Greening the Blue

Dr. Banarsi Lal

Soil is finite natural resource. Soil is a critical component of the natural system and as a vital contributor to the human commonwealth through its contribution to food, water and energy security and as a mitigator of biodiversity loss and climate change. The nutritional value of the food we eat is directly associated with the soil health. Soil high in organic carbon content enables better rainfall infiltration and retention and provides greater resilience to drought. Soils are vulnerable to carbon loss through degradation but regenerative land management practices can build and restore soil health. It is estimated that natural processes take more than 500 years to form 2 centimeters of topsoil. Soil stores around 10 per cent of the worlds carbon dioxide emissions. Microbial activities controls and manipulates the chemistry of the soil. Living organisms in the soil control water infiltration, mineral density and nutrient cycling. Fungi and bacteria help to break down organic matter in the soil and earthworms digest organic matter, recycle nutrients and make the soil surface richer. In a handful of fertile soil, there are more individual organisms than the total number of human beings that have ever existed on the earth. Although soil plays an essential role for the human livelihoods but there is worldwide increase in the degradation of soil resources due to inappropriate management practices, population pressure driving unsustainable intensification and inadequate governance over this essential resource. Healthy soil is the key to sustaining life and the adoption of sustainable land management practices are becoming more and more important. Increase in the soil carbon builds a precious reservoir and helps to offset greenhouse gas emissions. It also contributes in the fertility of the soil, the foundation for all land- based natural and agricultural ecosystems which provide a major part of the world’s food supply, natural resources and biodiversity. More than 10 million people have abandoned their homelands because of environmental issues including drought, soil erosion, desertification and deforestation. Soil improves our resilience to floods and droughts. Majority of the known antibiotics originated from soil bacteria including penicillin.
Agriculture is a tool for poverty eradication. The government of India is making strenuous efforts not merely as a tool to feed the country but also as a means to uplift the socio-economic status of the farming community of the country. The government has initiated a number of developmental schemes and programmes which have the potential to immensely benefit the farming community by strengthening the roots of agriculture. On 19th February, 2015 the Prime Minister of India launched the nationwide Soil Health Card Scheme from Suratgarh, Rajasthan. The government has announced that 14.5 crore farmers would get the soil health cards within three years across the country. Soil Health Card Scheme is a national movement across the country. Under this scheme the soil sample is taken by the experts from the farmer’s field and tested in a soil health laboratory. Then the soil health card is issued to the farmers regarding the ingredients and deficiencies in the soil. On the basis of the results of the soils of respective farmer field, he can add the plants nutrients in the soil accordingly. This scheme may not only maintain the health of the soil but will also reduce the cost of cultivation. This will also help to identify the best crop suited in the respective field.
Total geographical area in India is 329 million hectares, out of which 68 million hectares is critically degraded and another 107 million hectares is severely eroded. A total of 175 million hectares area is subjected to serious erosion problems such as wind, water, water logging, soil alkalinity and salinity etc. It is expected that around 61 per cent of soil is displaced from one place to another. In steep land farming areas such as Western Ghats, topsoil losses are very high. An unscientific way of farming in sloppy lands may cause large scale soil loss by erosion. High intensity of monsoon rainfall on steep slopes contributes to high erosion rates. Soil conservation programmes have been disseminated by the Government and also Non-Governmental agencies in our country. Major objective of soil conservation is to keep everything in the soil in its place. It manages the soil erosion and process of sedimentation. Soil fertility needs to be restored in order to allow a satisfactory and early return on the capital and labour invested. So there is need of improved sustainable production through different soil management practices. Land husbandry considers management of soil, water and vegetation as an integrated approach. For example, frequent failures to several water management schemes are attributed to the non-consideration of the interrelationships between soil, water and biomass. A new strategy needs to be developed taking into account the needs of those in direct charge of the land.
By improving the overall soil conditions for plant growth, better conservation of water and soil can be achieved. Better land husbandry is more relevant when the land is under active crop production. These apply to land use, crop management, tillage methods, integrated nutrient management etc .Land husbandry relies strongly on agronomic and biological methods in combination with a realistic soil management .The intensity of the soil conservation treatments depends primarily on the steepness of the slope. The establishment or maintenance is very important. The physical characteristics of erodable soils can be improved with mulching materials. An integrated approach should be taken to land water and its uses to avoid undesirable effects from human activities.
Most of the soil conservation programmes emphasize on soil degradation than on the top-down approach in recommending and disseminating practices. Soil conservation programmes that aim to reduce soil degradation problems need long-term bottom-up approach. It should be remembered that erosion is a consequence of how soil and its vegetation are managed and not itself the cause of soil degradation. Thus, prevention of soil degradation is more important than attempting to develop a cure afterwards.
(The writer is Chief Scientist and Head of KVK, Reasi SKUAST-J)

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