It is said in the Vedas, upon the Soil our survival depends. Care for it, and it will care for your food, the fuel that you need, that will shelter you and surround you with beauty. The root cause of deteriorating human and animal health is poor health of soil. Only healthy soil can support healthy plant growth to provide nutritious produce to keep us healthy.
Soil health is defined as “soil’s capacity, as a dynamic and biologically active entity, within natural and managed landscapes, to sustain multiple ecosystem services including net primary productivity, food and nutritional security, biodiversity, water purification and renewability, carbon sequestration, air quality or atmospheric chemistry, and elemental cycling after human wellbeing and nature conservancy.”
The significance of soil health has also been recognized globally for both economic and ecological existence, as established by the launch of the ‘4/1000 initiative’ at the UN Climate talks in Paris in 2015. This aimed to demonstrate that agriculture and in particular, agricultural soil can play a crucial role in food security and climate change.
Indian soils are generally low in organic carbon, and deficient in both macro and micro nutrients. Nutrient deficiency in the country is in the order of 95, 94, 48, 25, 36.5, 23.4, 12.8, 7.1 and 4.2% for N, P, K, S, Zn, B, Fe, Mn and Cu respectively. Deterioration of soil health is considered as a major reason for declining nutrient use efficiencies and stagnation of agricultural productivity.
According to FAO, soil degradation is defined as a change in the soil health status resulting in a diminished capacity of the ecosystem to provide goods and services for its beneficiaries.
Soil erosion due to water resulted in an annual crop production loss of 13.4Mt in Cereals, Oil Seeds and Pulse Crops is equivalent to ~US$162 billion. According to the National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning ~146.8 M ha is degraded.
Reasons of soil degradation:
- Overgrazing, Deforestation and Careless Forest Management
- Urban Growth, Industrialization and Mining
- Natural and Social Sources of land degradation such as earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts, avalanches and land shortage, decline in per capita land availability, economic pressure on land, land tenancy
- Population Increase
- Agricultural activities
- Low and Imbalanced Fertilization
- Excessive Tillage and Use of Heavy Machinery
- Crop Residue Burning and Inadequate Organic Matter Inputs
- Poor Irrigation and Water Management
- Poor Crop Rotations
- Pesticide Overuse and Soil Pollution
MANAGEMENT PRACTICES TO IMPROVE SOIL HEALTH
- Reduce Inversion Tillage and Soil Traffic- It disrupts soil aggregates, exposing particles of organic matter that had been physically protected within aggregates to microbial consumption.
- Increase Organic Matter Inputs- It includes incorporation of cover crops or perennial crops and judicious additions of animal and green manure and compost.
- Use Cover Crops- Species of cover crops that host mycorrhizal fungi can sustain and increase the population of these beneficial fungi. Legume cover crops can add nitrogen to the soil through nitrogen fixation.
- Reduce Pesticide Use & Provide Habitat for Beneficial Organisms- Beneficial insects can harmed by the application of broad-spectrum insecticides. Farm scaping is a whole-farm, ecological approach to increase and manage biodiversity with the goal of increasing the presence of beneficial organisms
- Rotate Crops- Diverse crop rotations will help break up soil borne pest and disease life cycles, improving crop health. Rotations can also assist in managing weeds & help reduce nutrient excesses.
It refers to the efficient use of crop nutrients to improve productivity. It is necessary to balance the soil nutrient input with the crop requirement. If applied in huge amounts, it will harm the crop, and if applied in small quantities it limits the yield.
Chemical nutrient management
The International Plant Nutrition Institute has published a 4R plant nutrition manual for improving the management of plant nutrition. It outlines the scientific principles behind each of the four R’s or “rights” (right source of nutrient, right application rate, right time, right place) as an approach for nutrient management planning. Fertilizers should be applied scientifically in terms of proper dose, time, pre-and post- application precautions for their complete utilisation.
Organic nutrient management
Organic fertilizers include compost, vermicompost, Humic acid, sea weed extracts. Green manures and the green leafy manures can also be suggested, the inter cropping, crop rotation can be done to restore the nutrients back in the soil for example Sesbania can fix the nitrogen from the atmosphere.
1.Nitrogen fixing free living bacteria: e.g., Azotobacter, Clostridium, Bacillus polymyxa
2.Nitrogen fixing free living Cyanobacteria: e.g., Nostoc, Anabaena
3.Partial association of nitrogen fixing bacteria: e.g., Azospirillum
4.Symbiotic nitrogen fixing bacteria: e.g., Actinomycete, Rhizobium, Ardisia
5.Symbiotic nitrogen fixing cyanobacteria: e.g., Blue-green algae
The concept of the conservation of soil takes into account, the strategies for preventing the soil from getting eroded and preventing it from losing its fertility due to an adverse alteration in its chemical composition. These measures are of two types:
Small Measures (at Local or Individual Level)
a) Implementing field measures such as terracing, contour farming, intercropping, etc.
b)Afforestation & raising wind breaks, shelter belts.
c) Land development and shaping.
d) Erosion control-cum- water harvesting structures.
e) Using proper Fertilization management techniques-Organisms like earthworms and others benefiting the soil should be promoted. Earthworms, through aeration of soil, enhance the availability of macronutrients in soil.
Large Measures (Government Schemes)
- Watershed Development Project in Shifting Cultivation Areas (WDPSCA)
The scheme was implemented from the year 1995-96 onwards. It is a 100% Central assistance through the Ministry of Agriculture & Co-operation, Government of India.
The main thrust of the project is as follows:
Protect hill slopes of jhum areas through soil and water conservation measures on a watershed basis & Mitigate ill effects of shifting cultivation by introducing appropriate land use as per land capacity and improved technologies.
- NABARD Loan- Soil & Water Conservation Scheme under RIDF
The Department started implementing Scheme under Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF) – NABARD Loan from the year 2000-2001 onwards.
The objective of the scheme is to enhance the productivity of agriculture and its allied activities and in small river valleys, thereby improving the socio-economic set up of the people in the rural areas as well to promote sustainable development through conservation and management of soil and water.
- Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY)
The thrust area is to protect the loss of topsoil, improving soil fertility, enhancing crop production, land and water productivity of watershed areas comprising of wastelands, river valleys and the eco-system as a whole. The programme is implemented with the Department of Agriculture as the Nodal Agency.
The proposed schemes under RKVY mainly comprise of the following:
- Soil & Water Conservation for enhancing crop production & productivity in river valley/ valley bottom lands.
- Soil & Water Conservation for restoring & reclaiming cultivable wastelands affected by mining & quarrying
- Soil & Water Conservation for improvement of traditional water conservation & distribution system for enhanced crop production.
National Project on Soil Health and Fertility
This scheme is for setting up Soil Testing Laboratories (STL) / mobile STLs/Fertilizer Quality Control Laboratories (FQCLs) and their strengthening for paving the way for judicious use of chemical fertilizers. This scheme also includes the Soil Health Cards scheme
Soil Health Card Scheme
- Soil Health Card (SHC) is a Government of India’s scheme promoted by the Department of Agriculture & Co-operation under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare.
- A SHC is meant to give each farmer soil nutrient status of his/her holding and advice him/her on the dosage of fertilizers and also the needed soil amendments, that s/he should apply to maintain soil health in the long run.
The scheme was launched by PM on 19.02.2015 at Suratgarh, Rajasthan.
Details on the SHC
- Under this scheme, a farmer gets a soil health card which provides vital information about the quality of soil by giving comprehensive information about type of soil, nutrient content, fertilizer required, crop suitability to ambient temperature and rainfall condition. It also carries crop-wise recommendations of nutrients / fertilizers required for farms in a particular village, so that the farmers can improve productivity by using inputs judiciously.
- Under this scheme, Central Government provides assistance to State Governments for setting up Soil Testing Laboratories for issuing Soil Health Cards to farmers. A Soil Health Card Mobile App was also launched to help the farmers.
- In its first phase, 100 million Soil Health Cards are distributed to farmers between 2015-2017.
Major Programmes of the Department
The programmes/schemes implemented by the Department include both Centrally Sponsored Schemes as well as State Plan Schemes.
1.State Plan Schemes
(1) Soil & Water Conservation in General Areas.
(2) Watershed Management Programme.
2.Centrally Sponsored Schemes
(1) Integrated Wasteland Development Programme (IWDP).
(2) Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP).
“Essentially, all life depends upon the soil… There can be no life without soil and no soil without life; they have evolved together.”- Dr. Charles E Kellogg, Soil Scientist
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