From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Basics of Soils, Theme of the WSD, 2022
Mains level : Soil pollution, nutrient loss, consequences and India’s Soil conservation strategy
- As soil is the basis of food systems, it is no surprise that soil health is critical for healthy food production. World Soil Day (WSD) 2022, annually observed on December 5, aligns with this.
Theme of the World soil day
- WSD 2022, with its guiding theme, ‘Soils: Where food begins’, is a means to raise awareness on the importance of maintaining healthy soils, ecosystems and human well-being by addressing the growing challenges in soil management, encouraging societies to improve soil health, and advocating the sustainable management of soil.
What is soil?
- Soil is the loose material of the earth’s surface in which the terrestrial plants grow. It is usually formed from weathered rock or regolith changed by chemical, physical and biological process.
Back to basics: Composition of soils
- Mineral matter: It includes all minerals inherited from the parent material as well as those formed by recombination from substances in the soil solution.
- Organic matter: It is derived mostly from decaying plant material broken down and decomposed by the actions of animals and microorganisms living in the soil. It is this organic portion that differentiates soil from geological material occurring below the earth’s surface which otherwise may have many of the properties of a soil. (Note: The end product of breakdown of dead organic material is called humus.)
- Air and water: Normally, both air and water fill the voids in soil. Air and water in the soil have a reciprocal relationship since both compete for the same pore spaces. For example, after a rain or if the soil is poorly drained, the pores are filled with water and air is excluded. Conversely, as water moves out of a moist soil, the pore space is filled with air. Thus the relationship between air and water in soils is continually changing.
Why is soil so important?
- Healthy soils are essential for our survival: They support healthy plant growth, habitat for many insects and other organisms, It enhance both our nutrition and water percolation to maintain groundwater levels, act as a filtration system for surface water.
- Second largest carbon sink after ocean: Soils help to regulate the planet’s climate by storing carbon and are the second largest carbon sink after the oceans. They help maintain a landscape that is more resilient to the impacts of droughts and floods.
- Contribute to the economies: They also support buildings and highways and contribute to the economies of our cities. For instance, the rich, deep fertile soils of the Ganga plain especially its delta and the coastal plains of Kerala support a high density of population through agricultural prosperity.
- Main drivers of soil degradation: The main drivers contributing to soil degradation are industrial activities, mining, waste treatment, agriculture, fossil fuel extraction and processing and transport emissions. Further, excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides, and irrigation with contaminated wastewater are also polluting soils.
- Reasons behind the nutrient loss: The reasons behind soil nutrient loss range from soil erosion, runoff, leaching and the burning of crop residues.
- Increasing soil pollution undermines food security: Today, nutrient loss and pollution significantly threaten soils, and thereby undermine nutrition and food security globally.
- Soil degradation affects around 29% of India’s total land area: Soil degradation in some form or another affects around 29% of India’s total land area. This in turn threatens agricultural productivity, in-situ biodiversity conservation, water quality and the socio-economic well-being of land dependent communities. Nearly 3.7 million hectares suffer from nutrient loss in soil (depletion of soil organic matter, or SOM).
- Irreparable consequences: Impacts of soil degradation are far reaching and can have irreparable consequences on human and ecosystem health.
India’s Soil conservation strategy
- Five- pronged strategy: The Government of India is implementing a five-pronged strategy for soil conservation. This includes making soil chemical-free, saving soil biodiversity, enhancing SOM, maintaining soil moisture, mitigating soil degradation and preventing soil erosion.
- Soil Health Card (SHC) scheme: Earlier, farmers lacked information relating to soil type, soil deficiency and soil moisture content. To address these issues, the Government of India launched the Soil Health Card (SHC) scheme in 2015. The SHC is used to assess the current status of soil health, and when used over time, to determine changes in soil health. The SHC displays soil health indicators and associated descriptive terms, which guide farmers to make necessary soil amendments.
- Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana: Other pertinent initiatives include the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana, to prevent soil erosion, regeneration of natural vegetation, rainwater harvesting and recharging of the groundwater table.
- Promoting organic farming practices under National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA): In addition, NMSA has schemes promoting traditional indigenous practices such as organic farming and natural farming, thereby reducing dependency on chemicals and other agri-inputs, and decreasing the monetary burden on smallholder farmers.
- FAO’s various initiatives to support government efforts in soil conservation: The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) undertakes multiple activities to support the Government of India’s efforts in soil conservation towards fostering sustainable agrifood systems.
- FAO’s collaboration on developing data analytics and forecasting tools: The FAO is collaborating with the National Rainfed Area Authority and the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare (MoA&FW) to develop forecasting tools using data analytics that will aid vulnerable farmers in making informed decisions on crop choices, particularly in rainfed areas.
FAO working with target States
- To increase capacities of farmers to farm livelihood: The FAO, in association with the Ministry of Rural Development, supports the Deen Dayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Rural Livelihoods Mission’s (DAY-NRLM) Community Resource Persons to increase their capacities towards supporting on-farm livelihoods for the adoption of sustainable and resilient practices, organic certification and agri-nutri-gardens.
- Target states: The FAO works in eight target States, namely, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Haryana and Punjab, for boosting crop diversification and landscape-level planning. In Andhra Pradesh, the FAO is partnering with the State government and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) to support farmers in sustainable transitions to agro-ecological approaches and organic farming.
- There is a need to strengthen communication channels between academia, policymakers and society for the identification, management and restoration of degraded soils, as well as in the adoption of anticipatory measures.
- These will facilitate the dissemination of timely and evidence-based information to all relevant stakeholders.
- Greater cooperation and partnerships are central to ensure the availability of knowledge, sharing of successful practices, and universal access to clean and sustainable technologies, leaving no one behind.
- A key component of sustainable food production is healthy soil as nearly 95 percent of global food production depends on soil. The current state of soil health is alarming and unprecedented soil degradation is a major challenge for sustainable food production. India is on track to restore 26 million hectares of degraded land by 2030.
Q. Soil is the basis of the food system, its degradation and nutrient depletion in recent years is alarming. Discuss the soil conservation strategy of India.