Agricultural soil is in poor health

Indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, accompanied by the reduced use of green manure, has left the agricultural soil health poorer. The issue is so serious that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his Independence Day speech, requested farmers to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides

Arvind ShuklaArvind Shukla   24 Aug 2019 1:21 PM GMT

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Agricultural soil is in poor health

"How we relentlessly use chemical fertilizers and pesticides we are only destroying our Mother Earth. We have no right to do so. We will either reduce the use of chemical fertilizers in our fields or won't use them at all," said Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the nation on Independence Day. Although he did mention the failing health of Mother Earth, the issue failed to draw the kind of attention its criticality deserves.

Post Green Revolution, indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, accompanied by the reduced use of green manure, besides stubble burning practice, has left the agricultural soil health poorer. Fields have decreased amounts of carbon compounds and have skewed pH levels. This calls for more and more fertilizers every coming year thereby increasing input costs of the farmer and affecting the health of soil further.

"Reviewing your doctor's past prescriptions and your field's soil card you'd find that nutritive components of the field have decreased while the list of multivitamins like Iron, Zinc, and Calcium being prescribed is getting bigger. The reason for this is the poor quality of soil which feeds the crops. So, we have to compensate it from outside," informed Dr Vinay Mishra, director, Central Soil Salinity Research Institute, Lucknow. This institute is widely acknowledged across the country for soil research and development.

"Carbon compounds are as vital for soil as hemoglobin for the human body. The human body is deemed healthy with a hemoglobin count of 13-16 similarly, soil with carbon compounds between 0.5 to 0.75 is said to be healthy. Our soil has become unhealthy. Our fields' soil is extremely poor in carbon compounds and micro-organisms," informed Dr Daya Srivastava, an agricultural scientist of Agriculture Science Centre, Sitapur.

Last year, KVA had issued soil cards to 1,200 farmers after testing their soil samples. Out of 1,200 samples, 60-70% samples had carbon compounds between 0.2 and 0.25. If these fields would not be given green manure, farmyard manure, and earthworms they would lose all moisture and good bacteria thereby. Such fields' soil may turn infertile in the coming years. As per Dr Srivastava, fields where organic farming is undertaken, have carbon compounds level between 12 and 18.

The optimum level of carbon compounds in the soil is indicative of its ability to foster micro-organisms life. In absence of micro-organisms, the fertilizers added to the fields cannot be utilized well, crop's yield will be poor and whatever may be the yield it would have less nutritive value. The land would absorb less water, more irrigation would be required. For the past few years, water table is fast getting depleted because consistent use of urea and DAP had toughened the land so rainwater gets washed away from the surface itself.

The correct method of soil testing can be watched below:

A few years ago, India's Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climatic Change had surveyed with the guidance of Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)'s Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad and had learned that 32% of the land in India is losing its vitality due to indiscriminate use of pesticides and fertilizers. Previously the association of various agricultural organizations had informed in its report that one-third of the total 350 million i.e, 120 million hectares of land is already in the problem.

"50 years ago, the soil had only Nitrogen deficiency, but now it is deficient also in potash, zinc, boron and sulfur. The soil has 17 nutritive components, but the farmer simply adds di-ammonium phosphate (DAP), urea and at times phosphate, sulfur and zinc. Farmers continue putting whichever chemical they have grown used to thereby upsetting the chemical balance of the fields. Some nutritive component becomes in excess while the other diminishes because the land's physical, chemical and biological properties get affected," said Dr Vinay Mishra.

"Use of organic manure and balanced chemical fertilizers has increased the level of carbon compounds. Pant Nagar (Uttarakhand), Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh), Akola (Maharashtra), Bairagpur (West Bengal) and places such as these show the level of carbon compounds up to 0.6% which is good. Punjab is fast improving from an average level of 0.2. However, the worst affected state is Rajasthan which has a poor average of 0.1," informed a scientist of Indian Institute of Soil Science (ICAR-IISS)

Independence Day was not the first occasion wherein the PM had raised the issue of deteriorating soil. The union government had launched a nationwide National Soil Health Card Scheme on 19 February 2015 from Suratgarh in Rajasthan. The PM had then declared that there shall be a card for every field's soil and farming shall alleviate farmers' poverty.

The health of soil can also be ascertained by the proportional level of NPK (nitrogen, phosphate and potash). NPA ratio must be 4:2:1 but in Rajasthan, it was 180:55:1 in 2014, which is extremely bothersome. During the same period, Haryana showed 60.7:12.7:1 while Punjab 56.8:12.5:1. Everything produced with soil ratio will be toxic, including grains, fruits, and vegetables.

PM Modi's Soil Card Scheme garnered much adulation during that period. It was said that soil from every field will be duly inspected and the farmer be told about the nutritive components' deficiency of his field in particular. The farmer was to get the soil assessed before each crop-cultivation and seek the advice of soil scientists regarding the amount and type of fertilizer to be used. But it didn't come to pass.

"Soil cards for most of the farmers have not been made yet. Only NPK level was assessed that too in an objectionable way as the government lifted the soil samples in grids. Which field's sample was lifted and what report came is anyone's guess. The government needs to rework its soil collection method to obtain accurate information on fields' health further facilitating the treatment," an agricultural scientist posted in Uttar Pradesh informed at the condition of anonymity.

Informing about the way to improve soil's health, Dr MC Mana of Indian Institute of Soil Science, said: "Every year our country generates 679 million tonnes of crop-refuse. 379 million tonnes of animal waste or dung and 65 million tonnes of solid waste from town and cities is also generated. If the same is used scientifically to produce compost and farmers desist from stubble burning and use fertilizers judiciously, the soil health can recover in no time. This will also help in combating global warming and climatic change."

"If the health of the soil from the field doesn't improve, people may as well forget about the poetic aroma of the soil in the first rain. This aroma emanated by the soil is in fact due to the presence of actinomycetes microorganisms. But now this aroma absent from the cities is on a rapid decline even in villages," traditional herbs and medicines expert Dr Deepak Acharya informed.

Drop in exports a recent lesson

The government has often repeated the need of an increase in agricultural exports to improve farmer's income. The government had also targeted to increase the agriculture export by a double by 2022, but the indiscriminate use of chemicals impedes its achievement. In the fiscal year 2019-20, agricultural export has shown a fall by 10.60%. An official of Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) has admitted that the poor quality of our crops is affecting our export policy.

Prior to this there have been questions about the quality of Indian basmati rice. The European Union had last year reduced the MRL of basmati's tricyclazole from 1 ppm to 0.01 ppm due to which Indian basmati suffered a major setback. For Indian exports, the traces of aflatoxins and residual chemicals and pesticides pose a huge problem. This is an issue with basmati, grapes, peanuts besides numerous other crops.

In 2018, The US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) had shown its disapproval of Indian prawns fed on banned antibiotics and had refused 26 consignments of the said seafood. The US is the largest market for Indian prawn exporters and contributes to 32% of the total seafood export.

Steps to preserve soil's fertility

Firstly, get the soil tested then only add fertilizers to it.

Use traditional fertilizers (cow dung, cow urine, green manure, crop leftovers) to maintain the microorganisms in the soil.

Do mixed farming — cultivate arhar, chana and such crops routinely with wheat.

Pesticides and fungicides should be used sparingly if required prepare organic pesticides.

The only topsoil which is up to 4 inches deep is used for farming so never one must burn hay upon fields, this harms the topsoil and beneficial microorganisms irreparably.

Also Read in Hindi: पीएम मोदी ने धरती मां को बचाने की अपील यूं नहीं की, भारत में कम हो रही जमीन की उपजाऊ शक्ति

Also Read: PM Modi urges farmers to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides. It's high time farmers go back to the drawing board to achieve this

Also Read: Climate change: Organic pesticides are a Brahmastra for farmers


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