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- As per the recent State of the Environment Report 2022 released by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), almost 30% of India’s geographical area is under degradation which means decline in productivity of land in terms of biodiversity and economy triggered by various factors such as climate change along with human factors.
- Agricultural land in India is around 36%, forest land is ~22%. These are the lands most commonly being degraded.
- This affects all of us and leads to food insecurity due to reduced yield and climate change due to release of soil carbon and nitrogen oxide.
- As per the report, 14 states have seen more than 10% rise in the share of degraded land compared to other states. Maximum land degradation has occurred in Punjab, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Assam and Nagaland.
- Isha Foundation has initiated “Save soil movement”. It is a global movement to initiate a conscious approach to soil and planet in all. As part of this movement, a journey of over 30,000 km across 24 nations will also be undertaken.
- Earth supports 8 million plant and animal species in different geographical ecosystems maintained by the soil.
- Soil holds water and conserves ground water, which maintains productivity of the soil.
- Soil has been our past; it is our present and future. Soil protection means earth protection and life protection.
- Soil is required not just for agriculture, but also for horticulture, creating meadows etc.
- Soil is an important part of UN the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Goals on zero hunger (SDG 2), climate action (SDG 13), and life on land (SDG 15).
- Environment has never been considered as “one system”. Land, soil, river, oceans are all interlinked. Any problem in one is bound to alter the other natural systems.
- Soil protection has largely been ignored; hence the problem of soil degradation.
- Changes in land use pattern, terrain and slope have led to problems like floods. Lack of proper planning of cities has added to the problem.
- The most active part of the soil is humus, which is now mostly missing. It absorbs solar rays. Sunlight helps in the sequestration process in the soil. In the absence of humus, soil acts as a mirror and reflects the sunlight back in the atmosphere, which increases the overall temperature.
- About 30% of native biomass has been lost, which has greatly disturbed the biodiversity and food pattern. 20-25% plants and animals are at risk. 559 of 6190 domesticated mammals used for food and agriculture have been lost and 1223 are on the verge of extinction.
- Soil represents the largest terrestrial carbon pool.
- Carbon creates, soil preserves.
- Carbon sequestration by soil minerals represents a promising strategy for climate change mitigation. Soil protection can make climate resilient.
- The carbon sequestration process occurs inside the soil. Carbon discharged in the atmosphere acts like a heater, when carbon is in the soil, it is a coolant.
- Soil carbon storage can be increased by 453%-757% if it is cultivated according to land type and plant type.
- Conservation of agricultural crops practices such as proper management of agriculture residues, zero/reduced tillage and residue retention. Burning of agriculture residue in thermal power plants is dangerous. It should be done at site so that minerals are not lost and remain the soil.
- Soil amendment such as addition of biochar has been advocated as a promising technology for simultaneously increasing crop yield and mitigation of climate change.
- A law to conserve soil was introduced in the US in 1990 and it had some penalty clauses also. In 1996, Federal Agriculture Improvement & Reform Act was passed for wetland conservation and regulation of soil erosion control, which had a vital impact on conservation of soil and fertility.
- The concept of crop rotation seems to be forgotten now. It is very helpful in diversifying soil conservation.
- There is a need to shift to the old agricultural practices.
- An integrated approach for soil conservation includes mitigation of resources, conservation of soil fertility by minimizing the synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, enhancing the organic manures and green manure, soil testing, reclamation and conservation and a balanced and integrated approach for good nutrients, development and conservation of water resources, crop diversification and organic farming. There are other strategies also to conserve soil – tillage of land, which is not being used frequently to sow crops. It saves soil from erosion and also increase its water holding capacity; moisture of the soil is maintained.
- Strip cropping, as a method to prevent soil erosion, is used to get some buffer from rivers or water bodies when a slope is too steep.
- Many wetlands in villages have been converted into agriculture lands, which is not good as wetlands maintain ground water balance and ground water recharge.
- Many practices such as dumping of municipal waste, tilling in a manner that allows soil erosion, have damaged the soil.
- Taking care of soil per se is missing in the legal framework, in contrast to air and water.
- There is a need for policies to revitalize the ecology and soil.
- Engineering efforts are necessary to see that erosion is controlled.
- Laws regarding what can be added to soil and what are the norms to be met before anything is put in the soil are needed. This is not just to take care of ground water but to also take care of soil per se.
- At the same time, it must be ensured that soil is conserved by preservation of erosion and by deposition of fresh soil during floods and other methods that keep soil healthy.
- Attitude of man has been to take care of natural resources. A sense of duty toward environment is missing.
- Tradition of paying high regard to these natural resources should be restored. It is a cultural effort but will empower proper attitude and actions to ensure soil conservation.
- Nitrogen and phosphorus are very important for soil. If carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus are less, biodiversity will be very less.
- Government has distributed Soil Health Cards to farmers. It is a pioneering program, but there is lack of awareness about this.
- Climate is the major factor for soil erosion. Other factors such as type of soil, type of plantation on that soil, biological activities also affect soil erosion.
- Soil erosion occurs at a faster rate on slopes, particularly steep slopes, as the speed of water is increased and its transportation capacity is also increased.
- Adoption of ridge furrow system will also help to check soil erosion.
- The direction of crops on slopes should be perpendicular to the wind to reduce erosion.
- A team of soil health volunteers must be created.
- Soil, as a resource, has been greatly misused. It has largely been a neglected area unlike air and water as it does not affect man directly.
- Mining and infrastructure development are the two major activities that are greatly affecting soil.
- The impact of infrastructure development on soil has to be assessed. At present, the only requirement is that the top soil should be preserved and used in gardens etc.
Mr Paritosh Tyagi
Dr Dipankar Saha
Dr SK Tyagi
Dr SK Gupta
Dr Sanjeev Agrawal
Mr Neeraj Tyagi
Mr Varun Singh
Dr Anil Kumar
Dr S Sharma