What price bumper harvests?
The misconception that artificial fertilizer applications give rise
to consistent high yields is very apparent now. Bumper yields in coconut
make growers feel all very smug about it but it has been growers'
experience that such good news is only temporary. Sooner than later crop
yields tend to decline.
Weedicides and pesticides application on coconut land have and all
other ruined both soil and biodiversity which otherwise contribute
heavily to increased productivity. In India studies have shown that in
the long term, shade grown coffee plantations can be more productive
than their full sun counterparts. The full sun plantation may achieve
very high productivity levels for short periods but this requires high
inputs of fertilizer and weedicides according to some Indian
agriculturists. Generally, however, productivity declines after a
relatively short period and trees must be replaced. In contrast, for
example, coffee grown under shade remains productive over long time.
Support for productivity comes from interspersed trees, often
leguminous varieties that supply a portion of the hydrogen requirements.
In addition, the shade controls weed growth reducing the need for
herbicide input and can also contribute to disease prevention.
In addition to reduced productivity in the long term arising out of
inorganic chemical application, damage brought on the soil itself is
tremendous. In both instances growers are compelled to grow short-term
crop varieties which unlike the older plantations are genetically
manoeuvred in a manner necessitating inorganic input decided by external
Thus we see the constant demand for inorganic chemicals on the rise
with inter-national chemical companies standing to gain.
A glaring example in damaged crop varieties, is paddy. Where have all
the 'Pachcha Perumal,' 'Heenatihaal' and what not gone. Limited
quantities of such today lie not in fields but neatly lodged in gene
banks of to the Agriculture Department.
As this writer researched this subject's present status it was
revealed how supposedly improved varieties have come in for purposes of
"greater output" - a short-term reality and long-term myth.
The latest victim in this "greater output" exercise is the Red Lady
papaw variety which has now been completely effaced and replaced by the
exceptionally sweet yellow-coloured local papaw.
The fate befallen this local papaw variety is akin to what happened
to Sri Lanka's traditional rice varieties. Many farmer attempts to
cultivate traditional varieties has ended in failure. The soil is most
irresponsive to its growth due to damage done by constant inorganic
chemical application. Not a single paddy field in this country today
retains soil originality and whether we like it or not we are compelled
into inorganic chemical usage for all crops without the exception of
even a single.
There is also a counter argument put forward which advocates the
current trend in the agricultural layout. Traditional varieties it is
said are most unconducive to feed rising numbers.
So which way do we go? Plantations with greater productivity in the
short-term risking long-term effects on such or the traditional
varieties with reduced output unable to feed the teeming millions.
Having arrived at such crossroads the time has come for sustainability
A paradigm shift from agri-business to agro-sustainability, from
pecuniary gain to sustenance is the hour's need.
Weaning even small time farmers away from inorganic chemicals is not
going to be an easy task for all of them including even home gardeners
firmly uphold the need to apply such. Its easy accessibility all neatly
packeted is yet another reason for its preference over organic manure,
the collection of which is time-consuming.
It is here that organizational intervention is needed in an
islandwide collection of organic manure from large scale dairies similar
to what supermarkets do in collecting glut produce. Small time dairy
owners could even deliver their collection at collecting centres on
their way to delivering milk.
Considering the smallness in size of this country soil contamination
is most swift. To ignite and spread is not a herculean task unlike in a
vast geographical expanse.
Farmer awareness on weed controlling and nutrient supplying plants
and creepers such as glydicidia and Buttala, need to be popularised.
Seeking magic numbers in crop production alone would not suffice
considering its long-term ill-effects on the soil and environment.