Rama Kant Dubey is a PhD fellow at the Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development, Banaras Hindu University, India. To meet the food demands of a rapidly growing human population, without any negative effects on the ecosystem, he is validating sustainable agro-biotechnological approaches for improving the soil, and the nutritional quality of agricultural produce.

His research focus is agricultural sustainability and restoration of degraded land in times of global warming He made India proud with his environmental research work and has been decorated with the Green Talents Awards by the German Government – Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

This award is conducted every year honouring 25 scientists from across the globe among various participants being judged by the distinguished jury based on certain scientific criteria. The jury was impressed by Dubey’s research for its very clear aims, which will be invaluable not only for India’s ecology, but also for the rest of the world.

The Science Forum will give him the opportunity to discuss his findings with leading scientists working in the interdisciplinary area of soil microbial ecology, agricultural microbiology and climate-smart agriculture.

Excerpts from an interview:

What urged you to undertake this research project?

Agriculture is the major sector in India where most of the rural population works and is equally important globally in order to get food for all. To meet the global challenges like food, fodder, fibre and energy demand somehow we are dependent upon the agro-ecosystems. In order to fulfil the huge demands people have deteriorated the quality of agro-ecosystems massively through agro chemical pollution, biomass burning and improper agricultural practices.

All aforementioned issues and challenges forced me to work on this research project where we have developed and suggested some sustainable agro-biotechnological practices which can reduce the negative effects of the conventional agriculture and carry the improvement in soil and crop quality in due course of time.

How do you plan to make agricultural land use sustainable given the challenges of industrialisation and global warming?

It is a tedious task to manage all face of the development at a time with rapidly growing human population. However sustainable management of the agro-ecosystems, especially sustainable intensification practices for agriculture can open a new window for all. This way we can produce more food with improved nutritional quality and minimum environmental risks.

Agricultural sector is alone responsible for the 19-30 per cent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions. These newly developed interactive practices reduce the soil CO2 efflux from agricultural land. We are also focusing on the restoration of degraded lands to maximise the proportion of useful lands.

Restored lands can be used for generating bio-energy feedstock, growing ornamental plants and it will improve the soil carbon stocks and enhance soil fertility reducing the ill effects of the warming.

How will one be benefited from the experiments in Uttar Pradesh?

We have chosen three sites to set up all our experiments in three different agro-ecosystems of the UP which exists in the Indo Gangetic plains of the Northern India. This region is known as the “Food Bowl of India”. Adoption of sustainable agricultural practices in this region could be a major contribution to the agroecosystems.

After getting the complete picture we can definitely go for some policy level recommendation for the further implementation of the practices throughout India or rest of the agriculturally important countries.

Nowadays we mostly get hybridised food items instead of natural ones. Is there any solution to this problem?

In order to fulfil the global food demands hybrid food are good option. However we can also improve the proportion of natural ones in a cyclic manner.

We have recommended the practices of intercropping, multi-cropping and crop rotations which can be utilised to improve the proportion of wild varieties. We are also targeting to explore the agro-biodiversity, especially crop varieties and landraces from different region of the country and trying to grow them for their further utilisation and preservation.

What are some of the future plans regarding this project?

In this project I am trying to explore the below ground processes and mechanism responsible for improving the soil quality, crop productivity, agro-ecosystems services and reducing agricultural green house gases emission. I am also keen to see the impact of these newly developed resource conservation sustainable agricultural practices under warming condition like elevated CO2. Q. How did the funding for the project happen? The project was sanctioned to my PhD supervisor PC Abhilash, Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development, Banaras Hindu University, India. We had funding from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Department of Science and Technology, University Grant Commission and Indian National Science Academy, India to facilitate the execution of the projects. My co-supervisor HB Singh, Institute of Agricultural Sciences, BHU, has provided laboratory facilities and the field to conduct the experiments.

What are the challenges that you had to face while conducting the project?

We have done much scientific discussion from the experts before adoption of the practices so technically we didn’t have to face any problem in conducting the experiments. In the starting year of the experiments the results were poor compared to the fourth year. Research funding was sometimes limitation with us.