Guest Contribution: Meena Iyer
By 2050 , our world population is likely to hit 10 billion people and creating a sustainable food future is one of our biggest challenges. Regenerative agriculture refers to safe, efficient techniques aimed at boosting yields and helping our agricultural lands survive the climate change onslaught with an end goal of building greater food security for our planet.
With regenerative agriculture , we can achieve several wins : increased profit for farmers , greater resilience to climate change and more importantly valuable environmental benefits by restoring our soil’s health and water needs . Here , we will be looking at some of the important factors that affect practices around regenerative agriculture :
- Regenerative versus Degenerative Agriculture
- What is Biochar and Recycling of Carbon in Soil
Land degeneration and its impact on agriculture
Over the years , clearing out forests for agriculture and over farming/overgrazing methods have resulted in the depletion of our soil quality as well as reduced agricultural capacity from our farmlands . Out of the 11% of earth’s surface devoted for agriculture , FAO estimates that 25% of all cropland suffers from high soil degradation mainly due to soil erosion . Endless rows of single crops(called as monocultures) are planted and harvested year after year and chemical fertilizers adopted to improve production to meet the exponential food demand. These degenerative methods have not only reduced Agri-productivity but has created an imbalance between nature and humans with far reaching consequences such as extreme poverty among farmers.
Regenerative farming aims to improve soil health by deploying techniques such as :
- ‘no-till’ agriculture by minimizing soil disturbance and reducing amount of tillage. The advantage with minimal tilling is that organic matter remains in the soil creating room for beneficial micro-organisms and improve soil fertility.
- Using cover crops which are plants grown to cover the soil after farmers harvest the main crop.
- Crop rotation using perennial and native plants so that farmers can grow and adjust foods based on the local climate and conditions.
The famed Japanese farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka and author of notable book ‘The One-Straw Revolution’ is extremely relevant even today for his agricultural philosophy around ‘Do-nothing farming’. His principles on regenerative farming are that agriculture is just not the means of producing food but an aesthetic and spiritual approach to life . When humans tamper with nature , nature will not return easily to its original condition . Hence farming methods need to be approached holistically, by being a part of nature and understanding the relationship between soil , the micro- organisms(insects/bacteria/fungi) in the soil that promote the richness of the organic matter and minimizing changes to the natural landscape.
Clay ball seeding
Masanobu Fukuoka is also famed with pioneering the natural farming technique of scattering clay seed balls to revegetate barren lands . Seeds that are compatible with local weather and soil conditions are mixed into clay balls to protect from insects and other seed predators and moisture stored in clay balls due to fluctuations in day/night temperatures creates the necessary environment for clay-ball seeds to germinate. When the season comes, the seeds germinate, and the roots sink deep into the soil in search of underground water.
Did you know :
Guerilla gardening :
As the name suggests , guerilla gardening is a form of a protest gardening where gardeners provoke change by sowing and raising plants in abandoned sites, areas not been cared for , or even public property. Social networking groups and volunteers come together for a variety of purposes such as community improvement, better aesthetics by planting flowers with attractive appearance, physical and mental well-being benefits as well as land conservation.
Guerilla gardeners have used clay seed bombing as an interesting method to improve reforestation by using orthodox seeds ( that are native, viable seeds that survive drying and/or freezing) and use of modern technologies such as drones for spreading seed bombs. Read this interesting article on how IISc scientists in Karnataka used unmanned aerial vehicles covering nearly 10,000 acres of land with seed bombs.
Hydroponic gardening :
Hydroponic farming is a technique that uses no soil but grows plants in a mixture of water and nutrients and very popular in urban areas and regions with extreme climates. India has seen a dramatic increase in hydroponic farming using 95% less water than traditional farming methods.
Carbon recycling and leveraging Biochar
How do we recover the loss of soil organic nutrients and enrich soil ? Replenishing carbon is the key as carbon holds moisture and provides for chemical bonding that allow nutrients to be stored within plants. An alternative approach involves various ways of converting agricultural residues or household wastes into Biochar.
What is Biochar ? Biochar not only reduces need for chemical fertilizers but enriches soil, reduces soil acidity and thus contributes to higher yields from the soil .The many benefits of biochar for both environment and agricultural systems make it a promising tool for regenerative agriculture.
Food for thought :
India has committed to the Paris agreement on climate change and keep global temperature rise ‘below 2 deg C’ , reduce emissions intensity by 33-35% of year 2005 levels by year 2030.The onus is on each one of us to think green, motivate ourselves and our youth to be involved in initiatives that help create ‘greener’ gardens , understand and monitor climate-induced changes in our natural landscapes, support green technologies that adapt to climate change and propagate a healthy and sustainable way of living. Do we want to turn up as a guerilla gardener or try some balcony gardening at home and improve our ‘green-thumb’ skills ?