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Mycorrhiza: a potent mode of fertilization in organic farming for all-inclusive sustainable growth

The Energy and Resources Institute - Thu, 10 Jan 2013 05:41 GMT
Author: The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), India
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By: Alok Adholeya & Rahul Singh (TERI)/New Delhi, India Integration of farming methodologies and environmental sustainability is one of the burning issues in today’s global scenario in agriculture. There are multiple proponents for various acts of farming which utilize the principles of ecology to address long term causes like food security, enhancement of natural resource management, efficient utilization of non- renewable resources, affirmation of economic viability in farm operations, and lay stress on improving the quality of life of farmers and society as a whole. Organic farming is one such form of agriculture that primarily relies on no chemical inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides and herbicides, and incorporates the utilization of naturally available resources with techniques such as crop rotation, compost, green manure and biological pest control.      Organic agriculture is rapidly developing across the world. FiBL-IFOAM Survey 2012 reports 160 countries have data on organic agriculture. With 0.9 percent (37 million hectares) of the agricultural land being organic in nature and current organic market size estimation of 44.5 billion euros, there is an immense scope of development of this form of farming. Amongst 1.6 million organic producers in the world, the country with most organic producers is India. However, despite the burgeoning numbers of organic producers in India, the progress of organic agriculture is quite obtuse. There are a number of challenges which needs to be overcome amongst which initial fall in yield is of primary concern. As a mode of fertilization the organic principle is that of fertilizing the soil and not directly feeding the crop. The use of green manure and composting is quite prevalent. In addition to this, the use of mycorrhiza seems to be very promising. These symbiotic fungi provide plant roots with extended arms that help them tap soil nutrients which are otherwise unavailable, particularly phosphorous. Furthermore, it also improves plant drought avoidance and disease control. More than 80 percent of the world’s plant species are known to form this beneficial symbiotic association with the mycorrhiza fungi. In context of organic farming; the abundance, diversity, structure and function of mycorrhiza greatly depends on the mineral fertilizers, organic matter amendments, biocides, tillage, rotations and agricultural system. For instance, monocultures, high rates of tillage, and high soil fertility may induce the growth and development of less beneficial community of mycorrhiza. Also, there is a negative correlation between abundance of mycorrhiza and application of fertilizers which readily supply phosphorous to plants. Thus, effectuation of appropriate farm practice is required for effective utilization of mycorrhiza in organic farming to ensure high yield and productivity. Mycorrhiza has been brought under the purview of Fertilizer Control Order, 1985 as a biofertilizer by Ministry of Agriculture, Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, Government of India. This will certainly have implications in terms of growth of the mycorrhiza industry in India. Mycorrhizal technology has already been proven to help tremendously in projects involving reclamation of degraded land (fly ash dump sites, sites affected by industrial effluents, oil sludge and chlor-alkali sludge in India and other areas across the world); and in increasing sustainable modes of agriculture with increased yields using cost- effective and eco-friendly mycorrhiza as biofertilizer (thereby catering to food security related issues). In agricultural systems the Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi, a type of mycorrhizal fungi, plays an important role to host plant's nutrition, growth and yield. Nevertheless, the mycorrhizal response may vary depending on the bio-physical environment and agricultural systems, and is not fully understood. Providing a platform for deliberations on key issues pertaining to mycorrhiza, the 7th International Conference on Mycorrhiza (ICOM7) has been ongoing in the Indian capital, New Delhi since January 06. This triennial brings the ICOM legacy for the first time in Asia, and has been organized by TERI under the auspices of the International Mycorrhiza Society; in collaboration with the Mycorrhiza Network. Featuring over 400 representatives from more than 48 countries, the six-day conference will culminate on January 11. No doubt that high abundance of mycorrhiza on organic farms will provide many benefits for crop yield, agricultural system sustainability and stability. However, appropriate organic farm management is needed to conduce to this abundance. Moreover, there is a need for implementation of regulations in terms of quality assurance to ensure proper formulation, production, distribution and usage of mycorrhiza by the producers and suppliers. This will definitely help our farmers achieve a “greener” green revolution in the field of organic farming.   About the authors Dr Alok Adholeya is Director, Biotechnology and Bioresources at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). Rahul Singh is a Research Assistant at TERI's Nano Biotechnology Centre. Views expressed by the authors are personal.

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