The intensive cultivation of crops that we see today involves high capital investment. Typical characteristics of this form of agriculture include excessive use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, hi-tech machinery, and employing high number of laborers (per unit of land).
The main aim of carrying out intensive cultivation is earning maximum amount of profit from a given piece of land.
For example, nitrogenous chemical fertilizers bring about rapid growth of the green portion (leaves) of the plant. Unlike organic fertilizers (compost) used in organic or sustainable farming, the chemical fertilizers do not provide complete/wholesome nutrition to plants. Growth regulators are also used in this type of cultivation to increase the production.
Although intensive agriculture has many harmful effects on soil, plants, and the quality of crops obtained, there are, however, a few short-term advantages that one can avail of.
This being a commercial form of agriculture, the food obtained (only in terms of quantity and not quality) from a given piece of land is high. Consumers are benefited by the availability of food grains (and other crops) at a lesser price.
What are the Alternatives?
Most of the problems we see in today's agricultural scenario have resulted from the wrong interpretation and usage of the word 'intensive.'
The common definition, as taught to students of agriculture and farmers worldwide, is maximizing the profits obtained from commercial farming by the 'intensive' use of capital for chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, etc.), expensive machinery, and related things.
This type of crop cultivation should no doubt be a way of extracting profits from a given piece of land. However, the manner in which it is done today is crude and lacks knowledge about the basic nature of plants. Sustainable farming can be practiced even in small patches of land without investing much capital in chemical fertilizers.
Intensive crop cultivation should be aimed at making optimum use of natural resources without harming them, and this can be done 'intensively', i.e., for obtaining profits. Here are a few alternatives to intensive cultivation which least affect the environment.
The intercropping process allows growing two different crops with different requirements on the same piece of land.
For example, shallow-rooted plants are grown with those having deep roots. The principle behind using this technique is to keep the crops from competing with each other. It helps in the healthy growth of these plants and also results in increased yield.
Use of organic farming techniques can yield crops which don't contain chemicals. Organic foods obtained from such type of farming are good for health, and hence, fetch more price than those produced with the intensive type of farming.
The cost incurred in chemical fertilizers is reduced if agriculture is done in the organic way. The beneficial insects present in the soil are not killed due to the absence of chemicals.
One should incorporate better ideas, which promote sustainable use of land in this type of agriculture, in order to partake in the preservation of the environment. Finally, it is necessary to keep a balance between commerce and careful use of natural resources.