The country has often faced food crises despite having world’s largest irrigation system, abundant land and enormous human resources.
The recent wheat crises had not been eliminated from the memory of the people, when they faced sugar crisis owing to its huge shortage. Such shortages necessitate adoption of measures to improve crop productivity to ensure food security on a sustainable basis.
To feed people requires combined efforts of policymakers, agricultural experts, extension agents and the farming community.
There are many techniques to enhance food production such as increasing cropping intensity, practicing multiple cropping, adopting hydroponics and using inputs in balanced amounts with effective plant protection measures. However, among them, multiple cropping is the most effective technique.
Multiple cropping refers to growing more than one crop on the same field during the season. This technique makes effective use of inputs such as soil, water, fertiliser etc. Thus output per unit area increases with manifold returns to the growers.
Multiple cropping can be done in annual food crops, fodders, vegetables, fruit plants and perennial crops. It could enable the country to be self-sufficient in food production and export the surplus to generate revenue to finance the cost of other projects.
Crops are prone to insect pest attacks which may cause reduction in crop yield and losses. With multiple cropping, incidence of crop failure owing to biotic agents is minimised. One crop may provide cover to the other against such agents through biological control. For example, canola is intercropped with wheat to shift aphid from wheat to canola, and okra intercropped with cotton diverts insect pests towards the latter.
However, the need is to ensure adequate supply of irrigation water to grow more crops simultaneously. But there is shortage of irrigation water due to losses during conveyance, distribution and application.
Another factor to be considered is evolving such varieties that have similar critical growth stages so that inputs such as fertilisers and nutrients could be applied and utilised by all crops in this pattern effectively. This increases the work of genetic scientists.
Multiple cropping could also help in maintaining soil fertility provided suitable crops such as legumes are included in the cropping system. For example intercropping of a legume crop with others could increase the process of nitrogen fixation that would enhance the nutrient status of the soil.
An important aspect of multiple cropping is the utilisation of nutrients more efficiently as the crops growing on the same piece of land simultaneously would have different nutritional requirements.
Diverse foods outputs are obtained through multiple cropping, thus providing a chance of choice for using food commodities. Multiple cropping is also important from marketing point of view. As we are getting more than one crop simultaneously so even if the selling price of one commodity is less in the market, the other will be there to compensate.
Multiple cropping narrows the space available for weeds to grow and hamper their growth through exudation of allelochemicals. Nevertheless, weeds are the hidden enemy of crops imparting irreversible damages to resources. Weed’s suppression through multiple cropping will thus lead to enhanced food production.
However, there are certain demerits of multiple cropping. One potential demerit is that sometimes the insect pests and diseases get more favorable environment to flourish, thus diminishing and deteriorating crop yields. Inter-cultural practices are sometimes difficult to be carried out in the crops grown together.
Intercropping cropping, relay cropping and mixed cropping are the types of multiple cropping. Intercropping means the growing of more than one crop in rows where the minor crops are planted between the rows of major crop. For instance, the crops like canola, mustard, garlic, tobacco, watermelon, muskmelon, etc. can be successfully intercropped with sugarcane crop. The crops in intercropping may have a different sowing and harvesting time.
The second type of multiple cropping is mixed cropping which comprises simultaneous growing of two or more crops on the same piece of land with same sowing, maturity and harvesting time. Mixed cropping is especially important for fodder crops where it can provide enormous quantities of feedstuff for supporting sustainable livestock production. Mixed cropping of oat and berseem is suitable for enhancing fodder stuff to feed livestock.
Relay cropping is another type of intercropping where second crop is sown while the first crop is near maturity. This practice is beneficial in terms of resolving time conflict for plantation of various crops. For example delayed sowing is an important reason for yield decline in wheat crop that can be avoided through relay cropping of wheat in standing cotton crop. Relay cropping can also fetch certain other benefits such as usage of residual moisture from the previous crop and reduced planting costs.
Lack of information, research, resource and skills are some of the reasons for low adoption of multiple cropping. Keeping in view the economic benefits of multiple cropping, there is a need to promote it among the farming community.