Soil Pollution

Dr. Vivak M. Arya,
Ajay Thakur
Soil is one of the most significant part of the ecosystem, contributing to our food, water and energy and playing an important part in reducing the impact of climate change. The United Nations most recent estimate indicates that the world population will be about 8.5 billion in 2030 and we need to double the agricultural productivity by that time to meet the expected demand. The agricultural productivity and our food security are mainly dependent on the health of soil. According to Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), soil holds three times as much carbon as atmosphere and can help to meet challenges of a changing climate. 95% of our food comes from soil and 33% of global soils are already degraded. The damage caused by deforestation, extensive usage of fertilizers, pesticides, mining, soil erosion, and rapidly growing urbanization are the major concerns. Because, all these soil destructing activities are not climate-neutral. Every year, the international community is observing December 5 as ‘World Soil Day’ to connect people with soils and raise awareness on soils critical importance in our lives and advocating for the sustainable management of soil resource. The International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) had adopted resolution proposing 05th of December as World Soil Day in 2002 to celebrate importance of soil as critical component of natural system and as vital contribution to human wellbeing. Later in June 2013, the FAO Conference unanimously endorsed World Soil Day and requested official adoption at 68th UN General Assembly. In December 2013, 68th UNGA declared 05th of December as the world soil Day.
The theme for year 2017 was “Caring for the planet starts from the ground” and the theme for World Soil Day 2018 is “Be the Solution to Soil Pollution”. World Soil Day serves as a reminder to all of us that we owe our existence to the soil. As we face mounting global production, climate and sustainability challenges Soil is fundamental to human life on Earth. Soil is a finite natural resource; on a human time-scale, it is a non-renewable. However, despite the essential role that soil plays in human livelihoods, there is a worldwide increase in degradation of soil resource. The Status of the World’s Soil Resources Report (SWSR) identified soil pollution as one of the main soil threats affecting global soils and the ecosystems services provided by them. Soil pollution is the reduction in the productivity of soil due to presence of soil pollutants. Soil pollutants have an adverse effect on the physical chemical and biological properties of the soil and reduce its productivity. The improper and continuous use of herbicides, pesticides and fungicides to protect the crops from pests, fungi etc. alter the basic composition of the soil. Consequently, they have a very deleterious effect on the plant growth stunting their growth and reducing the yield and size of fruit. Soil pollution causes huge disturbances in the ecological balance and the health of the organisms is under risk. The effects of pollution on soil are quite disturbing and can result in huge disturbances in the ecological balance and health of living beings on earth. Normally crops cannot grow and flourish in a polluted soil. To avoid soil pollution, it is important, that along with fertilizers, farmers should shift to bio pesticides and fungicides, also known as herbicides.

Today is World Soil Day

Soil erosion is a major problem affecting soils all over the world. The rapid growth of the world’s population has resulted in increased cultivation of land. This puts more pressure on land and leads to soil losing its structure and cohesion, which means that it can be eroded more easily. Heavy farming machinery can also ‘compact’ soil, which causes water to run straight off the surface after rain, taking soil particles with it, instead of infiltrating into the soil. Human-induced soil degradation results from land clearing and deforestation, inappropriate agricultural practices, improper management of industrial effluents and wastes, over-grazing, careless management of forests, surface mining, urban sprawl, and commercial/industrial development. Soil erosion severely threatens the soil resource and the sustainability of agriculture. The total land area subjected to human-induced soil degradation is estimated at about 2 billion ha. Soil degradation in India is estimated to be occurring on 147 million hectares (Mha) of land. This is extremely serious because India supports 18% of the world’s human population and 15% of the world’s livestock population, but has only 2.4% of the world’s land area. It exhibits diverse climates, topography, vegetation, ecology and land use patterns. Land degradation is common in the catchments of lower Shivaliks of Jammu. The productivity of the soils of this region of Jammu is not only low but also highly unstable. Soil erosion in the Shivalik or Southern Himalayas is due to massive deforestation and severe denudation of the hills and causes severe floods in the plains. Besides more than 80 tones of soil, ha-1 year-1 is lost from cultivated fields in the Shivaliks or sub-montane region of Jammu.
After decades of research, this problem persists, despite the fact that adequate technical solutions now exist for most situations. Appropriate mitigation strategies of existing degraded land in the sub-continent of India are of the utmost importance. Among different measures, an integrated watershed approach should be adopted to combat land degradation and environmental problems particularly in fragile areas. Sustainable agricultural intensification using innovative farming practices have tremendous potential of increasing productivity and conserving natural resources, particularly by sequestering SOC (both labile and recalcitrant) and improving soil quality. The aim should be to conserve soil and water on all lands. For this, the productive capacity of all soils and landscapes with their proper use should be matched, along with appropriate policies and technologies. The socio-economic and physical factors, which drive soil erosion must be addressed in tandem. People’s mind-sets should be to improve the ability to adapt soil conservation practices to combat degradation and the impacts of future climate change. For this, education at all levels is necessary.
“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer, restorer, and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care of it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life” Wandell Berry.
(The authors are from SKUAST-J and are working in the field of Climate change & NRDMS)