Tuesday, 23 July, 2024

Farming method that harms diversity


By Arun GC

Growing uniformity or diversity? There are around three hundred thousand plant species on earth which are edible. However, we are growing just less than 200 species for our food. More importantly, among 200 crop species, rice, maize and wheat jointly account for about 60 percent. On top of that, more than 75 per cent of our foods are coming from 12 plant species and five animal breeds. It clearly indicates that we are contracting our food diversity which has implications on biodiversity along with our own health. Furthermore, it is governing our agriculture system too.

The choice of either monoculture- having single species under consideration, or polyculture - growing more than one species in a given piece of land, is greatly influenced by the expectation of higher yield. Traditionally, our fields were the synonyms to polyculture, where our ancestors used to grow many crop species in a given piece of land to meet their daily requirements - perhaps by understanding the ecosystem services. However, recent advocacy for monoculture is highly enticed by the anticipation of higher yield, greater profitability, trouble-free management, the potentiality of greater mechanisation and most probably tempted by seed monopolisation - especially in the case of hybrid and genetically modified seeds.
Commercialisation and profitability became the major thrusts of current agriculture development models - almost universally. And, we have not been able to withstand this global wave. Consequently, paddy fields surrounded by soybean, maize plant propping the various beans, and many others are almost a distant memory for us.
Loss of agrobiodiversity not only causes erosion of the genetic variability rather we may lose various local pieces of knowledge, skills, cultures and food system related to those crops. On many occasions, the loss of genetic diversity - the most important component of biodiversity, is irreversible.
In the past decades, to feed the ever-growing population in the world, monoculture is proposed as a panacea. However, diversity among the species and between the species are equally important for sustainability. Uniformity in species provides ample source of food and shelter for invaders, which consequently become omnipotent against crop species. Some empirical researches have demonstrated higher yield and nutrient contents in intercropping. Intercropping is also found contributing to improve soil health, which is pivotal for sustainable food security.
Monoculture has very limited to no ability to recycle nutrients from various depths of the soil, to tackle various diseases and pests, and ultimately consistent yield in the long run. Consequently, more agrochemicals will require to achieve a desirable level of production which ultimately causes several environmental and health externalities - widely reported and confirmed by various scientists from around the world.

Bees: our amigo
Since long, bees were domesticated and many of us beyond the 30s may still have the sweetness of the home-produced fresh honey on our memories. When scientists around the globe became successful to establish a relationship between the productivity of crops and the role of bees along with the continuous decline of the bee population, calls have been made to conserve and promote bees.
Declining bee population has been contributed by mono-cropping along with the use of several agrochemicals in the so-called modern but unsustainable agricultural practices. In the recent development approaches - honey bees were considered as just apiculture which produces honey, wax, and other similar products, however, several other ecological services of the bees were concealed - knowingly or unknowingly. More importantly, it is considered a serious threat to global food and nutrition security.
Science and technology, in principle, is for life. In the same way, agricultural science and scientists are for farming. Unfortunately, in practice, it seems just reverse. Consequently, for the convenience of the agricultural scientists, farming has been transposed from poly-cropping to mono-cropping. Profitability not necessarily becomes beneficial and sustainable. The externalities of mono-cropping have been well documented. Therefore, before getting too late, let's start to conserve and promote diversity - in and around the field, which directly buttress food security, eradicating hunger and promote sustainable agriculture.