Allied Agri Pollution & Climate Change

Plasticulture: How Agriculture could be out of Plastics ?


Plastics being ubiquitous, cheap and easy to make are found in every household. Central Pollution Control Board estimates state that India generates 26,000 tonnes of plastic a day and a person in average consumes about 11 kg of plastic per year. 

Agriculture output can be increased upto INR 68000 crores by using drip irrigation, plastic mulch etc.-Estimated

Dominating the world with its presence, we can see that plastic is now successful in captivating the agriculture sector. Plasticulture, use of plastics in agriculture is a major talk in today’s agriculture. Of old days, plastics are used for mulching which helps to retain soil moisture and inhibiting the weed growth. Plasticulture is also used for micro irrigation (drip and sprinkler) which help to reduce the use of water, greenhouse and tunnel cultivation for growing off-season fruits and vegetables, silages for storing animal feed, lining of farm ponds, collection and transportation materials, etc.

It is estimated that agriculture output can be increased upto INR 68000 crores by using drip irrigation, plastic mulch etc. Most of the agriculture products are perishable, 20-30% of the fruits and vegetables produced in India are lost due to mismanagement and wastage which thrust the farmers into debt. Plastic comprehend it by providing good storage infrastructure, handling and packaging tools like crates, seals etc.

A wide range of plastics including polyolefin, polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Poly-Vinyl Chloride (PVC) are widely used in agriculture. This budding use of plastics has helped farmers increase crop production, improve food quality and reduce the ecological footprint of their activity over the years. The goal of doubling farmers income domestically by 2022 has enormously prompted the use of plastics.

Though overriding the agriculture sector with its benefits, plastics also have its adverse effects. Being non-biodegradable in nature, the toxins released from polyethylene film can remain in soil for centuries. It also releases carcinogenic phthalate acid esters into the soil, which along with other synthetic pesticides can be easily absorbed by crops, thus entering the food chain. When cotton is grown in plastic contaminated soil, lint quality is reduced thus leading to lower outputs. Plastic mulches are difficult to recover and reuse, thus adding to the cost.

As the use of plastics is being banned by the government, Agriculture would be the major target for plastic manufacturers in the coming years. As per 12th five year plan, India is expected to adopt micro irrigation methods in a large scale by about 100.8 lakh ha. of land. The estimated coverage is approximately 48 lakh ha and 53 lakh ha by drip irrigation and sprinkler irrigation respectively. This will lead to raise in domestic plastic consumption by about 1537 KT with polymer requirement of 1156.4 KT, 46.6 KT and 333.2 KT of PE, PP and PVC respectively; thus leading to disastrous effects on soil health and microbial communities. So the awareness must be raised and we have to go for the alternatives. Natural materials made of plants and animals, newer generation bio-polymers which are made of biomass must be used. In agriculture, organic mulch or other biodegradable materials are highly suggested. Government must enforce penalties for using plastics. Or at least principles of reuse, reduce and recycle has to be followed. 

Author, K.Yamini is pursuing MBA (Agribusiness management) in Dr. Rajendra Prasad Central Agricultural University, Pusa, Bihar. She has also completed B.Sc.(Agriculture) in Centurion University of Technology and management, Odisha.