By Pandurang Hegde
According to Central Soil Water Conservation Research and Training Institute, Dehradun, India is losing 5,334 million tonnes of soil every year due to soil erosion because of indiscreet and excess use of fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides over the years. On an average 16.4 tonnes of fertile soil is lost every year per hectare.
The non-judicious use of fertilizers has led to deterioration of soil fertility causing loss of micro and macronutrients leading to poor soils and low yields causing low agricultural yields.
Realising the severity of the problem, Prime Minister rendra Modi called for focusing the attention of improving the health of the soils across the country to boost the productivity and increased prosperity. Referring to the tiol song ‘Vande Mataram’, he said that in order to achieve true meaning of ‘Sujalam and Suphalam’, it is necessary to nurture the soil and improve soil health.
In order to implement the concept of improving soil health, he launched the Soil Health Card Scheme (SHC).
The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperation, Government of India has the target of issuing 14 crore SHCs across the country. An estimated budget of Rs 568 crore is assigned towards realising this scheme. This is being implemented in collaboration with State governments from the year 2015-16, under which 253 lakh soil samples will be tested every three years to generate approximately 14 crore SHC.
The large area of operation and the enormity of collecting data at ground level is herculean task. Nevertheless the Ministry of Agriculture is committed to assess the soil samples and issue SHCs. As on 15 November this year, 34.47 lakh soil health cards have been distributed to farmers across the country.
In order to expedite the process of soil testing, 460 new soil-testing labs have been sanctioned under Soil Health Magement Scheme. Apart from mobile soil testing labs, the Ministry of Agriculture has also sanctioned the functioning of 2,296 mini soil-testing labs in 2016-17. This will accelerate the process of soil testing in remote areas. It has created employment opportunities for rural youth with technical and educatiol skills.
So how will these soil health cards help to improve soil fertility?
In the first stage, these tests will reveal the status of the farmer’s soil with respect to macro nutrients like N, P and K, micro nutrients and show the presence of pH value. Using this basic information, the farmer can progress to the second stage of how to improve his soil fertility by using specific dosage required for realizing optimal yields. These cards will contain the advisory based on the status of the soil nutrient on the farmers land. It will also suggest what kind of soil magement he needs to undertake to stop soil deterioration and improve soil fertility.
These cards will be issued for three cropping cycles, showing the soil status at the end of every cropping season. Thus, the SHC is not a one shot solution, but a continuous process that provides basic information on the health of soil for the farmer. Unscientific farming practices and overuse of fertilizers and pesticides are rendering agricultural soil useless by destroying soil fertility. With the impact of climate change, the availability of water for irrigation will be greatly reduced. The low availability of soil organic matter and constant soil erosion due to high temperatures will lead to desertification.
In order to address this problem it is essential to create a sound database for addressing the crisis. The collection of soil samples and alysis of soils across the country will provide the scientific information about the conditions of soils across diverse ecological zones in the country. Based on this, it becomes feasible to implement the measures to rebuild soil fertility. It will not only reduce the costs of inputs, but will help the farmer to improve his yields and eventually to alleviate poverty.
There is close link between healthy soils and healthy food. With the indiscrimite use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides, the soils in our country have been heavily poisoned. Poisoned soils will produce foods that will cause health problems. We may produce more yields by applying more chemical inputs, but the fil produce is devoid of micronutrients that are essential for building a healthy body.
With 17 percent of world’s population and just 2 percent of geographical area, and with high level of poverty, it becomes essential to improve the condition of soil in order to provide food security and employment to 55 percent of the Indian population engaged in agriculture. The SHC initiative has been lauded by the UN food body, FAO (Food and Agricultural Organisation). On the occasion of Intertiol Year of Soils in 2015 the FAO Director Jose Graziano told Agricultural Minister Radha Mohan Singh that the SHC could be model for other countries, to secure food security thorough healthy soils.
Prime Minister rendra Modi has given the slogan of “Swastha Dhara, Khet Hara”, which means ‘healthy Earth and green farms’. In order to create healthy Earth, we need to create healthy soils. The Union Agriculture Ministry is working closely with State governments to create conditions for evolving healthy soils and green farms that will pave the road map to achieve the targets of doubling the farmers’ incomes and address the issue of poverty of soil and farmers. (PIB)
(The author is an independent jourlist and columnist based in Kartaka. He regularly writes on environmental issues.)