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Management of Organic Wastes for Crop Production : Kapoor, K. K., Sharma, P. K., Dudeja, S. S. and Kundu, B. S. (Eds.

) 2005 pp. 193-203 Department of Microbiology, CCS Haryana Agricultural University, Hisar 125 004

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O. P. RUPELA1, A. P. GUPTA2 and K.K. KAPOOR3 International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, Patancheru - 502324, Andhra Pradesh 2 Department of Soil Science, CCS Haryana Agricultural University, Hisar-125004 (Superannuated March, 2004) 3 Department of Microbiology, CCS Haryana Agricultural University, Hisar-125004

ABSTRACT Biological approaches such as crop residues and biomass as surface mulch; growing Gliricidia sepium on field bunds as source of nitrogen for crops; compost, vermicompost and microbial biofertilizers as soil-building elements; and sources of crop nutrients, and microbial and herbal biopesticides to protect crops have been widely reported as valuable for crop production. Scope of these approaches to meet crop nutrients and crop-protection needs in place of chemical fertilizers and pesticides was examined. Published literature and websites were scanned to look for logically sound comparisons, particularly at on-farm scale. Because farmers using organic farming practices were the major users of some (not all) of the biological approaches, we ended up comparing organic and conventional farms. Experiments with treatments of biological versus conventional inputs (e.g. chemical fertilizers) within a given experiment were the other source of relevant data for comparative performance. Discussion in this paper is restricted to marginal and small farmers in rain fed areas. From the limited evidence, it was apparent that yields comparable to conventional agriculture were harvested by using biological approaches. In addition, a substantial improvement in soil quality due to the biological approach was reported suggesting that these yields would also be sustainable. INTRODUCTION A crop production system involving inputs of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, machinery for tillage and irrigation water is expensive. In addition, it threatens energy and water security for future generations and contributes greatly to pollution, particularly when these inputs are inappropriately managed. Agriculture as practiced in the early 20th century, without the modern inputs, is widely regarded as having low productivity. Practices such as no-tillage, green-manuring and use of farmyard manure (FYM); important features of the old agriculture, are also important ingredients of organic farming. These can be made more efficient by value-addition through the scientific knowledge gained in the later half of the 20th century. Crop production may then be more sustainable without sacrificing productivity, the important concern of


Biological Approaches & Crop Yield

those responsible for food security of a given country. This expectation is due to the positive effects of practices such as conservation tillage, value-added composts (e.g. vermicompost, P-enriched compost), biofertilizers and biopesticides, as evident from published literature. Use of chemical fertilizers is generally linked to the availability of water and more so with irrigation (Sharma and Gupta, 2001) but use of chemical pesticides is much more wide-spread, including in rain fed areas and is generally determined by a given crop. For example, raising of cotton crop uses over 40% of synthetic pesticides in India (Vijayaraghavan, 1995), and much of it is grown as rain fed. Local availability of these inputs is also an important determinant of their use. Villages not linked to cities are likely to use relatively less of the purchased inputs than those close to cities or linked by roads (Parthasarathy Rao et al., 2004). As per 1991 census, 78% of farmers in India are either marginal (owning <0.4 ha) or small (owing 0.4 to 1.4 ha). It is these farmers who may least afford the purchased inputs. But if there is sufficient evidence that using the biological approaches, as used in organic farming, high yields or income are possible then these farmers would be the major beneficiaries. Organic farming taken in strict sense, particularly when a farmer is looking for a certification by some agency (FAO, 1999), essentially most of the inputs have to be generated on-farm. In this paper we are not touching this aspect of organic farming or even organic farming as such. Focus here is to examine the scientific soundness of harvesting high yield using biological approaches. Comparisons where given between organic farming and conventional farming are by default, because less number of experiments, particularly on-farm, were available for assessing the value of biological approaches. Also, low-cost and biological approaches using locally available resources (including microorganisms) have been dealt as synonymous with the practices used in organic farming. LOOKING FOR EVIDENCES OF HIGH YIELD Much of the information and some data that can be accessed on the topic of organic farming per se are through reports from farmers (Fukuoka, 1978) or farmergroups (Murakami, 1991; IFOAM, 2004) with ideological approach. These groups also claim that many organic farmers are harvesting yields at par their neighbor conventional farmers who use modern inputs. In the absence of sufficient data without the routine scientific rigor, such claims are not taken seriously by the scientific community. The other sources of information noted through literature search were the reports on evaluation studies executed by governments (USDA, 1980) or by institutions with interest and/or mandate on social and environmental issues (Harris et al., 1997). All such evaluation reports generally supported the long-term sustainability of organic farming, in view of economic viability of organic farms and improvements in soil health over time. Recent reviews (Stockdale et al., 2001; Delate and Cambardella, 2004) have indicated good value of agro-practices used by organic farmers and have indicated a scope of harvesting high yields on organic farms. Using no-tillage, biomass as surface mulch, microbial inoculants, compost as soil building element and

Management of Organic Wastes for Crop Production


biopesicides for protecting crops overall called low-cost systems by Rupela et al. (2005a) resulted in similar or higher yield (Fig. 1) than the control treatment in all the five years except year one. The control or mainstream agriculture treatment received chemical fertilizers and pesticides at levels recommended for a given crop in the region. The experiment comparing four crop husbandry systems was initiated in June, 1999 on a rain fed medium-deep Vertisol with annual mean rainfall of 783 mm.
8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0
5 0 4 0
Net income (1000- Rupees)

LS 1

LS 2


M A + b io m ass

Yield (total economic mass) t ha-1

3 0 2 0 1 0 0 2 0 0 0 / 0 1 -1 0 2 0 0 1 / 0 2 2 0 0 2 / 0 3 2 0 0 3 / 0 4

Y e a r

Fig. 1. Yield and net income (in Rupees) over years from the four different systems of crop production (LS1, LS2, MA, MA+biomass) in a long-term experiment at ICRISAT, Patancheru, India. Intercrops taken in the different years were sorghum/pigeon pea in 2000/01 (year2), cowpea/cotton in 2001/02 (year 3), maize/pigeon pea in 2002/03 (year 4) and cowpea/cotton in 2003/04 (year 5). Income was calculated by putting a price (common across all treatments) for each item (both input and output). Per-day labor was priced at Rs. 75/- not distinguishing between farmer and family members. (1 US$ = ca. 45 Rupees). Source: Rupela et al., 2005a.


Biological Approaches & Crop Yield

Note : Low-cost system 1 (LS1) received rice-straw (first 3-years only) as surface mulch (no-tillage), beneficial microorganisms and herbal extracts to protect crops from pests; compost as sources of nutrients; low-cost system 2 (LS2) received farm waste in place of rice-straw, the other inputs were same as in LS1; conventional agriculture (MA) - received tillage, chemical fertilizers and pesticides as recommended for a given crop by research institutes in the region, compost and loppings of Gliricidia were added to all the four treatments; conventional agriculture plus biomass (MA+biomass) received tillage and chemical fertilizers and pesticides as in MA and quality and quantity of biomass as LS2.

Crop Nutrient Needs If a crop has to yield, its nutrient need has to be met. The major question to be debated is whether the nutrients needed for a high-yielding crop can be met through sources other than chemical fertilizers or not. And more importantly, are those alternatives available or can be made available to the crop and how? Indeed, biomass is the engine of productivity of an organic farm. Critics have always indicated nonavailability of large quantity of biomass needed to supply the nutrients for harvesting high yields, particularly for a non-legume crop. While respecting the view that biomass is indeed difficult to access for crop production, it is argued that large quantities can be generated on-farm. Also, as an interim, the large quantities available near cities and from agro-based industries (Beri et al., 2003) can be transported to farm for priming a field before sufficient biomass is generated on-farm. Transporting of this resource may be linked to drives to keep cities clean to offset costs. Rupela et al. (2005a) reported use of biomass from external sources for first three years. After that it was generated at the field using different strategies. Production of over 10 t ha-1 crop residues by sorghum/pigeon pea intercrop was measured at ICRISAT Patancheru (Rupela et al., 2005b). Leaf fall of pigeon pea, was measured to add another 3.1 t ha-1 which contained 22 kg N and 2 kg P ha-1. Strategically selected crops in a system can thus be a source of biomass and nutrients. It was argued that if the crop residues were needed as cattle feed or as fuel, then either the cattle excreta after composting or equivalent quantity of other non-economic biomass may be returned to land. In the on-going long-term experiment described above, Rupela et al. (2005a) also reported production of 4.5 t ha-1 (dry mass) of loppings from Gliricidia grown on field bunds in year five. The bunds accounted for 6.1% of the total area. Addition of the loppings to a field meant application of 103 kg N and 6.7 kg P ha-1. This obviously means that a farmer need not depend on fertilizer N from year five, at least in some types of soils and in areas receiving up to 783 mm rains. Contributions from biological agents such as microorganisms (both in soil and phyllosphere) for providing nutrients such as N from air and soil macro fauna, e.g. earthworms for playing important roles in nutrient cycling and crop production can be significant and need quantification studies. Soil Quality Reganold et al. (1993) studied 16 pairs of farms in New Zealand. Each pair had a farm using Biodynamic Agriculture (a type of organic farming) and a neighboring

Management of Organic Wastes for Crop Production


conventional farm having similar crop, plantation or animal production system. The organic farms in most cases had significantly greater microbial activity, better soil structure, more earthworms, lower bulk density and easier soil penetrability (Table 1). However, the results of the soil chemical analyses were variable. On per ha basis the farms using organic farming practices were as often financially viable as their neighboring conventional farms. Reganold et al. (1993) reported significantly more organic matter aggregated (both 0.5 to 3.0 mm and 0.25 to 10 mm size) in soil samples from organic farms than conventional farms. In the ongoing long-term experiment Rupela et al. (2005a) reported 17-27% more soil respiration, 28-29% more microbial biomass C, 23-28% more microbial biomass N, and 5-13% more acid and alkaline phosphatase activity, and 3 to 6 t ha-1 of more organic carbon in top 20 cm profile at the end of year five, in the low-cost treatments using biological approaches as the major inputs than the control treatment receiving recommended levels of chemical fertilizers and compost. Table 1. Mean values of aggregated soils data from 16 pairs of farms each with organic (bio) and conventional (con) farming Soil Property Bulk density (Mg m ) Penetration resistance (0 to 20 cm) (MPa) Carbon (%) Respiration (l O2 h g ) Mineralizable N (mg kg ) Ratio of mineralizable N to C (mg g-1) CEC (cmol kg-1)
-1 -1 -1 -3

All bio farms 1.07 2.84 4.84* 73.7* 140.0* 2.99* 21.5*

All con farms 1.15* 3.18* 4.27 55.4 105.9 2.59 19.6

*= significantly different at p<0.01, = Cation exchange capacity in centimoles of cation charge (+) per kilogram of soil. Source: Reganold et al., 1993.

Labor Needs An important criticism of organic farming and thus on use of biological approaches, and rightly so, is its high labor requirement. But it is argued that most small and marginal farmers, may have a greater access to labor (family members) than to cash required for modern inputs. Important point to be considered is whether cost for the labor will be compensated or not. Also, such farmers can potentially be viewed as self employed. Information on website ( of the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) based on evaluations done in Latin America and Asia suggested that organic farming offers a new opportunity for small farmers in


Biological Approaches & Crop Yield

developing countries. It would, however, need supportive government policies that foster development in this sector. BIOLOGICAL APPROACHES Animals, (e.g. cattle and poultry) are an important component of a small farm (<0.4 to 1.4 ha) family in the semi-arid tropics focus of this paper. For appropriate use of biological resources, the crops and animals need to be integrated. This section briefly describes the different biological approaches that can help poor farmers have sustainable yields and livelihoods. Crop Residues/Biomass Nutrients when added as biomass are not in a readily available form for crops and need to be mineralized by microbial activity. It is widely accepted that only a portion of the N applied as biomass to the soil through soil incorporation is recovered by the crop (Schomberg et al., 1994; Thnnissen et al., 2000). According to T. J. Rego, ICRISAT, this portion under Patancheru conditions would be about 10% in year one (unpublished data). Thus nutrients from a given quantity of biomass added in a year are available over several years. Also, a given quantity of biomass applied as surface mulch versus as incorporated in soil is likely to have different value and may take different time for degradation. Placed on soil surface the biomass serves as mulch and potentially helps prevent loss of soil moisture (Hajare et al., 1997) and prevent soil degradation. It may also result in favorable conditions for microbial activity. The apparent different niche with the two methods of biomass use incorporation versus surface mulch, resulted in lower soil temperature (Rupela et al., 2005b) compared to conventional agriculture treatment and is likely to have a different soil microbial and macro fauna diversity with a bearing on crop productivity and is an important researchable topic. As indicated earlier, substantial quantity of biomass is possible if crops and cultivars are selected strategically such that biomass is produced without sacrificing on over all productivity of the cropping system. In year 2001, Rupela et al. (2005b) harvested 4 t ha-1 by thinning of cowpea (cv C-151) in a cowpea/cotton intercrop (sown as 4-rows cowpea, 1-row cotton), leaving the other two-rows for grain production. Non-removal of two-row of the fast-growing cowpea cultivar would have adversely affected the growth of cotton. Composting Virtually every crop residue can be composted. Composts are an important input for an organic farm. A farm dependent on composting and recycling the crop residues is potentially more sustainable. Compared to the traditional pit method, the aerobic composting with addition of cellulose degrading plus P-solubilizing microorganisms such as Aspergillus awamori has been found efficient particularly when rock-P is added (Kapoor et al., 1990; Rupela et al. 2003b). Phosphocomposts the composts having rock-P additions during composting and thus rich in P are also

Management of Organic Wastes for Crop Production


available commercially. Partially decomposed composts are a good feed for earthworms. Compost prepared involving earthworms is referred as vermicompost and is generally rich in plant growth promoting substances besides other values generally stated for composts. The different types of composts should be viewed as soil-building elements due to their richness in potentially beneficial microorganisms, besides being a source of nutrients. Gliricidia Gliricidia sepium is a leguminous tree and can be grown on field bunds without apparent negative effect on a crop growing in its vicinity. After an initial care in year one, particularly during summer, the tree may survive dry periods in several soils and rainfall regions and need to be evaluated. It is a potential source of nitrogen for crops and a fodder for cattle. Grown on field bunds, banks of percolation tanks and near mechanical structures in Thanh Ha watershed, Hoa Binh province, Vietnam, large quantity of biomass was harvested that resulted in 100 to 200 kg N ha-1 when applied to a field. Biofertilizers Any organic farm is likely to be rich in several different types of agriculturally beneficial microorganisms particularly those with traits of cellulose degradation, nitrogen fixation (both symbiotic and asymbiotic), P solubilization, plant-growth promotion and biocontrol. But in initial years their addition is highly recommended. India has over 100 companies engaged in manufacture and marketing of microbial inoculants with these traits. A knowledgeable farmer should use these inputs for use at least in the first three years. There is, however, a need of policy support to ensure that farmers receive good quality inoculants. Biopesticides Several herbs with ability to manage insect-pests are known to farmers. Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions (SRISTI) has done a commendable job of preparing a database on these and other knowledge items relevant to rural trades. A good number of these can be viewed on their website ( There is an ever-growing interest in the different types of biopesticides (Grzywacz et al. ,2005). Neem seems the most studied herb (Singh and Saxena ,1999). There are over one hundred biopesticides patented globally, most of these in USA. Farmers, generally in developing countries seem to be busy in preparing their own recipes for managing pests, and at times with good results. For example, a curd-based recipe has been reported to manage cotton-pests in Maharashtra, India (Amin ,2002). It may be noted that curd has four different human-friendly microorganisms (Hanniffy et al., 2004) known to produce organic acids which may change phyllosphere pH potentially unfavourable to insect-pests. In the low-cost treatments of the long-term experiment Rupela et al. (2005a) successfully used a


Biological Approaches & Crop Yield

protocol for crop protection involving two microorganisms Bacillus subtilis BCB 19 and Metarhizium anisopliae (both research products of ICRISAT with ability to kill Helicoverpa larvae), wash of compost of two herbs (neem-Azadirachta indica and Gliricidia sepium) and two items of traditional knowledge. The same protocol was used successfully in protecting cotton from insect-pest in on-farm experiments in Adarsha watershed of village Kothapally, Medak district, Andhra Pradesh in 2003/04 and 2004/05 seasons and in village Chawad, Valia taluka, Bharuach district in Gujarat in 2004/05 season. The results have been encouraging. Most farmers harvested yield of cotton at par or more when the half acre plot (1 ha = 2.42 acres) was protected with biopesticides than the other half acre protected with chemical pesticides. Some more information on the Kothapally experience is available in ICRISAT (2005). Termites Biologically, termites are detritivores meaning feeding on dead biomass but have been occasionally noted to damage live plants. They have a very important role in the overall cycle of life. But in conventional agriculture practices these have been projected as enemies attracting chemical pesticides .In the long-term experiment stated by Rupela et al. (2005a), termites were successfully managed by digging termitaria in search of queen and killing it. After the queen was killed in the eleven termitaria noted in year one of the trial on a one ha area, only 1 to 3 new termitaria were noted annually in the subsequent five years. No need of any pesticide was felt to manage termites during six-year (Jan 1999 to March 2005) life of the ongoing experiment despite the fact three of the four treatment, received lot of biomass. Termites can be valuable not only in forest ecosystems but also in the crop production system. In Africa, farmers collect and apply termitaria soil to cropped fields as this is believed to enhance crop growth. Rupela et al. (2003a) reported bacterial population of 4.72 log10 g-1 termitaria soil with ability to suppress disease-causing fungi. Termites are thus a biological resource with potential to enhance crop production. CONCLUSIONS Indeed, maximum yields in the long-term experiments in India have been reported from treatments receiving both chemical fertilizers generally recommended for the different crops in a given region, and composts the treatment is generally called integrated nutrient management (Yadav et al., 2000; Singh et al,. 2004). Data shared in this paper also suggested highest yield in the treatments receiving both types of nutrients. But for small and marginal farmers in the rain fed areas, inputs of such treatments may not be affordable and at times not even accessible. The low-cost biological approach (es) discussed here are indeed organic farming plus and may be an attractive choice particularly when their strategic application results in yield levels at par conventional agriculture. Such a system of crop husbandry with yields comparable to conventional agriculture may be more acceptable to policy makers as it can also generate employment and can potentially address the problem of human migration from villages to cities. It also offers a challenge for the agricultural fraternity who should

Management of Organic Wastes for Crop Production


evaluate such an approach in different climatic regions and soil types. For those with interest and stakes (e.g. NGOs and public-sector organizations committed to poverty alleviation) in the indicated biological resources, it is an opportunity worth investing. Acknowledgements: We thank the watershed team at ICRISAT led by Dr S.P. Wani for help in collecting some information from their on-going work; P. Humayun, P.V.S. Prasad and J. Nalini for collecting literature and typing the manuscript. REFERENCES
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