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Cropping Systems and Agro-Management Practices in relation to Soil Carbon in the Temperate Regime of Uttarakhand

Nautiyal, Prachi; Pokhriya, Priya; Panwar, Pooja; Arunachalam, Kusum; Arunachalam, A.

The Indian Himalayan region has a distinctive entity as the variations in topographic features occurring along its three dimensional framework that is latitudinal, longitudinal and altitudinal causes diversity in climate and habitat conditions within the region. A large section of the central Himalayan region (Uttarakhand), largely depends upon agricultural based activities for their livelihood. The soil particularly under rain fed agriculture is vulnerable to soil losses through combination of natural factors such as slopping topography, heavy seasonal rainfall and predominance of erosion prone soil and other anthropogenic factors. The present study attempts to document the traditional cropping systems and management practices so as to combat the environmental disturbances in order to maintain soil fertility. The study has been conducted in a few villages of Uttarakhand across the altitudinal gradient (600–2,200 m) covering important hill districts and their combined impact on soil fertility. Soil carbon is an important determinant of soil fertility due to its role in maintaining soil physical and chemical properties. In the present study, soil organic carbon was found to approximately range from 2.2% to 3.4%. Bulk density varied from 1.12g cm3 to 1.34g cm3. The legumes as well as the horticultural trees both have large root biomass and therefore, contribute to greater SOC content. TN was found to be significantly correlated to SOC (r=.326; P<0.01), implying that soil fertility is well maintained in the farming systems. Though the crop management practices are already followed yet, the improvements in farming systems and use of organic material/compost could add carbon to soils, improving the soil fertility.

Keywords: Soil organic carbon | temperate agro-ecosystems | management practices

Introduction

Agriculture today has become an activity of economic prosperity, nature conservation, and repository of genetic resources and most importantly, a way to alleviate the threats of climate change, while simultaneously meeting the food demand. The agro-ecosystems are not self sustaining and rely on natural processes for maintenance of their productivity, without adversely affecting the surrounding environment. The Indian Himalayan region has a distinctive entity as the variations in topographic features occurring along its three dimensional framework that is latitudinal, longitudinal and altitudinal causes diversity in climate and habitat conditions within the region. This leads to overwhelming richness of biodiversity elements and to their uniqueness. According to Mohanty and Singh (2014), though the agriculture sector utilizes only 13% of the geographical land, it provides employment to almost half of the workers in the state.

Conventional agricultural practices have caused a significant decrease in soil organic carbon (SOC) and large fluxes of carbon dioxide and other green house gases (GHG) to the atmosphere (IPCC, 2007). Adoption of recommended soil and crop management practices thus, can help in resequestration of carbon. Uttarakhand offers a vast scope for cultivation of diverse crops viz., cereals, millets, legumes, vegetables, fruits, oilseeds etc. including certain wild edible species. Agriculture has been the primary occupation of people since ages. A large section of the central Himalayan region in Uttarakhand population largely depends upon agricultural based activities for their livelihood.

The low productivity of cereals, oilseeds, etc. is a major hindrance in the food security of the region (Mehta, et al., 2010). The soil loss has been regarded both by scientists and farmers as a major reason for declining soil fertility and crop productivity in the region. The soil particularly under rainfed agriculture is vulnerable to soil losses through combination of natural factors such as slopping topography, heavy seasonal rainfall and predominance of erosion prone soil and human factors such as intensive cultivation of land and erosion prone agricultural practices. Traditional agriculture of this region is now weakening, due to variety of socio-cultural changes among rural communities and shrinkage in the natural resources, is one of the major concerns. A very frequent example is that of reduction in the duration of wheat crop by 15–20 days due to rise in temperature (Chijioke, et al., 2011). Cash crops like pulses, oilseeds and vegetables can be produced widely, keeping the climate and terrain in view (Sati, 2005). Improved crop growth and development can be achieved by appropriate cropping practices like adequate water supply, organic farming, use of crop residues (Wang et al. 2010). The study to document the traditional cropping systems and management practices of Uttarakhand has been conducted in a few villages across the altitudinal gradient (600–2,200 m) covering important hill districts of Uttarakhand. The manuscript focuses on the most common and extensively cultivated specific crops along this altitudinal gradient, the management practices followed in order to maintain soil fertility.


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