The second approach in maintaining soil moisture in arid lands is by reducing soil evaporation by applying certain methods. This is important because after securing or preserving the water in the soil of the root zone of plants, it is important to stop this water for maximum time as arid lands or arid agriculture has the characteristics of low rainfall frequency. So till the next rainfall, the previous water of rain should be stopped from evaporation.
There are various methods to reduce evaporation of moisture from soil in arid agriculture. These are;
This method of soil moisture preservation can reduce the evaporation by 50 percent roughly. In this technique, a surface of mulch of soil is created by giving a shallow cultivation. The deepness of soil mulch is 5-8 cm. The advantage of shallow polughing or harrowing helps in breaking capillary link of lower soil with surface soil. Applying this technique is advice by the agriculture experts after every rainfall.
It is an artificial sort of a mulching technique. In this technique, straws of crop residues are used instead of soil. It has been proved scientifically that straw mulching reduces soil moisture up to 50-75mm. This is technique is widely practiced in arid lands by the farmers after wheat harvesting.
This is a new technique and is under experimentation. Evaporation of soil water is a severe problem in arid agriculture system and the above two techniques though save considerable amount of moisture evaporation; however, they are not long term approaches. Chemical mulching uses chemical Hexadecanol. During experiments, it showed that when sprayed and mix on the top quarter inch of soil, it reduces evaporation by 43 percent. The advantage of this mulching technique over other two is that this technique remained effective for a year. The surface layer of soil gets dry rapidly than untreated soil. The dry layer creates a buffer to evaporation.
The soil present at the root zone of the plants actually acts as the water storage reservoir. This moisture carrying soil is very for a plant life. To increase the moisture, there is a need to increase the infiltration rate of water into the soil so that water is readily available in the root zone. The water that infiltrates into this reservoir can be stored for a longer period of time for crop use that results in good agriculture production. The preservation of rainwater by this method helps increasing the agriculture production in arid agriculture systems. This article focuses on presenting various methods for preserving rain water at the root zone of plants.
The infiltration rate of water into the soil however, depends upon many factors. These include soil texture, soil cover, soil structure, the degree and dryness of soil. It also depends heavily on the distribution of rainfall along with the intensity of rainfall. The chief enemy of good infiltration of water into the soil is the run-off of water from the fields that results in poor infiltration and thus agriculture production is lost.
Any practice, aimed at increasing the infiltration rate of water into the soil helps increasing the storage of rain water into the soil. There are several agronomic practices that can increase the infiltration of rainwater into the soil and thus helps in increasing the agriculture production in the arid lands. These are;
By leveling the agricultural fields equally so that no slope is available to the water to run-off. Digital land leveler can serve the purpose greatly here.
By avoiding creation of compactness in the soil. This can be reduced by occasional ploughings in agriculture fields.
By establishing high alleys or bounds around the agriculture fields.
In arid lands of Pakistan and India, water is the chief limiting factor in optimum crop production. On the other hand, unfortunately, it is also the most wasted factor of production in arid land agriculture system. The water resources are not uniformly distributed in arid agriculture system. In many parts of Pakistan and India, water resources are abundant where they are required least and areas where there requirement is most, they are scarce and hence no or less production is achieved from agriculture sector. Moisture deficiency in arid lands is thus a growing issue.
It is also a fact that the chance of having a bumper crop of wheat depends largely on the healthy production of wheat in arid lands whether it is Pakistan or India. This is because; the irrigated agricultural lands are already producing the crops at their full potential. Those areas have abundant water along with optimum supply of fertilizer as the farmers there have good financial resources to supply fertilizers to their lands. On the other hand, arid agriculture has not only limited supply of water that results in less production and less profits to the farming community and that is why production of crop depends highly on good supply of rain water in arid lands.
The current moisture deficiency in arid regions doesn’t mean that they have lack of water resources. In many dry regions of Pakistan and India, there are several potential water resources that could be developed and additional water can be made available by increasing efficiency of existing water resources and by improving water conservation practices. These practices can be clubbed together under two main approaches. More detail about these two approaches for improving moisture deficiency in arid regions can be accessed from below two links. These are;
Water is a jewel for arid agriculture farmers. Rainfall being the chief source of water for cropping purposes in these areas is precious. Arid areas are characterized by very low rainfall (less than 100mm as defined by FAO) high temperature and barren land. Even after the rainfall, the rate of evaporation and evapo-transpiration from water body structures and plants is high that available water loses at a fast pace.
How Arid or Dryland are Formed?
Arid or Dryland are formed naturally. This happens when topographic, climatic and oceanographic elements create hindrances in the way of moisture-bearing weather systems to reach that zone.
Special Treatment for Arid Lands
To sustain agricultural activities and generate food and livelihoods of the farmers of arid zones, special measures are taken in each cropping activity right from sowing to harvesting and post-harvesting. However, water has central importance in this scenario and conservation of available water (through any mode of precipitation) requires special structures and techniques.
This article will highlight 5 best suited and easy to install methods of water conservation in Arid or Dryland agriculture systems.
1. Micro or Drip Irrigation
This is the most effective and efficient way of water conservation technique suitable for arid lands. Not only this method helps in water conservation, but it also help in soil conservation. In this method, water is delivered to plants from soil surface using a system of tubes that bear small holes and other destructive outlets. This method also allows the application of fertilizer by mixing it with irrigation water through Drip irrigation. It has been estimated that drip irrigation saves 50-70 percent water as compare to traditional methods of irrigation and also it supplements more crop production by 20-90 percent due to direct availability of fertilizer to plants.
2. Zai Pits
Another efficient method of water conservation in arid agriculture systems is Zai Pits. These planting pits are made around the plants and trees to conserve water and moisture. The pits are prepared with hands. The excavated soil generated during digging is used to make small ridges around the pits. This helps in capturing maximum rain water. Usually these are 10 inches deep and wide and 3 feet apart (25cm x 25cm holes one meter apart). The objective is to trap rain water to increase moisture around the plant. It also aids in increasing soil fertility especially in dryland or arid regions where occurrence of crusty and degraded soil is common. These pits are then planted with a mixture of crop residues, compost, animal manure and seeds. These are then covered with mulch made of leaves or grass to conserve moisture. This simple looking technique can increase the agriculture produce by 50 percent within three years of practice.
Soil pollution is a condition in which soil become rich in pollutants, contaminants and toxic materials and it poses threat to human life, agriculture, animals and other macro and microorganisms. In other words, soil pollution is the beginning of death of soil, failing to sustain any kind of production in terms of agriculture and wildlife on it. Arable land turns into desert land and threats food security ultimately.
Reasons of Soil Pollution
The reason of soil pollution is both natural and man-made. Global warming, climate change are regarded as natural factors of soil pollution while, excess usage of fertilizers, pesticides, weedicides and herbicides is damaging the natural order of soil, thus polluting it and making it weak. It is a global phenomenon that soils are becoming less and less productive and fertile due to degrading organic matter.
Natural Causes of Soil Pollution
Among many, common natural causes of soil pollution is the natural amassing of compounds in soil resulting from imbalances between atmospheric deposition and leaking away with precipitation water. This is common in arid environments where concentration and accumulation of per-chlorate in soils results in soil pollution.
In some cases, thunderstorm also creates environment for soil pollution. This happens when chlorine source or metallic objects present in the soil use energy generated from thunderstorm to generate per-chlorate in the soil.
Man-made Causes of Soil Pollution
Accident leaks and spills.
Agricultural activities resulting in release of pesticide, fertilizer etc.
Transport activities releasing toxic smoke and emissions.
Cracked paint chips.
The storage of waste in landfills.
Soil Erosion Causing Death of Soil to Sustain Agriculture
Soil erosion is another factor causing soil pollution. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) stated recently that 75 billion tons of soil which is almost equivalent to 10 million hectares of land is lost due to erosion, water-logging and salination annually. On top of it, additional 20 million hectares of land is abandoned and not under any cultivation due to poor quality soil and degradation.
In Arid Agriculture or dryland farming systems, selection of proper crop is critical to generate healthy revenue. For selection of appropriate crop for your farm, there are numerous factors to be considered before actually entering into farming business. While farmers of irrigated land may select their crops on the basis of profitability, a dryland or arid farmer has to select appropriate crop considering two factors. These are
Adaptability in arid environment
Thus an arid farmer has a lot on stake when it comes to farming. Any deviation in regular pattern of rainfall can bring loss to farmer’s investment. Agriculture is gambling, but arid agriculture is far more than just gambling. This article will discuss important factors that should be kept in mind before starting any agriculture activity in any arid zone of the world.
1. Ocular Screening of the Land
To start farming in arid lands, an ecological skimming should be carried out. This is not a technical thing. It just include a deep ocular scrutiny and other approaches to acquire evidences on the biotic factor that have direct or indirect link with the plant growth and its yield, climatic conditions prevailing in the surrounding area, soil properties, infrastructural needs and accessibility. Summarizing, the rule should be to know your farm then select the right crop.
2. Disease History of the Area
Here it is important to mention that a biotic scan will aid in knowing any symptoms of diseases prevailing in the area. In the case of diseases, disease resistant varieties can be selected for farming and susceptible crops may be omitted.
Agriculture in dryland or arid lands is carried out in harsh environment. Water being the chief resource in crop growth, is scarce in drylands. To cope with this situation, there are certain agronomic procedures in dryland agriculture that are applied to have sustainable production in efficient manner.
Soil and water are two basic factors that are vulnerable to harsh environment in arid or dryland agricultural systems. These two factors require conservation measures to have sustainable crop production. Otherwise crop failure occurs. In modern day agriculture, agronomic and mechanical means are used to conserve soil and water. Mechanical measures are supposed to back or support the agronomic measures especially where slope surpasses the tolerable limit and runoff results in accelerated erosion. Thus, water being the scarce resource in dryland agriculture needs special attention of the agronomists and agricultural engineers to have supportable livelihoods of the farmers.
This article is focused on the agronomic procedures in dryland agriculture that are essential in terraced or inter-bunded areas. In reality, the agronomic measures enhance the utility obtained from all types of mechanical structures applied in an area. Below are few necessary measures that should be taken for resource conservation to achieve optimal crop production in dryland or arid agriculture system.
It is a common observation that the soils in arid or dryland agriculture systems are very low in organic matter. Increasing the organic matter is somewhat expensive for the poor farmers. So, most common agronomic procedures in dryland agriculture are the leaving of crop residue in situ in the fields after harvesting the crop.
Being an agriculturist, I am big opponent of applying chemical or synthetic fertilizer in dryland or arid agriculture systems to increase fertility of soil. This is because; these fertilizers act as competitors to crops and consume already scarce moisture in soil in their transformation. This also impacts the natural activities of microorganisms and destruct soil structures.
Soil in dryland or arid agriculture systems should be supplemented by organic farm manure or compost. Using cow/buffalo waste or poultry residue are good examples of manures, while utilizing dead leaves and kitchen waste are good examples for composting. These are very helpful in increasing soil-temperature, soil-air and soil-moisture relationship along with enhanced soil micro organismic activities.
Contour tillage is an agronomic practice if the land slope is more than the normal level. The objective is to reduce erosion and prevent runoff. It is generally recommended that all mechanical practices like ridging, ploughing, harrowing, sowing and trenching should be done on the contour. Moreover, these practices should be implemented across the direction of the slope especially where the land holding are small. Though, the procedure looks simple, but is quite effective against the forces that cause the soil erosion. Moreover, it also increases the time of concentration of water, so that more water seeps into the soil.
Dead furrows are very important when all tillage operations are completed. It is beneficial to leave a yawning dead furrow at least every 10 m interval. It should be ensured that this dead furrow remains in that position till crop harvest. The advantage of dead furrow is to reduce the velocity of runoff that results in water conservation.
In normal season, there are marginal lands that do not produce good annual income from crops. These soils are in-fact best suited for dryland horticultural crops like tamarind, olive, guava etc. These kinds of land help in growing such trees that have economic value and become assets to generate handsome profit. Another option is to grow such varieties of trees that are fast growing and usable as fodder, timber or fuel for the local community. Thus dryland become good source of income for local inhabitants.
Regular weeding is not only a requirement in arid or dryland agriculture, but also it should be made a habit. Weeds compete for moisture and nutrients with crops. Mechanical weeding and line sowing along with using appropriate size of blade harrow eradicate the weeds. Hand hoes are useful for weeding within the rows.
Growing Drought Tolerating and Early Maturing Varieties
It is wise to cultivate those varieties of crops in dryland or arid farming systems that have genetic character with the ability to endure shortage of water and drought circumstances. Similarly, it is worthy to select such crop varieties having shorter period of life cycle i.e. their seed to seed cycle is less. This will reduce the water requirements of the crop. These two measures are revenue generating in the drought-prone areas.
You can probably identify numerous protein rich food items like red meat, fish, chicken, red beans etc. What if i introduce you to an incredible grain, highly rich in protein, and easily cultivable in your kitchen garden that you will get astonished? A crop, that is most suitable to cultivate in Arid or dryland agriculture system? Well yes, here I am again with a remarkable recommendation to grow Quinoa seed in your kitchen garden. It is also termed as protein pearl of arid or dryland agriculture systems.
Urban gardening, no doubt, has touched new statures of brilliance, providing you the opportunity to get fresh, organic and balanced diet food meals from right next door to your kitchen garden or from backyard garden.
What is Quinoa Seed?
Before giving any delay, let me introduce with my today’s baby grains that are ‘Quinoa Seed’. The importance of this seed can be understood by the fact that United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) celebrated year 2013 as the “International Year of Quinoa”. The origination of Quinoa shows that, it was domesticated some 3000 to 4000 years ago in the Andean region of Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru.
Nutritional Facts of Quinoa Seeds
It is cooked like rice and wheat. It has abundant important nutrients and minerals like carbohydrates, protein, fats, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, calcium etc. Below table shows some important information about the value of nutrients and minerals you get from 100 grams of uncooked Quinoa serving.
Source: United States Department of Agriculture
Growing Quinoa Seed in your Kitchen Garden
It is also pronounced as “Keen-waah”. The most frequent question I am asked is, whether we can grow Quinoa in Kitchen garden or backyard garden? The answer is simply yes. However, it should be noted that Quinoa seeds should never be grown in pots and containers. The Quinoa crop is large and in pots or containers, it will give tiny harvest. Your efforts will not pay back.
On the other hand, if you want to décor your kitchen garden with attractive deep red and purple flowers for late spring, then growing Quinoa seeds in a container is good option. Quinoa plant produces these fresh flowers before going to produce seeds.
Growing Requirements for Quinoa Seeds
The basic need to grow Quinoa seed in kitchen garden is bright sunlight, organic fertile soil that should be well drained and preferably weather with temperature around 32oC. Early spring is a great time to cultivate Quinoa seeds in your kitchen garden. Quinoa can bear low frost, but don’t test its tolerance in high freezing. The crop is slow one, as far as its harvesting is concern. It is usually ready to harvest anywhere between 90 to 120 days.
Quinoa seeds can be started directly into the soil, that is, no requirement of transplantation. At the start of spring warmth, when soil temperature is around 16oC, just seed it in the soil. The soil should be weed free and beds should be clear. Planting the seed in a row is recommended. The depth for sowing the seeds should not be more than one-fourth of an inch. As they germinate, don’t get confuse in considering them weed due to their close resemblance with a common garden weed, the lamb’s quarter.
Your Quinoa will be slow in the beginning. So patience is required. However, as soon as it acquires a height of a foot, the pace of growth increases. One thing should be kept in mind that Quinoa seed plants do not need much water. They like dry soil to grow.
Next, Quinoa crop do not need fertilizer, unless and until your soil is too much weak. In that case, only use organic fertilizer like farm manure or compost. Mulching is usually not recommended for Quinoa plants.
Harvesting the Quinoa Plants
When the plant stem gets naked off and no leaves remain on them, it is the time to harvest your Quinoa seeds. It is wise to check whether the seeds are dried before harvesting. A simple test can be carried out my pressing your thumbnail in the Quinoa seed on the plant. If a dent remains on the seed, it shows that seeds are not dried fully. However, in case you have to harvest it earlier, dry them indoors.
No special mechanical equipment is needed to separate grains from the plant. Your hand and arm is your best companion in getting Quinoa seeds out of the head. Just shake the seed heads on a neat surface. After you get the Quinoa seeds, remove any dirt or unwanted element and wash them. From 8-10 Quinoa plants, expect one pound of Quinoa seeds. Dry these seeds in open air and then store.
Storing your Quinoa Seeds
After you grow Quinoa seeds in your kitchen garden, storing them in an appropriate way is utmost task that should be given due importance. After drying the seeds, they should be placed in an air locked jar or container. Then place them in a cool and dry surface and most importantly, away from light. In this manner, you give a six month or more storing time to your Quinoa seeds.
The dynamics of dryland farming are different and harsh than irrigated farming. So the problems of dryland agriculture are also unique. Water is the chief requirement for cropping. The crops in dryland or arid lands have to face the challenge of shortage of water more frequently. Rainfall is the sole option for them to get water. Though groundwater is available, however it is a common phenomenon that dryland farmers are poorer than other farmers. It is challenging for them to get access to the groundwater. That is why crop failure is quite common in drylands leaving the farmers and habitants worse off. Either they have to rely on previous stored grains or to buy from market, which is for sure expensive for them.
Having said that, water shortage is not the only problem faced by dryland farming community, there are several other problems of dryland agriculture. In this article, i am going to discuss few of these problems of dryland agriculture for beginners to get better insight of the issue.
1. Moisture Stress, Dryness and Uncertainty
The rainfall in dryland is erratic and has no pattern. In some years, there is plenty of rainfall, while sometime drought prevails in the area. Farmers have no opportunity to take necessary steps on soil for moisture conservation. This result in dryness of soil—crop roots fail to harness moisture, even if they are lush and lengthy, eventually crop failure occur. Farmers do not have enough resources to gamble with nature. So they crop half-heartedly and get nominal production and yield. This issue can be addressed by providing the farmers with necessary weather forecasting advisory, so that they can schedule their cropping activities accordingly to get maximum benefit from available water.
2. Water Storage
Water storage facilities are seldom available in areas where dryland agriculture prevails and this is a serious problem of dryland agriculture. It is more prevalent in developing nations of Asia, Africa and some countries of South America. Water is lost in several ways including evaporation, runoff or used by weeds. As mentioned earlier, problem of dryland agriculture is that there may be no rain or high intensity torrential rain. So there is an opportunity available to save this water. But due to lack of indigenous physical and financial resources along with less state level interest in dryland agriculture, water is wasted. This water can be stored in ponds or ditches or even in the soil. If government support is not available, farmers can form a community at village level and pool resources to have a localized water storage infrastructure to use water during dire need.
3. Marketing Problems of Dryland Produce
Marketing is another problem of dryland agriculture. Farmers usually grow same type of crops. At crop maturity, farmers want to market their produce as it is difficult to store it due to lack of storage facilities. This enables the traders and middleman to have upper hand on them and thus the agricultural produce is sold in difficulty and at low price. An option for dryland farmers is to cultivate different crops in a season or also they can pool money to build local level storage facilities.
4. Limited Liberty of Crop Selection
This is a serious concern for dryland farmers. There are very limited crops that have the adaptability to grow in arid or dryland conditions. However, it is also an opportunity for them. Oil seeds have greater adaptability and resistance to grow in dryland conditions. If cultivation of oil seed crops is done properly and carefully, these crops can earn handy cash for farmers and can be sold quickly. In this way, farmers can buy other products and food items of their need.
5. Vigilant and Judicious Fertilizer Application
We are too much dependent on fertilizer. First, it was needed to increase the output of crops. However, now it is a must need due to weaker soil conditions. The fertility and availability of organic matter in soil has depleted over the past few decades and it is more severe in arid lands. Thus, this increases the problems of dryland agriculture many folds. Moreover, the irrigated farmers have a defined schedule of farming activities specially the irrigation. So they have the liberty to apply fertilizer and schedule it accordingly. In case of dryland farmers, it is a difficulty to manage fertilizer application. In case of applying fertilizer through broadcasting for basal or top-dressing, it is useless without availability of moisture and it is wasted
6. Quality of Crop Produce
The above mentioned problems of dryland agriculture put a big question mark on the quality of crop produced in dryland or arid conditions. Grain quality is the biggest issue as it is of inferior quality due to underdevelopment. On the other hand, the plant growth is also affected, often termed as stunted. This result in less fodder production and farmers get less return on their produce from the market.
These are few common problems of dryland agriculture and farming community. The ultimate responsibility is on government shoulder for backing the farmers in these areas. This is because of the poverty and lack of resources which is common in arid or dryland farming system. Moreover, the current changing climate is another threat to this form of cropping system. Last but not least, extensive research for new crop varieties, innovative water resource management and introduction of unique cropping practices can aid in lessening problems of dryland agriculture.
Arid agriculture or dry land agriculture is used quite often universally. However, these are poorly defined and understood. The word ‘Arid” is used for an area that is characterized by low volume of rainfall i.e. less than 10 inches of rain fall per annum. Arid agriculture is sometimes referred to as dry land agriculture. From farming perspective, arid agriculture has great importance. This is mainly because most of the regions in the world are Arid, where agricultural system lack irrigation facilities. More precisely, arid agriculture refers to as the cultivation of crops where irrigation facilities are absent and evaporation of moisture from soil exceeds rainfall.
It is interesting that rain fed agriculture and arid agriculture are sometimes consider same and used interchangeably. However, there lies massive difference between the two. Rain fed agriculture includes the arid or dryland agriculture. But arid agriculture is generally defined as growing of crops where lack of availability of moisture hampers the crop production to part of the year.
A study of world atlas shows that large chunk of the earth is arid. So, arid agriculture is adept in many parts of the globe. The countries in the Middle East, South America, the steppe lands of Eurasia, major part of Australia and southern and southwestern parts of United States bear arid climate. The weather conditions are harsh with high temperature and less availability of water. Rainfall is sporadic in arid areas. This causes flash floods when it happens because dry climate of arid areas makes the soil tough and compact that it cannot easily absorb rain water. Thus flood occurs. On the other hand, the organic matter in the soils of arid regions is low resultantly the fertility of the soil is affected. Soil erosion is a common problem in arid agriculture.
Despite of all these facts, the mankind has developed technologies to cope and sustain under harsh climate of arid nature. Arid agriculture has economic importance because if no cropping is practice in these areas, then more pressure will be exerted on other limited productive parts of the world that will eventually result in food insecurity situation. So, arid agriculture or dryland agriculture cannot be neglected of its harsh environment.
There are ways in which arid agriculture can be made productive by altering farming practices and adapting smart water conservation technologies. Mulching, growing trees at farm borders, constructing small dams, leveling the farm land, growing heat tolerant crops, avoiding formation of hard crust on soil surface, growing small structured variety of crops to minimize transpiration, usage of smart irrigation strategies like drip, furrow or sprinkler etc. are few practical ways that can ensure sustainable arid agriculture in any part of the world.