For the last week, Manipuri papers have been carrying regular updates on a mysterious “earth crack” in Kankpokpi district in the hills. It appeared on the morning of June 4, leading to a panic about possible landslides. A resident of the area described how they felt a sudden “earth movement” and their house nearly collapsed.
The crack originated below J Songtun village and then spread towards Kalikhola village. By June 5, 11 houses had collapsed while 19 others were on the brink of destruction. Angry fissures also passed through surrounding paddy fields and roads, destroying them too. By June 8, the crack had widened and affected structures in a five kilometre radius, damaging water pipelines and electric posts. Two water bodies had formed near Kalikhola village.
About 250 people have been moved to relief camps, where they have to make do with scanty water and electricity. After a visit to the area, Manipur Tribal Development Minister N Kayisii provided Rs 3 lakh in financial assistance to those displaced by the fissure. After principal secretary, relief and disaster management, inspected the fissure, along with other Kangpokpi officials, Rs 20 lakh was sanctioned as relief.
The causes of the crack are a mystery. A team from the Geological Survey of India also went to study the crack. Briefly, there was a rumour claiming that a dormant volcano in the Koubru range was showing signs of life, causing the ground to shift. But the story has since been dismissed: similar rumours had floated up in the state assembly after landslides in 1989, this report claims.
According to Th Ranjit, associate professor at a science college in the state, it was a result of the recent bout of heavy rains in deforested hills with rich soil cover. Earth cracks have appeared in several parts of the world before, in South Africa and Wyoming and the middle of the Arizona desert. At times, it was attributed to the shifting of the earth’s tectonic plates. Some were called sinkholes. In Arizona, it was believed that the withdrawal of ground water had left a void which made the earth cave in.
Meanwhile, the geological curiosity had drawn hordes of visitors from nearby villages in the Manipur hills. The district administration may impose Section 144 to keep them away from the hazardous area.
How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future
India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.
Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.
Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.
The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.
Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.
The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.
Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.
For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.
The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.
Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.
In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.
While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.
Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.
One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.
Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.
Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.
This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.