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Urgency to stop soil erosion

soil erosion

(On the occasion of World Soil Day on 5th December)

Hemchandra Saikia

[The author is Subject Matter Specialist (Agricultural Economics), Assam Agricultural University, Jorhat]

The celebration of World Soil Day on 5th December every year across the world is aimed to develop pathfinding and ameliorative sustainable soil management approaches in order to protect Planet Earth, particularly the soil, its good health and fertility which is very essential in maintaining sustainable food security for survival of mankind in particular and other flora and fauna in general. Without soil, mankind cannot imagine life for a single moment because it is soil which provides us food, shelter and cloth directly or indirectly, which are the three vital basic needs of human life. Around 95% of our food is directly or indirectly produced on our soils. It also supports foundations of buildings, roads and communication infrastructures.

Besides, soil gives us some important mineral medicines and other substances like petroleum jelly, steatite for cosmetics, talcum powders etc. Bacteria and microbes present in soil help in environmental balance like retaining of moisture, decay of dead bodies of animals and plants, scavenging of waste and other toxic chemicals including plastic. Soil contains essential minerals and elements like phosphates, sulphates, calcium, zinc, magnesium and many more, which are very essential for the right type of growth and development of crop plants capable of yielding sufficient food produce and thereby helping to tackle the menace of food crisis in the world. It also keeps weather temperature cool by way of absorbing water when there is rain. Soil contents like gravel, clay, sand, etc. are widely used for construction of houses, buildings, roads etc.

If we want to have sustainable food secured life year after year, then mankind must maintain sustainable sound soil health equipped with due amount of soil fertility — otherwise it will be totally impossible to obtain the right quantities of food to feed our human world with deteriorated or degraded condition of mother soil. This is because the productivity of a degraded soil is undoubtedly very much lower than that of a healthy soil.

But what is happening with our mother soil, its health and its fertility? From last several decades, the very health of soil is getting degraded dangerously in various parts of our world, creating a great challenge and threat to the sustainable existence of mankind. It is reported that of the world’s total land area of 13.5 billion hectares, only 3.03 billion hectares (22 per cent) is actually cultivable and about 2 billion hectares is degraded. In India alone, about 188 million hectares or almost 57% of total land area is degraded (Sehgel and Abrol, 1994). Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in 2010 reported that in India, out of the total geographical area of 328.73 mha, about 120.4 mha is affected by various types of land degradation. Again it is reported that 1/3 of our global soils are already degraded.

Thus it is established that the very health of soil is getting degraded, deteriorated or damaged due to injudicious human activities in the name of modern development. Soil erosion is a disaster threatening the very health of mother soil. The realization is dawning at every nook and corner of the world about the increasing menace of soil erosion resulting in huge loss of property, fertility and productivity of soil, which is posing a great threat to food security.

According to the study report of Central Soil Water Conservation Research and Training Institute (CSWCRTI), Dehradun, India is losing 5,334 million tonnes of soil every year due to soil erosion because of indiscreet and excess use of fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides over the years; the rate of loss is 16.4 tonnes per hectare every year which is more than three times the acceptable limit of 4-5 tonnes. The Central Soil and Water Conservation Research and Training Institute, ICAR, also reported that nearly 74 million tonnes of major nutrients is lost due to erosion annually in India. On an average, every year, the country loses 0.8 million tonnes of nitrogen, 1.8 million tonnes of phosphorus, and 26.3 million tonnes of potassium. Thus India is also experiencing an acute problem of soil erosion.

Assam too is experiencing huge loss of both agricultural and non-agricultural land resulting in enormous loss of resources, property, assets, life, poor performance of agriculture etc, due to conspicuous menace of soil erosion. For example, in the case of Assam, it is reported that more than 4.27 lakh hectares of land has been already eroded away by the river Brahmaputra and its tributaries since 1950, which is 7.4 % of the area of the State. As assessed, the annual average loss of land is nearly 8,000 Ha. So, the damage caused by soil erosion is approximated as several hundred crores every year.

Soil erosion may be by water, wind or tillage. It consists of three distinct actions — soil detachment, movement and deposition. Detachment is the process of detachment of topsoil from the rest of the ground, movement process means the topsoil is relocated to another area and deposition is a processor stage where the topsoil ends up after this process. Major causes of soil erosion are rainfall, flooding by rivers and streams, high wind, overgrazing, overstocking and tillage practices, deforestation, reduced vegetation cover, urbanization and mass movements and soil structure/composition. Soil erosion is the loss of topsoil which is the fertile part of soil very much essential for desired higher production and productivity of agricultural crop for sustainable food security. So soil erosion will have great impact on agricultural productivity and food security. The various effect of soil erosion may be — loss of topsoil, soil compaction, reduced organic and fertile matter, poor drainage, higher chance of increased soil acidity, water pollution causing significant damage to fish and water quality. Therefore, the very theme for this year’s World Soil Day is appropriate, that is ‘Stop Soil Erosion, Save Our Future’ for sustainable development oriented peaceful living.  Therefore, the 68th UN General Assembly on December 2013, declared 5 December as World Soil Day, and from then it started the celebration of World Soil Day on this very day of December every year with a suitable definite theme.

As injudicious human activities are the main precursor of soil erosion, people from all walks of like should understand the ill effects of such activities undertaken with both agricultural and non-agricultural purpose,  industrialization, urbanization etc in the name of so-called growth and development, and act effectively in right time and place accordingly. For this, fruitful results of research and development of our experts’ communities will help in a big way in mitigating the great menace of soil erosion. Besides, our elected government can bring about a desired change in controlling and managing the threat of soil erosion through effective implementation of water or flood control measures, preventive wind control measures and also encouraging improved agricultural practices which have minimum erosion effect on soil. For these to happen in reality and effectively, schemes or plans need to be implemented in time and place where the honesty of those implementing personnel, staff or officials will be a vital determining factor, otherwise it will be mere wastage of public money. So concerted, coordinated and combined fruitful effort is very much essential with the active participation of all stockholders and the masses if we really want to stop or minimize soil erosion and save our future by ensuring sustainable food security.