CRISIS IN INDIAN & WORLD AGRICULTURE: INTRODUCING THE STEP SYSTEM
Just as a primeval rain forest plays a silent but vital role in sequestering carbon and creating a unique web of life that shelters myriad life forms, agriculture that most ancient of civilized human activities; a harbinger of social order and an indispensable economic web, provides a lifeline even today to a majority of mankind. In its timeless comforting cycle lie the foundations to the progress of human civilization. In both cases even a distant ripple of dissonance, natural or otherwise, intertwined as they are, could spell devastation for all mankind.
About 40% of the human population subsists on an income of $ 2 per day and 23% manage with just $1. Most of these inhabit rural areas in the developing world and many of these migrate and survive on the fringes of society in over stretched urban areas. Over 97% of our calories are derived from food crops grown on land and whose per capita availability is declining rapidly. Farming remains a critical economic activity, providing livelihoods to a significant portion of the global population.A thriving farm sector lifts the Indian and world economy.
Stagnating yields and shrinking farm gate profits are threatening livelihoods of farmers and could adversely impact our ability to feed our growing population by 2050. Rapidly degrading soil quality and erosion of top soil renders crops more susceptible to vagaries of climate and more dependent on external inputs like chemical fertilisers. This raises production costs and pushes more farmers literally over the brink. It is estimated that developing countries like India and China are losing topsoil at rates 10 times faster than nature can recreate this invaluable resource. Even in USA, topsoil is being lost 3 times faster. The subsoil levels have low organic carbon content and are less fertile. Farmers will need to apply more fertilisers to achieve the same yields, further squeezing their incomes. Loss of organic carbon from top soil not only increases erosion, it contributes to loss of nutrients which are bound to organic substances in soil. This increases oxidation and speeds up release of carbon dioxide as well as oxides of nitrogen. Top soil accumulates in river beds and reservoirs, reducing their capacity to hold water and increasing the chances of flooding and drought. Increased reliance on ground water with accumulated salts and fertilisers especially phosphates can increase soil alkalinity and cause loss of productivity. Alkalinity and higher soil pH disturb soil structure and biodiversity, creating conditions that favour certain crop diseases.
The input intensive strategy that brought about our Green Revolution seems to have reached the point of diminishing marginal returns. Yields of important crops in India have stabilized at levels far below those achieved in other developing countries like China, Brazil and even East Asia. The FAO states that even now 194 million people in India sleep hungry whereas China has made far more impressive strides. As our population grows and yields stagnate, our hard won gains could prove illusory. The average calorific intake in India is only slightly better than sub Saharan Africa and our protein intake represented by a per capita availability of pulses has actually deteriorated over the last 4 decades. Availability of arable land is under pressure from competing demands of industry, infrastructure and real estate. Large tracts are being rendered uncultivable each year due to salinity, alkalinity and desertification. This is accompanied by a rise in the incidence of crop pests and diseases that defy conventional strategies such as chemical pesticides and GM crops.
A few examples are:
- HLB (Huanglongbing) of citrus for which there is no known cure which is wiping out citrus crops all over the world.
- Glyphosate resistance weeds which are impacting GM corn and soybean in USA
- Corn root worms which have developed resistance to GM corn in USA
- Sucking insect pests which have filled the vacuum created by the absence of caterpillar pests on GM cotton in India and raised consumption of chemical pesticides.
- The rise of Phytophthora, a pathogen that is impacting numerous field and horticultural crops t and forests (Sudden Oak Death).
Input intensive agriculture is one of the major contributors to the generation of greenhouse gases which are implicated for climate change. Inefficient use of chemical fertilisers is causing problems like eutrophication of water bodies and dead zones in oceans bereft of oxygen where marine life cannot survive. Conventional practices are disastrous to beneficial insects like honeybees, which are being destroyed at an alarming rate. In USA and China they have been eliminated in important agricultural tracts due to a syndrome called the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). The USA has been forced to import honey bees each year and the Chinese are now hand pollinating their pears. The threat of climate change is very real and is being experienced all over the world. The recent unseasonal rains that led to the tragic suicide of farmers (unable to reconcile themselves to the loss of their wheat crop) were a poignant reminder of events that could occur with increased frequency in future. It has been proven that a slight increase in temperature at the time of grain maturity of cereals can have a deleterious effect on yields A grim future our farmers are neither equipped to deal with, nor do they have the luxury of time or resources to make ends meet.
AN ALTERNATE PATH TO SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE
Our farmers need an alternate path to sustainable agriculture which can help them address the key issues like:
- Improved yields and profits with reduced costs of cultivation
- Practices that will restore soil structure, conditions, moisture holding capacity and soil biodiversity
- Reduced reliance on inputs that impact adversely on our environment
- Enhance efficient use of increasingly scarce inputs like land, water, chemical fertilisers
- Enable them to face the threats posed by climate change with greater equanimity
- Drought proofing our farmers even in rainfed areas
- The concept of future cost protection for assured farm gate profits
- Improving viability of small farmers and raising their marketable surpluses
In short, our farming community needs a robust, simple and cost effective system which can make farming sustainable and profitable - a system that is easy to understand, implement and sparing of the mistakes that can occur. A system that can reverse the damage caused to our soil, air and water by decades of over exploitation.
However, can such a system that challenges established convention can ever be invented and even if it is, can it ever be popularized in the short time we have?
INTRODUCING THE STEP SYSTEM
A system that has the potential to address these complex issues has been developed after years of research and rigorous field testing over 4 years under harsh climatic conditions in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan states of India. This system has been field tested on most important crops in the area like rice, wheat, cotton, sugarcane, guar, moong, kinnows, potatoes, mustard, brinjals, chillies, tomatoes, bitter gourds, cabbage, cauliflower, barley, peanuts, fodder crops and so on.
The STEP System has been appreciated by Indian farmers who have achieved record yields for every crop they have used this on. Wheat farmers in Punjab were especially impressed when some of them were not only able to prevent damage to their wheat crop due to the recent unsettled climate but achieve yields 20% in excess of average yields and additional profits of about Rs 6000/acre. Potato farmers who have tried this system obtained record yields, 3 tons/acre more than conventionally raised fields, earning extra profits of Rs 15,000 per acre. Components of the STEP System have been approved even for sale in USA by Federal and State Authorities like the USDA, CDC and CDPR. Samples have been tested by American farmers over the past 18 months on 35 different crops from Maryland to California with the same encouraging results as in India.
For the first time in the world, this system has been tried with success against HLB of citrus, a disease that has defied conventional control measures for over 100 years. HLB is a disease that is wiping out orange groves all over the world. For instance, in Florida this has wiped out half the state’s citrus, over 500,000 acres causing losses of billions of dollars. This disease and its insect vector are endemic in India and threatened to decimate our kinnow crop in North India. Farmers who were familiar with our credentials came to us with this problem 5 years ago and in just 2 years we were able to develop our specific procedure that held out great promise. We were able to restore groves that were on the point of being uprooted. Since then dozens of farmers in North India have taken up our methods and a quiet revolution is taking place in hamlet after tiny hamlet as word gets around and growers develop confidence and take ownership of this new method of farming. The STEP System employs a holistic and integrated approach, allowing farmers to experiment and innovate and is sparing of their mistakes.
Only naturally occurring microbes and plant extracts are used with sparing use of mineral based inputs which are practically non detectable a short while after use. The System has proved itself in the desert conditions of Rajasthan, helping farmers produce record yields of rainfed guar and reducing losses to the cotton crop planted during the blazing heat of April and May when temperatures routinely cross 45*C, at the same time protecting crops from frost damage in winter.
WHAT THE STEP SYSTEM DELIVERS
Helps restore soil biodiversity and pH Helps restore soil structure and moisture holding capacity Helps improve organic content thereby improving nutritional status of topsoil Plants respond by showing improved germination and crop stand as in cotton Improved root growth within days after sowing or transplantation (as seen in this rice crop seen within 8 days after transplantation on 8th July 20150 Healthy roots translate to stronger stems, better tillering which enable the crop to withstand the vagaries of climate much better. (This is exemplified by wheat crops in North India that did not lodge despite unseasonal rainstorms IN April 2015) Significant increase in uptake of nutrients signified by larger leaves which defy senescence and improved photosynthesis. (Observe our trial with the STEP System in fodder Maize with the treated crop towering over the outstretched arm of the farmer and the older leaves, still green when compared with the conventionally raised crop) All these culminate in improved yields of almost every crop. Yields of potato crops treated with the STEP System increased to 25 tons/acre, paddy even in unsettled conditions crossed 2 tons/acre and chillies benefiting from the STEP System are bearing unprecedented yields of 3 tons/acre per picking every 5 -6 days. Orange groves devastated by HLB and ACP have recovered to yield between 12 – 18.5 tons per acre within a year. Farmers who have used the system report a significant reduction of the need to apply chemical fungicides as the crops seem to be healthy and better able to resist common soil borne diseases. Increased bee populations and other beneficials like spiders and lacewings are also reported by farmers. For instance in Kinnows, farmers who have used the STEP System for two years have reported a reduction in the number of insecticidal sprays for controlling the citrus psyllid, from 9 sprays earlier to just 3 sprays. The thick, dark green and glossy foliage indicating a near complete recovery from the dreaded HLB. An enterprising farmer has even taken up bee keeping near his vegetable farm after learning that our system is eco friendly and does not harm bees. This farmer has reduced his cost of plant protection by 50% ever since he discovered the STEP System from Rs 25,000 per acre to just Rs 12,000 per acre while doubling the yields of his chillies. The STEP System represents the first steps to the alternate path to sustainable agriculture, helping us meet the needs of our growing population with a much smaller environmental footprint. Helping Mother Nature to help us and reducing the crushing burden on our farmers and our planet.
Atlas need not shrug!!