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 Shri Nardendar 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 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 the soil health.
In order to implement the concept of improving the 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 SHC across the country. An estimated budget of Rs 568 crore is assigned towards realising this scheme. This is being implemented in collaboration with the 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 SHC.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 Management Scheme. Apart from the mobile soil testing labs, the Ministry of Agriculture has also sanctioned the functioning of 2296 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 educational skills.
How will these soil health cards help to improve the 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 realizing the 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 management he needs to undertake to stop the soil deterioration and improve the 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 are not a one shot solution, but a continuous process that provides the basic information on the health of soil for the farmer.
The unscientific farming practices and overuse of fertilisers and pesticides is rendering the agricultural soil useless by destroying the 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 data base for addressing the crisis. The collection of soil samples and analysis 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 the 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 indiscriminate 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 final produce is devoid of micronutrients that are essential for building the healthy body.
With 17 per cent of world’s population and just 2 per cent 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 per cent of the population engaged in agriculture.
The SHC initiative has been lauded by the UN food body, FAO (Food and Agricultural Organisation). On the occasion of International 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 Shri Narendra 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.
*Author is an independent journalist and columnist based in Karnataka. Regularly writes on environmental issues.