Protect soils to boost production

Dr.Vivak M Arya, Tamanna Sharma
Soil is the natural medium for the growth of plants, consisting of layers (horizons) that are composed of weathered mineral materials, organic material, air and water (FAO). Soil is the result of the cumulative effects of climate, topography, organisms (including flora, fauna, and humans), and parent materials (original rocks and minerals) throughout time. The significance of soil can be traced back to our Vedas. One of the quote from our vedas said “Soil is my mother, I am her son” – Vedas Sanskrit scripture. This filial allegiance confirms that soil and humanity have evolved together. In fact, if there is life on the planet Earth, it is because there is a thin layer of soil on its top. It’s impossible to rank the importance of distinct soil functions because they’re all important to our well-being in some way. However, it is crucial for the maintenance and expansion of human life on this planet that support food and agriculture globally.
The maintenance of natural and planted vegetation, including our diverse forests and grasslands and the vast array of crop species and varieties that are cultivated or managed for their diverse food, fibre, fodder, fuel, and medicinal products in relation to the local climate, landscape, and soil type and in accordance with societal needs, is also primarily dependent on soil. The soil is vital for maintaining plant development and the diversity of above-ground animals, such as wild animals and domesticated livestock. The importance of soil in determining the quality and sustainability of our water supply is becoming more widely acknowledged. World’s soils serve as the largest terrestrial carbon sink, and are key in mitigating climate change. It act as a source and sink of most of the nutrients. Soil organic matter, primarily composed of carbon, also supports soil fertility and water filtration, ecosystem services that provide food and water security for mankind. The preservation of the earth’s history and cultural legacy is dependent on soil. It is widely acknowledged that one of the most significant worldwide issues for food security and sustainability is soil nutrient loss, a significant process of soil degradation that threatens nutrition. The amount of vitamins and nutrients in food has severely reduced over the last 70 years, and it is believed that 2 billion people worldwide suffer from micronutrient malnutrition, sometimes known as hidden hunger due to its concealed nature. Some soils become nutrient depleted and lose their ability to support crops as a result of soil degradation, whereas other soils have nutrient concentrations that are so high that they create a toxic environment for plants and animals, contaminate the environment, and leads to climate change.Globally, 33% of soils are degraded. By addressing the increasing challenges in soil management, raising soil awareness, and motivating societies to improve soil health, World Soil Day 2022 (#WorldSoilDay) and its campaign “Soils: Where Food Begin” seek to increase awareness of the significance of maintaining healthy ecosystems and human well-being. Sustainable soil management could increase food production by up to 58%.
The world’s population is forecasted to increase to around 9.6 billion by 2050, after which the growth is expected to stabilize (United Nations, 2013). Ninety-five percent of global food is produced in soils. Soils have the capacity to store, transform, and recycle nutrients that people need to survive. Of the 18 nutrients essential to plants, 15 are supplied by soils – if they are healthy. One of the key global soil risks is defined as soil nutrient imbalance, which is brought on by the improper, excessive, and underuse of nutrients. The excessive use or the misuse of fertilizers also have negative effects on ecosystems and contribute to climate change, including through biodiversity loss, fertility loss and greenhouse gas emissions.Unfortunately, due to decreased soil fertility,many vegetables and fruits are not as rich in vitamins and nutrients as they were 70 years ago. Despite using improved cultivars, low crop yields are the result of significant soil degradation, particularly low SOM reserves and poor soil structure, which exacerbate drought stress.
No-till, residue mulch and cover crops, integrated nutrient management, biochar used in connection with improved crops (genetically modified, biotechnology-based cropping systems), and energy plantation for biofuel generation are all examples of recommended technology. However, a variety of biophysical, social, and economic constraints leads to limited acceptance of these technologies. To adapt to the changing climate and meet the demands of expanding populations for food, fodder, fuel, and fabrics, improved soil management strategies must be used. Food security, as well as world peace and stability, depend on soil restoration and sustainable management.Soil degradation has been defined as a “global pandemic”, as it affects the entire world. In agricultural areas with high population densities, soil degradation has become a very serious issue. The overall effects of soil degradation pose a major threat to food security especially in poor regions. FAO emphasises that there is a direct link between poverty and land degradation. Soil degradation can occur through the following processes: physical (i.e., erosion, compaction), chemical (i.e., acidification, salinization) and biological (i.e., loss of soil organic matter, loss of biodiversity).
Therefore, it is critical to take action to halt soil degradation and implement measures to enhance soil health because such degradation reduces the long-term ability of soils to provide the complex multitude of services upon which the very survival of humanity is dependent. In J and K, soil is naturally subjected to various losses such as water erosion, wind erosion and partly due to flooding and waterloggingdue to its topographical features, climatic conditions and faulty management practices. Various anthropogenic activities contributing towards degradation and loss of soil includes deforestation, forest fires, illegal encroachments, overuse of fertilizers, exhaustive cropping systems etc. Of all these aforementioned factors, erosion is the major cause of soil loss. Authors have quantified soil losses in Shiwaliks and it was estimated that approximately 27 to 30 tonnnes of soil is lost in a year from one hectare area of land. The need of the hour is to minimize the losses and reclaim the soils as much as possible.
The simplest and easiest way to control erosion is through planting vegetation. Erosion from barren land is more, grasses reduce the flow of water, thereby controlling runoff and soil loss. Soil erosion can be controlled by various agro-engineering measures like cultivation along the contour, strip cropping, contour bunding, terracing etc. As far as the anthropogenic activities are concerned awareness and strict regulations will help. The current situation demands the awareness and education among farmers in relation to soil health and various scientists from SKUAST-J are working on it. Various camps, workshops etc have been organized in remote villages to provide solutions regarding various issues concerned with soil productivity and health.
Conclusion: Soil forms the foundation of the Water-Food-Energy nexus.The inclusion of “soil” in the Water-Soil-Food-Energy nexus highlights the fact that soil degradation reduces the long-term ability of soils to provide the complex multitude of other services that are essential for the survival of humanity. Food production is almost entirely dependent on soil to produce food for the growing human population.Of key importance is the need to recognize that soils are a finite resource, and that the degradation of soils leads to a clear economic loss of services. Hopefully, by creating awareness we will be able to protect soils which will boost the productivity and sustainability of our planet.
( The authors are from SKUAST-J)