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AGRICULTURE: THE UNFORTUNATE TRUTH
8/7/2020 12:07:32 AM

Dr. Parveen Kumar, Dr. R. K. Arora

We need agriculture to feed the billions of population on this planet. Agriculture thus is a human need; not a human want. Agriculture all across the world has made many rapid strides and this has been made possible due to various interventions. This sector is a major contributor to the GDP of many economies. In India, the green revolution of the seventies turned the country from a ‘begging bowl to a bread basket’. India achieved many distinctions and many firsts in agriculture and allied sectors. This helped us to decrease the poverty rate in the country and to ensure food security for all. But, agriculture also came up with some unfortunate truth. The sad and unfortunate part of this development in agriculture all over the globe was that human activities lead to the clearing of land by felling of trees so as to pave the way for agricultural activities; the threat to our environment in the form of land degradation, climate change, pollution of land, air and water; the poisoning of the entire food chains leading to various deadly diseases in human beings and many other adverse effects associated with this sector.
Agriculture: a dangerous occupation: Let us take the case of United States where agriculture is also called the backbone of the country. A few years ago, agriculture ranked eighth as one of the most dangerous occupations. Today agriculture ranks as fourth dangerous occupation. According to the U.S Bureau of Labour Statistic, fatalities and injuries among agricultural workers are on the rise. Farm workers are 800 per cent more likely to dies on the job than in other industries. The National Safety Council of the U.S reports that of the about 3.1 million peoples who work on America’s 2.3 million farms and ranches, 1300 die each year and 120,000 are injured. This means for every 100,000 farmers. About 25 die each year and equipments injure another 243 and five per cent of these injuries result in permanent disabilities.
Clearing land for agriculture purposes: Clearing land for agricultural purposes by felling of trees; particularly the slash and burn techniques that were used in densely vegetated areas proved devastating that destroyed the variety available in that area. This consequently paved the way for monoculture driving out all the native flora and fauna and forcing a mass evacuation of anything living in the area, leaving behind a desolate and destroyed wasteland.
Man made fires: The man made fires that create havoc on this planet is another unfortunate truth of agriculture. The 2015 fires in Indonesia, that were the result of slash and burn technique for clearing the way for palm oil and paper agriculture. They were so severe that they were called a ‘crime against humanity’.
Emissions from the sector: Agriculture is a sector which contributes to the climate change as well as is affected by the climate change. The sector contributes to the climate change mainly through emission of green house gases like methane, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide. Methane gets produced during the microbial decomposition of organic matter under anaerobic conditions. Rice fields when kept submerged in water become potential source of methane production. Livestock is another potential source of methane emission. The process of enteric fermentation in the ruminants also liberates methane in the atmosphere. Burning of crop residues as is seen in states of Punjab and Haryana is also a source of methane emission besides a source of pollution of the atmosphere. Similarly carbon dioxide, another potent green house gas results from burning of fuel in machinery during various agricultural operations, burning of crop residues and biological decomposition of soil organic matter.
Food Safety: Making safe food available is also an important aspect for ensuring food security. But unfortunately, there are serious issues with the food safety too. The World Health Organization states that each year, food borne illnesses cause almost one in 10 people on the planet to fall ill. Some 420,000 deaths a year are believed to result from food borne illnesses, a significant proportion of these in children less than five years old. Similarly contaminated food causes some 230,000 diarrheal deaths a year. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report from 2011, which focused on the United States estimated that one in six people in the US is a victim of food borne illness, with 3,000 related deaths each year. If we were to simply extrapolate the CDC data to the globe that would suggest that approximately a billion people suffer from some variety of food borne illness each year. FAO also estimates that 4.5 billion people are exposed to aflatoxin annually, many of them having consumed food considered unfit for onward distribution. The way we look at unsafe food, and at food waste, must change
Burning of crop residues: Burning of crop residues is a common problem in Punjab, Haryana and parts of Uttar Pradesh. It is spreading more frequently in other parts of country. Wheat stubble burning is a relatively new issue which started with mechanized harvesting using combine harvesters. According to an official report, more than 500 million tonnes of Parali (crop residues) is produced annually in the country, cereal crops (rice, wheat, maize and millets) account for 70 per cent of the total crop residue. Of this, 34 per cent comes from rice and 22 per cent from wheat crops, most of which is burnt on the farm. According to an estimate, 20 million tonnes of rice stubble is produced every year in Punjab alone, 80 per cent of which is burnt. A study estimates that crop residue burning released 149.24 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.
(CO2), over 9 million tonnes of carbon monoxide (CO), 0.25 million tonnes of oxides of sulphur (SOX), 1.28 million tonnes of particulate matter and 0.07 million tonnes of black carbon. These directly contribute to environmental pollution, and are also responsible for the haze in Delhi and melting of Himalayan glaciers.
The heat from burning paddy straw penetrates 1 centimeter into the soil, elevating the temperature to 33.8 to 42.2 degree Celsius. This kills the bacterial and fungal populations critical for a fertile soil. Burning of crop residue causes damage to other micro-organisms present in the upper layer of the soil as well as its organic quality. Due to the loss of ‘friendly’ pests, the wrath of ‘enemy’ pests has increased and as a result, crops are more prone to disease. The solubility capacity of the upper layers of soil has also been reduced. According to a report, one tonne stubble burning leads to a loss of 5.5 kilogram nitrogen, 2.3 kg phosphorus, 25 kg potassium and more than 1 kg of sulphur all soil nutrients, besides organic carbon.
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