer is around Rs 40,000 crore and our country is producing over 24 million tonnes (Mt) of urea. In spite of subsidy, average farmers face difficulty in purchasing chemical fertilizers from market. Also, fertilizer manufacture being an industrial process releases harmful gasses to atmosphere. Diesel consumption for transporting fertilizers to the individual farm releases toxic gasses like carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2) to atmosphere. Moreover, continuous use of chemical fertilizers over activates soil microorganisms and soil organic matter level is depleted with concomitant decrease in crop yield. On the other hand, continuous use of organic manures under self-reliant farming system improves soil health and good quality fruits and vegetables.
Water reliance at farm level can be achieved in high rainfall areas through water harvesting farm pond. If farm pond is excavated in a clayey soil, the rate of seepage percolation loss is minimal and water is retained up to April-May. On the other hand, extraction of ground water is energy expensive and constantly depletes the ground water resource in absence of enough recharge. Also, ground water is sometimes saline containing high salt or even may contain toxic concentrations of iron, arsenic, fluoride or heavy metals creating problem for crops, animals and human beings. Rain water is free from such problems. The cost on creating water harvesting farm pond can be compensated by multiple use of harvested water for crops, fish, animals and human beings. Creation of large number of water harvesting structures will also help in conserving water, soil and associated mineral nutrients which would otherwise be lost into ocean. This will mitigate drought like situations.
A part of in-situ energy requirement in farming can be met from solar energy. Solar energy may be used for lifting water from farm pond. For running a 2 hp pump operated by solar energy, 150 volt DC Pump is required. Installation of solar power station requires an expenditure of Rs 2.3 lakh. For promotion of solar energy, Government provides subsidy up to 90%. We should avail such facility for a reliable, clean and sustainable source of energy. Biogas is another source of reliable and renewable energy which can be generated within farm itself using the raw cowdung and some easily decomposable and carbon rich vegetation wastes. The by-product of biogas plant known as biogas slurry is also very useful as a nutrient source for crop.
Self-reliant farming system produces the plant nutrient need of the farm from green manure, vermicompost and legume crop. Fish feed could be provided using rice bran, oilcake and cowdung. Farm animal feed could be provided from rice straw, groundnut haulm, rice bran, oil cake and maize grain. Water need was met from water harvesting farm pond while solar energy was useful for lifting water from farm pond. Thus, the farming system was self-reliant. Avoidance of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are useful in producing safe and fresh food for a healthy life.
‘Any Error in this manuscript is silent testimony of the fact that it was a Human effort’
Dr. Wahied Khawar Balwan
Senior Assistant Professor
Department of Zoology
Govt. Postgraduate College Bhaderwah
UT of Jammu and Kashmir
E-mail: [email protected]