Food and Agriculture

Silent Engines Behind Agriculture

Jan 9 2018 - Year 2017 ended up with a huge loss of yield in rice cultivation when compared with the last few years. On one hand the reason was the heavy floods which occurred in agricultural areas. Another reason is the restrictions on the herbicides, pesticides and agricultural fertilizers that enhance the yield, as the farmers claim. So farmers are questioning on the big issue in using herbicides and other chemicals but majority of people don’t know about the microorganisms who live in soil and within the plant playing a silent,yet a critical role in the development of plants and ultimately on the whole agricultural world.

During the past few decades people were inclined to use pesticides to prevent the damage from pests and herbicides to prevent the growth of weeds in paddy fields. Actually those strategies worked out well but due to the use of its high dosage over the optimum level, it created a highly polluted environment and negatively impacted the beneficial microorganisms for agriculture. It changed the composition and abundance of the beneficial microorganisms for agriculture while changing ecology of the soil. Things get worsened when people try to do farming without herbicides and pesticides. Since plant beneficial microflora has been absent, growth of weeds have increased more than ever while a lot of diseases and nutrient symptoms can be seen in plants more frequently.

Someone one might not agree with that[1] [2] because of the lack of experience on these tiny microbes. But you should believe that chemically high energy consumptive product of nitrate, which is a main compound in fertilizers is produced by these silent workers,free of charge. These little guys fulfill not only nitrogen requirements of the plants but also other nutrients that are essential for the plant growth.

Some one can question about what they can do in pathogen resistance in upper part since they seem to be limited to the soil. No, that’s completely wrong. These microorganisms are living in not only in outside of the plant but also within the plant tissues. These microbes secrete chemical compounds that inhibit growth of pathogenic organisms which leads to diseases in plants. These microbes live mutualistically with the plant. Sometimes there will be stress conditions for plants. Specially for rice cultivation there will be floods, droughts, as well as changes in salinity in soil. These endophytic microorganisms protect plants from those stress conditions for zero cents.

Someone might ask how we could enhance this beneficial microflora. Actually it might take a little bit of time. Initially we can introduce beneficial microorganisms as biofertilizers to soil. Adding organic fertilizers, giving suitable conditions for the growth of the microbes might increase the colonization of these valuable guys. These microorganisms have a significant role in the protection and growth of the plant by maintaining optimum level of nutrients as well as converting nutrient sources into forms that can be absorbed by plant roots.

The government is focused on a sustainable economy. Sustainability comes through strategies which reap the full benefits of natural resources without destroying those. Empowering and managing these microorganisms is a good strategy for that.So let the silent engines be the noisy ones.

Name of the writer: Lahiru Welikanna
E-mail address:

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

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