In recent years, the world has come to a profound realization: the urgent need to shift towards sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices is no longer a choice but a necessity. Conventional agricultural systems, characterized by intensive chemical inputs, large-scale monocultures, and extensive land clearing, have significantly contributed to environmental degradation soil erosion, biodiversity loss, and climate change. This crisis is vividly illustrated in Pakistan, where rice, being the nation’s third-most significant crop, is cultivated over 3.8 million hectares and producing 9.51 million tons of milled rice annually. Despite its critical role, the rice sector faces severe challenges that threaten both its yield and sustainability. For over 30 million Pakistanis, whose livelihoods, income, and daily lives are intertwined with this crop, the stakes could not be higher. As the global population continues to rise, the pressures on our natural resources intensifies. Hence, exploring alternative agricultural practices becomes inherently imperative. These approaches must rise to the dual challenge of ensuring food security and promoting environmental sustainability.

Given its importance, Fairtrade organized a two-day training on regenerative farming and smart irrigation practices to address upcoming challenges in agriculture. 21 producers from 3 fairtrade rice producing organization participated in this training session. Over two days, participants engaged in several modules. The two-day training consisted of the following sessions as follows:

Introduction to Rice Cultivation in Pakistan:

Participants introduced themselves and reflected on the current agricultural methods to understand their challenges and opportunities from this training.

Principles of Regenerative Agriculture:

This session focused on regenerative agriculture and its application. Regenerative agriculture is essential for enhancing soil health, directly impacting crop productivity and sustainability. This approach improves soil structure, fertility, and microbial activity, creating a robust foundation for plant growth. The six core principles of regenerative agriculture include –

  1. Minimizing soil disturbance by reducing tillage preserves soil structure and health, protecting beneficial soil organisms.
  2. Maximizing crop diversity through crop rotations and cover crops enhances soil fertility and disrupts pest and disease cycles.
  3. Keeping soil covered with cover crops and mulch protects it from erosion, retains moisture, and adds organic matter.
  4. Maintaining living roots year-round supports soil organisms and maintains soil structure.
  5. Integrating livestock through managed grazing practices enhances soil health and promotes efficient nutrient cycling.
  6. Promoting on-farm biodiversity creates habitats for beneficial organisms, supporting natural pest control, pollination, and overall ecosystem balance.

Efficient nutrient management is another significant benefit, as regenerative practices promote natural nutrient cycling, reducing dependency on chemical fertilizers. Water conservation is critical in Pakistan, where water scarcity is a pressing issue. Regenerative agriculture improves soil’s water retention capacity, minimizes erosion, and reduces runoff, ensuring more efficient use of water resources. Additionally, promoting biodiversity through regenerative practices increases ecosystem diversity and resilience, which is particularly beneficial for rice production, leading to healthier crops and improved yields. With this the first ended on a positive note.

The second day started with great enthusiasm. The following sessions were held on the second day –

Smart Irrigation Practices:

This session addressed the challenge of managing water resources sustainably in rice cultivation, particularly concerning the excessive groundwater depletion associated with rice farming in Pakistan. Compared to other Asian countries, Pakistan’s rice water productivity remains significantly lower, primarily due to persisting challenges in sustainable WR management. To overcome these challenges and achieve sustainable WR management in rice production, a comprehensive approach is necessary. This involves focusing on key areas within rice cultivation. By adhering to three fundamental principles—when to irrigate, how to irrigate, and how much to irrigate—we can significantly conserve water and promote sustainability.

Water Efficient Techniques in Rice:

This session highlighted the various water-efficient technologies that could be adopted to promote sustainable water resource management (WRM) and enhance rice production. A key focus of the module is on maintaining the right volume of water for irrigation. Over-irrigation or under-irrigation can detrimentally affect crop health and productivity. Therefore, it emphasizes the significance of irrigating with the appropriate volume tailored to the crop’s needs. Both excessive and insufficient irrigation volumes can lead to adverse consequences, highlighting the importance of precision in water management. By adopting water-efficient technologies and adhering to optimal irrigation practices, farmers can mitigate water scarcity risks, improve water productivity, and ensure sustainable rice production for food security.

Introduction to regenerative Agriculture through Alternate Wetting & Drying (AWD) Technique:

In response to this challenge, the adoption of the Alternate Wetting & Drying (AWD) technique has emerged as a promising strategy for promoting water efficiency and sustainability in rice production. Through rigorous testing, a water level of 15cm has been established as the threshold for Safe AWD, ensuring both agricultural productivity and water conservation. The AWD methodology involves the periodic drying and re- flooding of rice fields, with pipes installed during transplanting or post-sowing stages. This technique not only conserves water but also reduces methane emissions by up to 48% compared to continuous flooding methods. Furthermore, integrating AWD with Nitrogen-use efficiency (NUE) and organic input management can further diminish greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change mitigation efforts. AWD offers a range of benefits beyond water

Interactive Session with Regenerative farmer:

To understand the practicality of regenerative agriculture, a progressive farmer invited for sharing his experience of the field, a seasoned practitioner of zero-tillage farming, shared his extensive experience and insights with participants. His expertise resonated with the audience, inspiring farmers to reconsider their conventional methods and explore more sustainable approaches. He addressed their concerns, sharing practical tips and strategies based on his firsthand experience. His answers provided valuable guidance, empowering farmers to overcome challenges and embrace change in their agricultural practices. The session left a lasting impact on participants, instilling a sense of inspiration and encouragement.

To understand the effectiveness of the program, a feedback session was conducted. participants were encouraged to share their feedback regarding the training experience. The two-day training received high praise and appreciation from the participants. Their feedback indicated a strong interest and active engagement throughout the event. Participants expressed a desire for more such training opportunities in the future.

Climate change (CC) is worsening the challenges faced by Pakistan’s agriculture, particularly regarding water availability. The country’s water resources are in continuous decline that directly impacts the rice production. Hence, the future of sustainable agriculture in Pakistan lies in the widespread adoption of regenerative practices. Optimizing resource management, alleviating climate change impacts, and improving nutrient cycling and water quality are all critical components. Promoting agroforestry and supporting renewable energy sources further enhance the sustainability of farming systems. The future of regenerative agriculture in Pakistan holds immense promise for sustainable agricultural transformation, ensuring food security, environmental resilience, and socio- economic development. Through supportive policies, capacity building, and collaborative efforts, Pakistan can embrace regenerative agriculture as a pathway to address pressing challenges and create a more sustainable and prosperous agricultural sector.

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