Ecological Management of Rice Agriculture in Southern India

Anantanarayanan Raman


As viable alternatives to industrialized commercial agricultural practice, diverse agricultural-practice models such as integrated agriculture, organic agriculture, permaculture, are currently available, which aim at achieving sustainability and environmental security. Because plentiful literature exists on these alternate models, in this paper I will attempt to discuss a few of the agroecological paradigms, which are vital for an effective management of ecosystems, rice ecosystems included, paving the way to sustainable management considering southern India as the intended landscape. One loss of high significance in the rice context of southern India is the rapid disappearance of native-rice varieties of India, because they have been steadily replaced with high-yielding varieties. Disregarding the associated costs of external inputs and germplasm qualities such as loss of non-grain biomass and desirable traits (e.g., tolerance to disease agents and pests, drought, and floods), southern-Indian farmers got blown away by the immediate and bounteous yields offered by the high-yielding varieties. Most importantly, changed management practices have led to extensive deterioration of the soil and landscape. However, the situation does not appear so dismal. Farmers in isolated pockets of southern India still preserve and use native-rice germplasms. Although rice is customarily raised as a monocultural crop, some of the trials indicate that it could be integrated with trees, which, however, need to be fast growing and nitrogen fixing. Rice is presented as a high water-consuming crop, because of spillover and percolation. Impact of rice cultivation on natural resources and water-based ecosystems is twofold: water withdrawal for paddy systems results in diminishing water availability for natural ecosystems (e.g., wetlands); and, rice ecosystems are responsible for the creation of human-made wetland systems. Maintaining biological diversity is the key for productive and sustainable agriculture: rice paddies being no exception. Integrated rice farming is one best practice that ensures how people can live in harmony with and in a respectful manner with Nature. System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is an innovative concept involving a combination of field observations of rice performance and a series of casual trials done over a decade supplemented by an accidental-early planting. Systematic efforts in rice transgenics are being made throughout the rice-growing world. GM technology is being portrayed as the magic bullet for remedying poverty, disease, and hunger; however, concerns prevail with regard to their safety to both environment and humans. We are living in a fast era; at least we think that speed and rapid turnarounds of events are the norms of today. Have we been led to think and talk about sustainability and initiate measures to practice it as much as we can, because our lives and actions are driven by speed? Is speed the root cause of the present malady, which has led us to think of modest slowing down through sustainable practices? Is the slow-design way out? Is sustainable rice agriculture in southern India an exception to this thinking?  


Agroecological Paradigms; Southern India; Rice Agriculture; Sustainability; Management


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