Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) Benefits

Indian agriculture has a rich historical past. Hymns in Rigveda describe plowing, sowing, irrigation, fruit and vegetable cultivation. An ancient Indian Sanskrit text, Bhumivargaha, classified agricultural land into twelve categories: urvara (fertile), ushara (barren), pankikala (muddy), maru (desert), aprahata (fallow), jalaprayah (watery), kachchaha (land contiguous to water), sharkara (full of pebbles and pieces of limestone), shadvala (grassy), nadimatruka (land watered from a river), sharkaravati (sandy), and devamatruka (rainfed). Archaeological evidence suggests that rice was grown along the banks of the Indian river Ganges in the sixth millennium BC. Thousands of years ago, Indian farmers used to domesticate cattle, buffaloes, sheep, goats, pigs and horses The farmers used traditional methods of cultivation.

However, over past fifty years Indian population has tripled. To meet the food requirements of the increasing population and save them from starvation increase in farm production was the need of the hour. Norman Borlaug, titled as the “Father of the Green Revolution” introduced the concepts of introduction of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains, increase of irrigation infrastructure, advancement of management techniques, distribution of hybridized seeds, use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to farmers in developing countries. India too successfully implemented it, which led to rapid growths in farm productivity and enabled us to become self-sufficient by the 1970s. However, this historical revolution created some problems also. For example high yield was associated with land degradation. Also there was increase in number of weeds. There was evidence of chemicals in water and crops making them unsafe. Today, India is among the top three global producers of many crops, including wheat, rice, cotton, pulses, peanuts, fruits and vegetables. Worldwide, India has the largest herds of buffalo and cattle. It is also the largest producer of milk. Also India has one of the largest and fastest growing poultry industries. India’s basic strength lies in its farms. With this huge farm productivity it becomes imperative that the safety and quality of farm produce is ensured at all stages of production. We need to balance the requirements of food security and safety both. The solution to this complex problem is by adopting Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs). To increasing the quantity and quality of food in response to growing demand it is required to increase the agricultural productivity. Good agricultural practices, often in combination with effective input use, are one of the best ways to increase productivity and improve quality.

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GAPs enhance the production safe and good quality food. These practices are ususally environmentally safe and ensure that the final product is appropriate handled, stored and transported. When GAPs are put in practice in true spirit it can be assured that the food will meet quality and safety standards at the time of harvest. GAPs protect food at the primary stage of production from contamination by the following :-

Physical hazards like rocks, dirt ,sand filth, putrid and decomposed materials
Toxic chemical hazards and contaminants from the environment like heavy metals, environmental pollutants and industrial chemicals)
Excessive or unsafe levels of agricultural chemical residues as pesticides, fertilizers, veterinary drugs and other chemicals
Contamination or damage by pests, vermin and other insects
Biological contamination by mould, pathogenic bacteria or viruses which can cause spoilage, crop damage and food borne illness or chronic health hazards in humans

According to Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations Good Agricultural Practices are “practices that address environmental, economic and social sustainability for on-farm processes, and result in safe and quality food and non-food agricultural products” (figure 1).

Figure 1: Four main pillars of GAP.

The international market is becoming competitive. The developed countries have become more demanding, critical and stringent when it comes to accepting export of food from developing countries. To have a good standing of our farm produce in the international market Indian Good Agricultural Practices (INDGAP) have been formulated. Adopting theses practices will ensure a safe and sustainable farm produce.

INDGAP defines certain minimum standards with a well defined system of accreditation mechanism and implementation of GAP. These standards are voluntary and non discriminatory to the growers. INDGAP has different modules for all farm, crops, fruits and vegetables, combinable crops, green tea and coffee. Broad outline of various aspects which need to be managed are :-

Site history and management
Soil management
Soil mapping
Plant nutrition management an fertilizers
Irrigation and fertigation
Integrated pest management
Plant protection products
Complaints management
Visitors safety
Record keeping
Health welfare and safety of workers
Environmental conservation
Waste and pollution management

The potential benefits of GAP are significant improvement in quality and safety of food and other agricultural products. There is a marked reduction in risk of non-compliance with national and international regulations regarding permitted pesticides, maximum levels of contaminants (including pesticides, veterinary drugs, radionuclide and mycotoxins) in food and non-food agricultural products, as well as other chemical, microbiological and physical contamination hazards. Adoption of GAP helps to promote sustainable agriculture and contributes to meeting national and international environment and social development objectives.

However there are various challenges related to GAP. The most prominent is a definite increase in cost of production. There is lack of harmonization between existing GAP-related schemes and availability of affordable certification systems which often leads to increased confusion and certification costs for farmers and exporters. There is a high risk that small-scale farmers will not be able to seize export market opportunities unless they are adequately informed, technically prepared and organised to meet this new challenge. It is required that governments and public agencies play a facilitating role in this aspect. However, at times it has been experienced that compliance with GAP standards does not promote all the environmental and social benefits which are claimed.

Some key points for adopting GAP are:-

Selecting the right type of land to be cultivated for food crop production;
Planting the best-quality seeds and of the most appropriate varieties;
Use of authorized and acceptable chemical inputs (fertilizers, pesticides) as per approved directions (e.g. concentration, frequency, timing of use);
Controlling the quality of irrigation water (in case of use);
Use of appropriate harvesting and on-farm storing and handling techniques;
Use of suitable methods for shipping of produceto markets or food processors.

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