Chemical fertiliser-based subsidy approach creates crisis for India?s soil, says experts

Chemical fertiliser-based subsidy approach creates crisis for India?s soil, says experts

New Delhi (ISJ) -- Chemical fertiliser-based subsidy approach is the cause of fundamental crisis facing India?s soil, said experts who gathered recently in New Delhi to deliberate on India?s Soils : Science ? Policy ? Practice interfaces for sustainable futures. The conference was attended by key stakeholders in soil health management in the country ? scientists, policymakers and practitioners.

According to a 2010 report by the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, 120 million hectare (38 per cent of total area) of land in India is degraded. Moreover, in many states, between 40 and 80 per cent of the land area is classified as degraded in some form or other. Fault land and water management, coupled with application of agri-chemicals add to the problem. Though soil erosion by wind and water, acidity, alkalinity/salinity and other complex problems are the principal causes for land degradation, historically, loss of ?life in soils? is fast becoming a major challenge to address.

A concept note on the conference says, crisis in agriculture is a reflection of the crisis in soils, resulting from diminishing organic matter. Soils with good organic matter are reservoirs of water, being able to harvest and retain rainfall in their profile. This hydrological dimension of soils has been much less appreciated, especially in mitigating crop failures in rainfed areas.

The allocation of chemical fertiliser subsidy has grown exponentially in the last three decades ? from Rs. 60 crores in 1976-77 to a whopping Rs. 70,000 in 2016-17. However, policy makers have not been able to take into account the bio-dynamic and living nature of soils. The hydrological dimension of soils has also been ignored.

Since agriculture uses 141 million hectares out of 328.7 million hectares of the country, faulty land and water management practices in agriculture could significantly contribute to land degradation. Intensive irrigation and application of agrichemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, soil amendments etc.) adds to degradation, according to the national Planning Commission. Further, resource degrading subsidies such as provision of free electricity, subsidized fuel, and free irrigation water, worsen the situation.

Amar KJR Nayak from Xavier University, Bhubaneswar, suggested India should gradually move from exotic seed to indigenous seed and focus on in-situ moisture rather than external moisture. As an experiment on a one-hectare farm, he and his team have been able to conserve nearly 100,000 litre of water throughout the year through water locking system.

M Palinisamy of Dhan Foundation, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, demonstrated how soil moisture can be enhanced through tank silt application.

?Waste in India has high nutrient content that can enhance soil health. It also has high moisture content, which makes it unsuitable for burning,? said �Gopal Krishna of ToxicsWatch, saying the National Green Tribunal order of February 2, 2017 'distorted' waste management rules that promotes biomass burning.

Pointing to the ?abundance of scientific evidence? that holds unscientific incineration of mixed solid waste responsible for causing contamination of local soil and vegetation, Krishna said, ?It is due to environmental lawlessness that we continue to focus on waste maximisation and not minimisation.?

Dileep Kumar of Pesticide Action Network harped on the fact that out of the 40 pesticides recommended by the government, 26 are highly hazardous. Raising concerns over the fact that only one per cent of pesticides actually strike the target and rest kill non-target organism, Kumar said, ?About 81 pesticides are proven to cause endocrine disruption and 56 pesticides are carcinogenic. Even in soils, these pesticides lower enzyme activities and cause a decline in nutrient health.?

Jagadananada, former State Information Commissioner of Odisha, said, ?I think we need a new framework and discourse on moisture management and a gradual transition to agro-ecology. Besides treating soil health as a public good, we should situate science in local context.?

Rajeshwari Raina of Shiv Nadar University called for creating ?synergy between knowledge, policies and practices so that we can make an integrated effort towards establishing healthy and sustainable soil systems?.

Source: �?Down to Earth? with permission

Image courtesy: Down to Earth

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