With the changing climatic conditions, water from rain is becoming more unreliable. It is in such a situation that the agricultural sector will have to feed more people and have very little water to spare as there is also pressure for increasing water demand from other sectors.
“To get more crop per drop of water, there is need to adopt techniques by which farmers can increase their rice production by using less underground water for irrigation and other resources,” said Ravi Kumar Sabharwal, chief agriculture officer, Gurdaspur, on Thursday, while inspecting the field trials to evaluate different methods of rice cultivation in the context of climatic change, at Thanewal village of Gurdaspur block.
He said the direct seeding rice and system of rice intensification (SRI) were two methods of rice cultivation by which the natural resource could be saved. He said the studies by different farm scientists showed that the SRI used up to 30-40% less water per hectare.
Sabharwal said the SRI had been validated in Gurdaspur by the department of agriculture for the past nine years, which showed that 20-25% yield of paddy per hectare could be increased while using 75% less seed and 30-40% underground water for irrigation and there was no use of weedicide and minimum use of pesticide and fungicide.
He said that in the traditional cultivation of paddy crop, about 1,900-5,000 litres of water was being used to produce 1 kg of rice. He said the SRI was an agroecological method for increasing the productivity of rice by changing the way the plants, soil and water were managed.
He said the purpose of the SRI was to enable small and marginal farmers with limited resources to increase their production and income without relying on external sources.
Sabharwal said, “This year’s troubled monsoon has been a cause of concern for farmers. In the climate change context, the SRI plants have shown greater adaptability to both droughts and floods. So why is this potential not being harnessed?”
He said the declining supply of underground water would be a major problem in the years ahead, due to the increasing demand for non-agricultural purposes and uncertainty and reduction of water supply. Punjab had already exhausted its upper layer of groundwater and farmers were now using high-powered pumps to reach supplies lower in the soil horizon, he added.
Sabharwal said that in the traditional cultivation of rice, seedlings were transplanted after 25-30 days and fields were kept continuously inundated, thinking it would increase productivity.
A high level of chemical fertilisers, insecticides, pesticides and herbicides were applied, contributing to air, water and soil pollution with the result of soil degradation and a decline in air and water quality. On the other hand, the SRI did not require continuous flooding of fields, but required water only when the crop needed it, that is, when the field was relatively dry and ready for the next irrigation. He said that based on the performance of the yield under the SRI, there was a great potential for increasing the yield of rice in the country.