Plasticulture saves 50-70 per cent consumption of water and 30-40 per cent of fertilisers. It has potential to push sustainable growth in agriculture sector. While addressing the challenge of water shortage and drought, it would address the issue of food security for growing population. MOHD MUSTAQUIM reports on the potential role of plastics in agricultural practices
With only 2.4 per cent of cultivable land and 4 per cent of water resources, India is feeding around 17 per cent of global population. The erratic monsoon, lack of conservation of water, drying irrigation facilities have together created problems of water shortage and fast depleting groundwater in some parts of the country. It unlikely puts food security at risk, especially for the lower strata of people.
Currently, India cultivates on 141.3 million hectare land. Out of which, according to the Government’s claims, 45 per cent area has irrigation facilities though World Bank report varies with only 35 per cent area is irrigated in the country. Rest of the cultivable land does not have any irrigation facility and dependent on rain. India receives three-fourth rainfall during the monsoon season only. In the past few years, the erratic monsoon has increased the problems in the agriculture sector especially in the monsoon dependent rainfed areas. The groundwater table is depleting very fast in some regions. As per the reports, the water table has fallen more than four meters in past two decades in some regions. Some northern states, due to over exploiting of groundwater are facing the fallout of Green Revolution. The Haryana Government is accepting that water table in the state is depleting 0.33 meter every year. As per estimates, if the steps are not taken, by 2025 about a third of India would be under severe water crisis.
To feed the growing population, agriculture has to be sustainable – which is possible through the sustainable utilisation of natural resources. In this regard, Plasticulture – use of plastic in agriculture – comes as a resort to tackle the challenges of water shortage, by efficient utilisation. The use of plastic in agriculture, horticulture, water management and foodgrains warehousing has potential to tackle challenges of water shortage, post harvest management of foodgrains and horticulture crops.
According to a recently released FICCI-Tata Strategic Management Group (TSMG) report, micro irrigation alone has potential to save 50-70 per cent of water. Besides, it helps increase 30-100 per cent farm production. While various forms of micro-irrigation techniques such as drip irrigation and sprinkler irrigation help use water efficiently, it is also a medium of using fertilisers judiciously.
The National Committee on Plasticulture Application in Horticulture (NCPAH) figures state that drip irrigation has potential to save 40-70 per cent water, depending upon the crop; sprinkler irrigation can save 30-50 per cent; plastic mulching has potential to save 40-60 per cent; greenhouse technology saves 60-85 per cent water; further these technologies can help increase fertiliser use efficiency by 20-40 per cent, 30-40 per cent, 20-25 per cent and 30-35 per cent, respectively.
Though the Government has taken various steps for the promotion of Plasticulture but it is still at nascent stage in India. The NCPAH figures further say that till now around 3,00,000 hectare cultivable land has been converted under drip irrigation, over 2,00,000 hectare under sprinkler irrigation and 20,000 hectare under greenhouse protected farming.
The shortage of water, lower productivity and inefficient use of water and fertiliser leading to higher carbon footprint can all be taken care by efficient use of Plasticulture. Hence, it is a viable solution for India to launch second Green Revolution.
Highlighting the benefits of Plasticulture, Hukmdev Narayan Yadav, Chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, says, “Indian plastics industry should promote sustainable development by investing in technologies that protects environment and stimulates growth while balancing economic needs and financial constraints.”
The FICCI-TSMG report highlights that the importance of adopting various Plasticulture methods will play crucial role in order to bring further prosperity to the Indian agricultural sector. The report estimates that the agriculture output can be increased by Rs 68,000 crore by using Plasticulture applications in all pre and post-harvest requirements.
Manish Panchal, Senior Practice Head - Chemical & Energy, TSMG, says, “The increasing population is raising concerns on the food security in India thereby putting a pressure on the agriculture sector to increase the production levels with limited resources by improving efficiency and reducing wastage. The Government should make the micro irrigation mandatory for all those crops which are water guzzling.”
Experts believe that application of plastic in agriculture has the potential to transform Indian agriculture and to bring in the ‘Second Green Revolution’ if tapped to its maximum potential. They say that the industry needs to set targets for bringing in efficient technologies and for this the industry must invest more in R&D.
Shakil P Ahammed, Joint Secretary, Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers Welfare, says, “Greater use of plastic in agriculture can help to a great extent to achieve up to 50 per cent of the intended targets in agriculture.The wider use of Plasticulture can reduce the loss of harvest and can increase the efficiency thus contributing more to the country’s gross domestic productivity (GDP).”
The FICCI-TSMG report points out that the Government needs to create an environment by promoting the Plasticulture by easy and efficient sanction of subsidies and promoting investments by allocating a share of agriculture budget to R&D. It is important to leverage the knowledge bank, which exists in the Indian institutes and tacit understanding of extension services today, to develop tailored solutions as per the local conditions and while also incorporate learning from other economies. The concentrated efforts would ensure that the growth rate remains sustainable in following years, as the current penetration level is quite low. With a systematic industry approach supported by policies and government, a second Green Revolution could be triggered.
Sujoy Choudhury , General Manager (Petrochemicals) , Indian Oil Corporation, says, “Plasticulture is going to play dominant role in the growth of horticulture sector. Its applications such as micro irrigation, mulching and protected greenhouse cultivation are going to be very critical in the coming years. It would help achieve the Government’s target to double horticulture production in next five years.”
The plastic mulching is seen as pollutant in agronomy and there are associated problems with the adoption, implementation and recovery of the plastic from the field. Plastics are made of PVC which do not degrade in soil. Even if it degrades, it leads to formation of hazardous chemicals, polluting the atmosphere. Its recycling is also restricted as the mulch gets contaminated with soil or agrochemicals.
The environmental challenge can be tackled by the usage of bio-degradable and light weight plastics. These types of plastics grades mineralise fully into carbon dioxide and water. Commercially available mulches are made from plant starch, however, due to the brittleness of the starch, it must be blended with other polymers.
The Economic Survey 2015-16 has specifically emphasised on the water efficient technologies. The Survey stresses on the need of expanding the acreage under irrigation along with adoption of appropriate technologies for efficient utilisation of water through suitable pricing. First, adoption of irrigation technologies which improve efficiency in the use of water is imperative in a scenario where flood irrigation has resulted in wastage of water. Second, focus on efficient irrigation technologies is owing to climate change and indiscriminate wastage of water in agriculture and other uses. The motto ‘more crop per drop’ to improve productivity which can ensure food and water security in the future.
India is at a crucial juncture when it needs to tackle the issue of food security by optimising the use of resources, which traditionally has been taken for granted. On the demand side, the Government along with the industry need to make aware the farming community about the possible benefits and subsidies available. It would help in the adoption of technology at the ground level.
On the supply side, efforts need to go in creating the awareness through demonstration, build credibility by post-installation management, technology advancement to bring down the capital cost and develop viable bio-degradable alternatives thereby improving the productivity while reducing the carbon footprint.