Boosting Soil Health – Who would have guessed that the humble soil beneath our feet would be the lynchpin for resolving many of India’s national quandaries? From farmer sustainability to national food security, water scarcity, and climate change, the health of our soil is critical in all of these areas!
Unfortunately, modern agricultural practices are largely centered on the use of synthetic and chemical pesticides and fertilizers, which have a negative impact on soil health and productivity while also causing untold damage to our finite soil.
The State of India’s Soil
The truth is that India’s soil has become so contaminated, stripped of its carbon, and depleted of all the precious nutrients, microbes, and natural goodness, that we are on the verge of running out of soil productivity required to grow food. With current rates of soil degradation (along with erosion), scientists estimate that we only have about 50 years of topsoil left.
Depleting organic matter in soils is a major global concern because it reduces soil moisture holding capacity and reduces crop productivity (due to depleted nutrients required for growing crops). It’s one of the most pressing issues of our time, but it gets very little ‘press time.’
Boosting Soil Health
What Needs to Be Done to Improve Soil Health?
A healthy soil is a blessing for any country because it alone can improve crop productivity and profitability for today and future generations. To begin, it is critical to understand what the soil requires, as this varies by region. To improve soil health, location-specific interventions based on five soil enrichment principles must be identified, designed, and implemented.
- Increasing Soil Organic Content – Mixing well decomposed Farm Yard Manure or compost, increasing the use of vermicompost, mixing crop residues in the soil, and reducing tillage operations all contribute to higher organic content levels in the soil.
- Soil Mulching – Growing intercropping or using previous crops as mulch helps to retain moisture for an extended period of time and also promotes nutrient recycling, which benefits the soil.
- Improving Soil Structure to Improve Porosity, Air & Water Flow – Using crop residue, Farm Yard Manure, vermicompost, or silt in conjunction with low or zero tillage improves soil structure, allowing water and air to flow more easily. Reduced use of heavy machinery also helps to maintain or improve soil structure and increases soil water holding capacity.
Natural or organic farming practices should be adopted. Reducing the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides aids soil regeneration by enriching it with necessary microorganisms. These microorganisms are essential for decomposing organic matter and increasing nutrient availability for crops. Using natural farming practices such as biofertilizers, composting, maintaining crop diversity, minimizing soil disturbance, and recycling nutrients helps to promote soil regeneration, which leads to improved soil health and crop productivity.
Farmer Welfare – Riding on the Back of Soil Health
Although agricultural intensification has increased food production in India, it has also resulted in a decline in productivity, environmental health, and soil quality, resulting in impaired ecosystem services as well as a loss in overall yield and profitability.
Crop productivity can mean the difference between living above or below the poverty line for many Indian farmers because so many are small, marginal landholders. While research shows a direct correlation between soil health and crop yields, resulting in gains for each farmer, opportunities also exist in the area of carbon credits for soil organic carbon, providing farmers with an additional income stream.
The interest of corporations in reducing and offsetting greenhouse gas emissions has grown exponentially. With more than one-third of the world’s largest publicly traded companies now committing to net-zero goals, carbon credit offsets offer a way for them to meet these objectives.
Soil carbon credit, as a ‘nature-based’ offset, has already begun to gain traction in countries such as the United States and Australia; however, there are numerous obstacles impeding its global adoption. Despite this, it remains an exciting opportunity for the future of India’s ‘hand to mouth’ farmers, who can potentially earn through ‘carbon farming’ by reverting to more natural and regenerative farming practices and improving the health of their soil (and crop productivity).
Soil health not only serves as the foundation for farmer sustainability and food security, but it also serves as a much-needed “carbon sink,” which is critical for managing India’s carbon footprint. Carbon sinks such as soil, plants, and the ocean have never been more important. Every year, the Earth’s soil absorbs roughly a quarter of all human emissions, but it is under threat from increased food production demand, pollution, and climate change.