Healthy soil for a healthy life

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Dr Banarsi Lal

Soil provides living space for the living organisms as well as the ecosystem services which are essential for the water regulation, biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration etc. Presently the soil is under tremendous pressure due to increase in population at an alarming rate and higher demand for food. Problems like deforestation, bad agricultural practices and soil pollution have degraded soil. It has been observed that around 33 per cent of global soils are degraded. Soil is the greatest reservoir of biodiversity. It is the critical component of the natural system and as a vital contributor to the human commonwealth through its contribution to food, water and energy security and as a mitigator of biodiversity loss and climate change. It is the top layer of the earth which is familiar to everybody. It is a finite natural resource. It is non-renewable in nature. Although soil plays an essential role in human livelihood but there is worldwide degradation in soil due its inappropriate management practices, population pressure and inadequate governance over this essential resource. The nutritional value of the food we eat is directly associated with the soil health. Soil high in organic carbon content enables better rainfall infiltration and retention and provides greater resilience to drought. Soil helps in food production, biodiversity and energy maintenance. Soils are vulnerable to carbon loss through degradation but regenerative land management practices can build and restore soil health. Soil is constituted of organic remains, clay and rock particles found on the earth’s surface. Soil health is being deteriorated by the unhealthy agricultural practices, deforestation and pollution. There is urgent need to create awareness among the farmers on soil health and technical and scientific advice should be provided to them.
A healthy soil is a living ecosystem in which the dead organic matter forms the base of a food web consisting of microscopic and larger organisms. Soils supply nutrients and water which are vital for plants and are home to organisms that interact with plants. Healthy soils are needed to produce the healthy food and zero hunger. Healthy soil is the key to sustaining life and the adoption of sustainable land management practices are becoming more and more important. It is estimated that natural processes take more than 500 years to form 2 centimeters of topsoil. Soil stores around 10 per cent of the worlds carbon dioxide emissions. Microbial activities controls and manipulates the chemistry of the soil. Living organisms in the soil control water infiltration, mineral density and nutrient cycling. Fungi and bacteria help to break down organic matter in the soil and earthworms digest organic matter, recycle nutrients and make the soil surface richer. In a handful of fertile soil, there are more individual organisms than the total number of human beings that have ever existed on the earth. Although soil plays an essential role for the human livelihoods but there is worldwide increase in the degradation of soil resources due to inappropriate management practices, population pressure driving unsustainable intensification and inadequate governance over this essential resource.
Increase in the soil carbon builds a precious reservoir and helps to offset greenhouse gas emissions. Soil improves our resilience to floods and droughts. It also contributes in the fertility of the soil, the foundation for all land- based natural and agricultural ecosystems which provide a major part of the world’s food supply, natural resources and biodiversity. More than 10 million people have abandoned their homelands because of environmental issues including drought, soil erosion, desertification and deforestation. Majority of the known antibiotics originated from soil bacteria including penicillin. Soil pollution affects food security by reducing the crop yield and food quality. Soil holds three times as much carbon as the atmosphere and can help us to meet the challenges of a changing climate. About 815 million people are food insecure and 2 billion people are nutritionally insecure but we can mitigate this through soil. About 95 per cent of our food comes from soil and about 33 per cent of our soils are already degraded. Soil acts as the filter for many contaminants but its buffering capacity is finite. If the latter exceeds then contaminants can seep into the environment and enter in the food chain.
The government has initiated a number of developmental schemes and programmes which have the potential to immensely benefit the farming community by strengthening the roots of agriculture. On 19th February, 2015 the Prime Minister of India launched the nationwide Soil Health Card Scheme from Suratgarh, Rajasthan. Soil Health Card Scheme is a national movement across the country. Under this scheme the soil sample is taken by the experts from the farmer’s field and tested in a soil health laboratory. Then the soil health card is issued to the farmers regarding the ingredients and deficiencies in the soil. On the basis of the results of the soils of respective farmer field, he can add the plants nutrients in the soil accordingly. This scheme may not only maintain the health of the soil but will also reduce the cost of cultivation. This will also help to identify the best crop suited in the respective field. Soil conservation programmes are organised by the Government and also Non-Governmental agencies in our country. Major objective of soil conservation is to keep everything in the soil in its place. It manages the soil erosion and process of sedimentation. Soil fertility needs to be restored in order to allow a satisfactory and early return on the capital and labour invested. Most of the soil conservation programmes emphasize on soil degradation than on the top-down approach in recommending and disseminating practices. Soil conservation programmes that aim to reduce soil degradation problems need long-term bottom-up approach. There is urgent need to promote the practices for maintaining the healthy soils. Healthy soils are the solutions of our many problems.
(The author is Dr Banarsi Lal, Scientist and Head, KVK Reasi).