India ranks as the second-largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world (after China). In FY-2021, the entire production of vegetables in India was estimated to be roughly 196 million metric tonnes. This contributed as a source of income to about 58% of the total population. Nevertheless, agriculture is an important sector of the Indian economy as it contributes about 18.8% of the country’s Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2021-22. These figures clearly show that agriculture is the backbone of our economy. All of our fruits and vegetables are grown through conventional soil-based farming. However, it has its own set of limitations.
Harmful for Nature
- With the rapid increase in our population, agricultural production will need to expand by up to 70% by 2050 to meet the food demands of the people.
- On the other hand, due to our current farming practices, the amount of land available for irrigation is decreasing.
- By 2030, more than 30 million farmers in India won't have access to any fertile land.
To cope with this problem,
- Forests are being cut down to make space for farming, resulting in soil erosion and biodiversity loss.
- Fertilisers are being used to increase yield, which is a temporary solution that leads to soil degradation in the long run.
Water -Did you know that India has access to only 4% of the total freshwater available? Out of which 80% gets used for agricultural activities like irrigation and pesticide spray.
A lot of water is being wasted because of poor irrigation techniques, which involve using water from rivers, ground, tanks, and other well-based systems. Additionally, a lot of water gets wasted due to evaporation and climatic changes. To meet the agricultural needs, farmers are becoming over-dependent on groundwater, which has caused the depletion of the groundwater table.
Air -The air we breathe is getting polluted due to soil-based farming. But how? Use of fertilisers & pesticides, use of farm machinery, soil disturbance, and residue management are major contributors to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Current farming methods contribute to about 18% of such emissions. A majority of them occur at the primary production stage.
- Ammonia is majorly emitted from livestock management, mineral fertilisers, and the burning of crop residues.
- Fossil fuel combustion and the burning of crop residues are the reasons for carbon dioxide emissions.
- Nitrous oxide emissions are contributed by the use of fertilisers, manure, and crop residues.
Harmful for You
- In traditional farming, chemical pesticides are commonly used to control various pests and infectious disease carriers. In 2021, approximately 60,000 metric tonnes of chemical pesticides were consumed in India. That’s a lot, right?
Such excessive use of pesticides leads to the production of low-quality produce that is directly consumed by the general public. Although these pesticides are necessary for the crop, they are extremely hazardous to the human body. Some of the serious consequences of eating pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables include respiratory problems, reproductive issues, and an increased risk of cancer.
- And that's not all! Consumption of pesticide-laden vegetables has a negative impact on the quality of life as well. According to reports, 33 lakh children in India are malnourished. This has affected different age groups in different ways. For instance, children with malnutrition suffer from anemia, anxiety, and even their oral health is affected. Adults suffer from diabetes, hypertension, and poor sleep, which affect their productivity.
How does the Climate Affect Farming?
Similar to land, water, and air, climatic conditions like temperature, rainfall, and winds also affect the crop. Various climatic conditions allow for the development of a wide range of crops in different regions. However, the climate is not always favourable for farmers. Changes in the climate, viz., extremely high or low temperatures, unexpected rainfall, and windstorms, ruin the crop and delay the harvest, which eventually affects the yield. All these factors create price fluctuations in the vegetable market, which makes it difficult for people with low purchasing power to buy such vegetables.
Finding Sustainable Solutions
People from all over the world have been trying to find solutions to these problems. As a result, organic farming and controlled environmental agriculture (CEA) were developed.
Problems associated with soil-based farming, such as the usage of pesticides and the production of poor quality vegetables, can be solved with organic farming. Instead of harmful chemicals, biofertilizers are used to preserve the quality of land as well as to produce healthier and more nutritious vegetables.
But, the availability of land required for organic farming still remains a huge problem. It is also very expensive, requires technical knowledge to manage the fields, and the produce is not affordable for the general public. As a result, the issue of sustainability remains unsolved.
Another alternative to soil-based farming is using coco-peat as a medium to grow the crops. Soil is not used at all as a growing medium, thereby terminating the risk of soil-borne infections. Coco-peat is extracted from the husk of coconut, making it the best use of a waste product. It offers a variety of advantages, as it is renewable in nature, has good water holding capacity, and is easy to handle.
But due to the increase in demand for coco-peat, there has been an increase in prices as well. Some suppliers with poor knowledge of coco-peat are offering low-quality products which may not be suitable.
Nutrient Film Technique, or commonly known as NFT, is a new-generation growing technology that focuses on growing exotic vegetables and leafy greens in urban spaces. However, there is little consumption of leafy vegetables in India. Apart from that, the NFT growing technique does not support the cultivation of fruiting vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, and other Indian vegetables. Due to limited space for growing and temperature restrictions, it is quite impossible to grow Indian staple vegetables in NFT.
So, even after years of research, a sustainable farming method still needs to be developed.
As said by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), “To raise yields and save the environment, while also tackling a host of other challenges to agriculture in the 21st century, climate change being chief among them, we need to produce more with less: a major shift is needed towards sustainable intensification of agriculture."
And that's where eekifoods comes in. We are on a mission to develop a truly sustainable farming method for us and for our future generations. All our research in areas like plant sciences and farm automation is directed towards achieving one single goal: to develop a farming method that is “Good for Nature, Good for you.”