Traditional agriculture has one main focus: increase the crop yield and boost the economy. This narrative is pushed forward at all costs. This includes use of synthetic fertilizers, genetically modified crops, injecting antibiotics in livestock and practicing monocropping.
What is monocropping?
Monocropping is the oldest method employed to generate food for the population. This involves growing the same crop at a stretch for hundreds of acres. This is done everywhere around the globe. In India, we have 43.86 million hectares of land under the cultivation of a single crop: rice.
Why is it practiced?
Monocropping is practiced for a variety of reasons. It is convenient for the farmers and promises a huge yield of a single crop. This means they can specialize in one crop, focus on the needs of only that crop and find buyers for a single crop. This is a lot easier than working on multiple different crops. The short-term benefits of monocropping sound promising.
Long term effects of monocropping
In the long term, however, this leads to absolute depletion of soil nutrients. It makes the soil structure weak and takes the same nutrients from the soil year after year. This will inevitably lead to soil exhaustion and once that occurs, we need to add additional nutrients.
An analysis with rice
Rice, for example, consumes hefty quantities of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. And when we plant such huge quantities of rice, it is only obvious that the soil will not be able to provide it. The dosage is as follows:
|Nitrogen (kg/ha)||Phosphorous (kg/ha)||Potassium (kg/ha)||Plant Type|
When we take such large quantities of nutrients and apply it to the soil, many problems start occurring.
Two most obvious effects
- Leaching: When nutrients seep underground and mix with the groundwater and poison it.
- Salt formation: Excess fertilizer usage makes the soil extremely saline and incapable of growing anything in future.
A toxic cycle
And these are problems arising due to monocropping alone. If we take other facets of conventional agriculture more problems begin to pop up. This is extremely unsustainable. As yield decreases, more fertilizers are added, more the soil is ruined. And as the soil is damaged, the yield only further decreases leading to more nutrient addition; a never-ending poisonous cycle. At this rate, food prices will skyrocket and global hunger will only keep increasing
The global countdown
This also leads to massive soil pollution and with the Metronome at Manhattan counting down our days until climate change is irreversible, it is high time to shift. Seven years left as of 2020, we don’t have a lot of time.
Stay tuned for the next article to know how organic agriculture may be the savior.