Regenerative Farming

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    • Recently, the experience of farmers in Madhya Pradesh who follow regenerative farming methods finds the reduced need for frequent irrigation which conserves water and energy. 

    What is Regenerative Agriculture?

    • Regenerative agriculture is a way of farming that focuses on soil health.
      • When soil is healthy, it produces more food and nutrition, stores more carbon and increases biodiversity. 
    • It includes the use of natural inputs, minimum-till, mulching, multi-cropping and sowing of diverse and native varieties
      • Natural inputs help improve soil structure and its organic carbon content.
      • Planting water-guzzling and water-efficient crops together or in alternating cycles reduces the frequency and intensity of irrigation
        • They conserve energy used by irrigation aids such as pumps.
    • In India, the Union government is promoting regenerative agriculture with an aim to reduce the application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and to lower input costs.

    Why is regenerative agriculture needed?

    • Soil degradation: Agriculture today, including the use of heavy machinery, fertilizers and pesticides to maximize food production, is contributing to soil degradation and loss.
      • Within 50 years, there may not be enough soil left to feed the world, according to the regenerative farming organization Regeneration International.
    • Climate Change: Intensive farming also churns up CO2 naturally stored in soil and releases it into the atmosphere. This contributes to the global warming that is driving climate change.
      • Agriculture accounts for over a third of greenhouse gas emissions globally, according to the United Nations (UN).
    • Extreme events: Damaged soil and eroded land can make environments more vulnerable to extreme weather events like flooding, which are increasing in frequency and intensity as the Earth warms.

    Potential Benefits of Regenerative Agriculture

    • Multiple benefits: Regenerative farming can improve:
      • Crop yields
      • Volume of crops produced
      • Health of soil
      • Soil’s ability to retain water
      • Reducing soil erosion.
    • Feeding people: Improved yields will help feed the world as the global population grows.
    • Environmental benefits: Regenerative farming can also reduce emissions from agriculture and turn the croplands and pastures, which cover up to 40% of Earth’s ice-free land area, into carbon sinks. 
      • These are environments that naturally absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. 

    Related Terms

    • Rice intensification: It is a method in which seeds are spaced at wider distances and organic manure is applied to improve yields.
    • Zero-budget natural farming: Also, known as Subhash Palekar Natural Farming, emphasizes on preparing and using inputs made from crop residue, cow dung and urine, fruits, among other things. 
      • The studies show irrigation frequency and energy consumption in natural farming decreases over time.

    Major Challenges associated with Agriculture 

    • Groundwater: The Green Revolution of the 1960s pulled India from the brink of starvation, transformed the country’s ability to feed itself and turned it into a big food exporter. But the revolution also made India the world’s biggest extractor of groundwater.
      • According to the UN’s World Water Development Report, 2022, the country extracts 251 cubic km or more than a quarter of the world’s groundwater withdrawal each year.
      • 90 per cent of this water is used for agriculture.
    • No gain in production: A study by the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, shows that over 39 million hectares (ha) of area in the country under wheat, rice and maize have not shown improvement in the past decade.
    • Degrading soil health: A 2022 report by Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), State of Bio Fertilizers and Organic Fertilizers in India, shows the severe and widespread deficiency of organic carbon and micronutrients in Indian soils.
    • Lack of scientific study: Civil society organizations and farmers do not have the capacity to conduct long-term studies.

    Way forward/ Suggestions 

    • Sustainable farming: according to the UN’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2022 if agriculture is to continue to feed the country’s undernourished population of 224.5 million then it needs to work in harmony with nature, not against it.
    • Chemical-less farming: Farmers, activists and agricultural research organizations across the world are developing methods of chemical-less farming which uses natural inputs and cultivation practices such as crop rotation and diversification which fall under the wider umbrella of regenerative agriculture.
    • Soil Health: According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, healthy soil helps in better water storage, transmission, filtering and reduces agricultural run-off.
      • Studies have established that one per cent increase in soil organic matter (an indicator of soil health) per 0.4 ha increases water storage potential by more than 75,000 liters.
    • Global practice: This practice is used in Latin America, the United States, Canada, Africa, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
    • Application in India: States like Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim and Gujarat have introduced schemes to promote it.
    • Research: concerted research is required to understand the role of regenerative agriculture in saving water. The scientific findings will further help inform policy measures and future initiatives.
    • The National Project on Organic Farming is the country’s longest experiment on the practice, ongoing since 2004 and conducted by ICAR-Indian Institute of Farming System Research to promote organic farming. 

    Source: DTE