The example of Soil Science
More than 10,000 million tonnes of fertile top soil is being eroded every year. As per the figures of the Department of Land Resources of the Ministry of Rural Development, nearly two-thirds of the country’s agriculture land is degraded or sick. The deterioration of soil health is worse in the frontline green revolution states and granaries of the country.
In January 2009, the Department of Agriculture of the state of Haryana warned that important nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, iron and zinc are heavily depleted in around 250,000 hectares of prime crop land, which in turn will impact yield of wheat. The situation is no different in neighbouring Punjab, which bears the burden of producing 20% of the country’s wheat and 12% of its rice. Almost 40% of the soil in Punjab – a whopping 1.7 million hectares – is degraded due to soil erosion, rising water table, salinity, overuse of chemicals, and so on. In Maharashtra, around 10.5 million hectares of crop land are under moderate to heavy chemical deterioration due to salinity. The report card on soil health for the rest of the country is just as dismal.
Sick soils have lost their ability to respond to inputs like fertilizers, a major reason for stagnating productivity. This decrease in response indicates that the organic carbon content and microbial activities in the soil, which are critical for crop development, have declined. (Bhaskar Goswami, Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security, Delhi)
Formerly with the World Bank, Dr Sudhirendar Sharma a soil scientist, formerly with the world bank and now with the Ecological foundation, monitoring of soil health from food security and human health perspective miss the scientist's attention? Soil health has never been a major concern of the soil scientists' fraternity till date!
While much damage has been done to the productive capacity of the soils through a cocktail of irrigation, fertilisers and pesticide, a comprehensive atlas on region-wise loss of productive capacity of soils has yet to be developed. The resilience of soils to withstand physico-chemical and biological stresses from the point of sustaining nutritional food security hasn't been an issue with the soil scientists. There is along list of such compelling `misses'!
But for their presence in the self-perpetuating narrow domains, the species called soil scientist for all practical purposes may cease to exist. Isn't soil scientist conspicious by his absence in the hundreds of watershed development projects in the country? Hasn't soil scientists' presence been ignored in the continuing land submergence and rehabilitation controversies related to mega-projects? Isn't it that soil scientists feature rarely in policy discourses concerning the food and livelihood security of the teeming millions?
Dwarakinath(AME) on Soils degradation from Green Revolution technology
The notion with which our Policy Makers talk is - Agriculture begins with sowing the seed. Therefore use improved seed; the crop nourishes itself through fertilizers, therefore we apply fertilizers; pests and diseases occur on the crop, therefore you go in for pesticides. Therefore, agriculture begins with the seed to seed as they call it. Seed to Seed, sowing then harvesting the seed. But actually agriculture does not begin with sowing. Agriculture begins with nurturing the natural resources in the farm. That is what are the natural resources, the soil, water, bio-diversity, under a climatic condition. A particular climatic condition in Ananthapur, a particular climatic condition in Bangalore they are different. But under these conditions, the variables are only soil, water and bio-diversity. The handling of the biodiversity is the starting of agriculture. Anybody who is conscious of it handles a soil better, water resources better, and biological materials better and use the inputs like seed and fertilizers and pesticides in a very judicious manner. He will be moving in the direction of sustainable agriculture. The sustainability is lost when you exhaust the soils. When you exhaust the natural resources.
In the Green revolution, over use of chemicals particularly, our soils are not comparable to European soils or Canadian soils or American soils. They are deep soils. They can rest for 6 months during winter season because the moisture is there. The life in the soil remains there and it is the chemical action takes place. But not cropped area but in India, it is not so, even in dryland, if you take a seasonal crop, harvest in the month of February, rest of the period is very highly hot season in which period the organic manure in the soil, the soils being very shallow, 9-20 inches only, the soils become devoid of organic manure. Therefore, maintaining fertility in the soil in these conditions is very difficult.
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