During the Fourth International Agronomy Congress held in New Delhi, India in 2016, it was resolved to hold the Fifth International Agronomy Congress to review the progress in agri-innovations and work out strategies to combat food and nutrition challenges by generating new opportunities/technologies through agronomic research. The Indian Society of Agronomy agreed with this in principle and has taken initiative to organize the Fifth International Agronomy Congress at Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University (PJTSAU), Rajendranagar, Hyderabad, India to maintain the continuity and provide an international platform to the agronomists world over to discuss the emerging issues.
The 20 Century witnessed an outstanding and unprecedented scientific and technological development in all fields ranging from agriculture to industry and further to information technology. This progress has virtually transformed human life in terms of prosperity and higher standard of living for a section of population of the world. Yet, the paradox before us is the stark reality that large segment of humanity is still trapped in hunger and poverty. Besides, conventional agriculture has encountered a host of problems such as degradation of natural resources, decline in factor productivity, soil health and water availability, increasing incidences of pests and diseases, energy crises, livelihood security of small holders and emerging challenges of climate change. Our natural resources will be at increasing risk from soil degradation, deforestation, contamination, biodiversity losses due to population pressure. To achieve the “Sustainable Development Goals” like alleviation of poverty, reduction of hunger, conservation of natural resources, mitigation of climate change and many more innovations in agriculture would play very important roles.
The Green Revolution based on improved varieties and improved cultural practices of rice and wheat, saved hundreds of millions of people from starvation. The cereal grain production in the world increased by a factor of 3.91, while the land area increased by only 33.9%. Green Revolution served its purpose of bringing about a rapid increase in global food production amidst few environmental consequences such as air pollution, water contamination/eutrophication, and degradation of soil. Furthermore, the benefits of the Green Revolution were not availed in most of the sub-Saharan Africa where either the inputs were not available or the resource-poor farmers were not sure of their usefulness in fragile soils and harsh environments.
The widespread problems of environmental pollution include: algal blooms, soil degradation, water depletion in regions of irrigated farm lands, and increasing emissions of greenhouse gases. Simultaneously, energy consumption and emission of carbon are also increasing rapidly. The global energy is projected to increase to 700 EJ by 2030 and 776 EJ by 2040. The cumulative carbon emission between 1750 and till now is estimated at ~600 Pg (billion metric ton) of which 410 Pg was from fossil fuel combustion and ~190 Pg from the land use change. Soil degradation is exacerbated by agricultural expansion and excessive plowing, secondary salinization by unnecessary flood-based irrigation, and air pollution by in-field and in-house burning of crop residues and other biomass generated from agriculture. While the agriculture of the future must be both food and nutrition-sensitive, the uncontrolled growth of human reproduction must be immediately curbed through universal education, especially girl’s education. The severe problem of soil degradation, caused by land misuse and soil mismanagement, must be critically and urgently addressed. Thus, future agro-ecosystems must be soil-centric managed by innovative sustainable agronomic practices, which could restore soil health, recycle nutrients, conserve and purify water, strengthen biodiversity, and produce nutrient-rich food.
Almost 300 million people are prone to undernourishment in South Asia of which about 200 million are in India. In contrast, adult obesity is also worsening and increasing consistently and affecting 672 million people in the world. An inadequate access to healthy/nutritious food contributes to undernutrition and obesity. There exists a direct link between soil health (soil quality and functionality) and healthy nutritional status of the food (plants, animals) grown on it. However, effect of soil properties on human health can be both positive and negative. The widespread problem of soil degradation and desertification, affecting almost 23.5% of the Earth’s land area, is widely considered to be an important cause of the problem of human malnutrition. Above all, a large proportion of the world population is also prone to hidden hunger, or more than one form of malnutrition. Human food produced through plants and animals grown on nutrient-poor soils is deficient in these essential nutrients and adversely affects human health and wellbeing. Therefore, bioavailability of these elements must be enhanced in soils of agro-ecosystems through judicious management of soil physical, chemical, biological and ecological properties. Eco-nutrition, another relevant strategy towards enhancing the nutritional value of food produced on soils, is based on the concept that there exists a strong link between the health of soil and human in one hand and environmental health and economic development on the other. Therefore, improving soil health through restoration of soil organic matter content by integrated soil fertility management can also enhance micronutrient, vitamins, and protein contents through bio-fortification in the soil-plant–animal food systems.
Resource conserving technologies are another area of research, which needs to be strengthened towards improving the use efficiency of the available resources and to create quality natural resource base. The per capita water availability has 3 3 come down from 3100 m in 1975 to 1900 m in 2000, and is likely to be down 3 further to 1400 m in 2025. This calls for special attention of the agronomists to manage the precious resource by developing techniques for efficient use of each drop of water. The technologies developed so far need further refinement and upgradation. An integrated farming system, irrespective of combination of crops and enterprises/ location/ management/ socio-economic conditions has resulted in higher profit in all the case studies. This approach has the potential to take care of livelihood, environment and energy security through multiple and efficient use of resources. Under the prevailing environmental and economic constraints, further increase in productivity and production can only be possible through increased resource-use efficiency and multiple use of limited resources. There is need to develop integrated soil-crop-animal-environment management system through advanced agronomic research and technology development using robotics, AI, IoT applications, sensor-based technologies, drone-assisted management, nanotechnology etc. These will sufficiently add to farmers profit and eco-friendly management of crop and soil.
Management of soil organic carbon for improving soil hydrological properties (water transmission and retention) can reduce the severity and duration of pedological/agronomic drought. In addition to the properties of soil and landscape, the incidence of pedologic drought may also be aggravated by the projected climate change. Innovative concepts like soilless medium; vertical farming; hydroponics; big data analytics; digital agriculture; expert systems; solar farming; ecosystem services etc. need to be adequately researched to address these challenges. Under these circumstances, the ‘Agronomy,’ which confines the knowledge and findings of other disciplines of agriculture and basic sciences and translates them into innovative technologies for the use of farmers, has to play a crucial role. In the th proposed 5 International Agronomy Congress, all these issues/problems of agriculture will be discussed at lengths at the international platform to take stock of ‘Technology Capital’ available to address these issues. Based on the deliberations of the Congress future research strategies and recommendations based on available knowledge will be developed to address the emerging matrix of the agricultural problems in a holistic manner.
The theme of the Fifth International Agronomy Congress will be “Agri Innovations to Combat Food and Nutrition Challenges”. Tentatively there will be following sub-themes for the Congress. Each sub-theme will have a separate symposium
1. Climate Resilient Agriculture and Ecosystem Services
2. Integrated Farming Systems for Sustainable Peasant Economy
3. Conservation Agriculture, Smart Mechanization and Energy Use
4. Agronomic Innovations for Tapping Genetic Potential
5. Soil-Plant-Animal and Human Health Continuum
6. Big Data for Smart Agriculture
7. New Vistas in Biotic and Abiotic Stress Management
8. Perspective in Organic Agriculture
9. Advances in Soil-Microbe-Plant-Water and Environment Interactions
10. Innovative Delivery System for Agronomic Technologies
11. Agronomic Education: A Paradigm Shift in the Offing
12. Secondary Agriculture and Farmers Prosperity
13. Farmers-Scientists Interface