Soil management & food security

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    In News

    • Recently, ‘World Soil Day’ was celebrated to raise awareness about the importance of healthy soils and soil fertility.

    More about the news

    • About:
      • World Soil Day (WSD) is celebrated annually on December 5th. 
      • WSD 2022 had a guiding theme, ‘Soils: Where food begins’.
    • Significance of the day:
      • It is a means to raise awareness on the importance of maintaining healthy soils, ecosystems and human well-being by addressing the growing challenges in soil management, encouraging societies to improve soil health, and advocating the sustainable management of soil.

    Significance of healthy soil:

    • Nutrition & Survival: 
      • Healthy soils are essential for our survival. They support healthy plant growth to enhance both our nutrition and water percolation to maintain groundwater levels. 
    • Regulating climate:
      • Soils help to regulate the planet’s climate by storing carbon and are the second largest carbon sink after the oceans. 
      • They help maintain a landscape that is more resilient to the impacts of droughts and floods. 
    • Food production:
      • As soil is the basis of food systems, it is no surprise that soil health is critical for healthy food production.

    Degradation and its consequences

    • Soil nutrient loss:
      • Today, nutrient loss and pollution significantly threaten soils, and thereby undermine nutrition and food security globally. 
      • The reasons behind soil nutrient loss range from soil erosion, runoff, leaching and the burning of crop residues.
    • Soil degradation:
      • The main drivers contributing to soil degradation are industrial activities, mining, waste treatment, agriculture, fossil fuel extraction and processing and transport emissions. 
      • Further, excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides, and irrigation with contaminated wastewater are also polluting soils. 
    • Consequences:
      • Soil degradation in some form or another affects around 29% of India’s total land area.
      • This in turn threatens agricultural productivity, in-situ biodiversity conservation, water quality and the socio-economic well-being of land dependent communities.
      • Nearly 3.7 million hectares suffer from nutrient loss in soil (depletion of soil organic matter, or SOM). 
      • Impacts of soil degradation are far-reaching and can have irreparable consequences on human and ecosystem health.

    India’s conservation initiatives

    • The Government of India is implementing a five-pronged strategy for soil conservation. This includes 
      • Making soil chemical-free, 
      • Saving soil biodiversity, 
      • Enhancing & Maintaining soil moisture, 
      • Mitigating soil degradation and 
      • Preventing soil erosion. 
    • Soil Health Card (SHC) scheme:
      • Need:
        • Earlier, farmers lacked information relating to soil type, soil deficiency and soil moisture content. 
      • About:
        • To address these issues, the Government of India launched the Soil Health Card (SHC) scheme in 2015. 
        • The SHC is used to assess the current status of soil health, and when used over time, to determine changes in soil health. 
      • Significance:
        • The SHC displays soil health indicators and associated descriptive terms, which guide farmers to make necessary soil amendments.
    • Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana:
      • Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana aims to 
        • prevent soil erosion, 
        • regeneration of natural vegetation, 
        • rainwater harvesting and 
        • recharging of the groundwater table.
    • National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA):
      • The National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA) has schemes promoting traditional indigenous practices such as organic farming and natural farming, thereby reducing dependency on chemicals and other agri-inputs, and decreasing the monetary burden on smallholder farmers.
    • Initiatives by FAO:
      • The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) undertakes multiple activities to support the Government of India’s efforts in soil conservation towards fostering sustainable agrifood systems. 
      • Rainfed areas:
        • The FAO is collaborating with the National Rainfed Area Authority and the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare (MoA&FW) to develop forecasting tools using data analytics that will aid vulnerable farmers in making informed decisions on crop choices, particularly in rainfed areas.
      • Supporting Deen Dayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Rural Livelihoods Mission’s (DAY-NRLM):
        • The FAO, in association with the Ministry of Rural Development, supports the Deen Dayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Rural Livelihoods Mission’s (DAY-NRLM) Community Resource Persons to increase their capacities towards supporting on-farm livelihoods for the adoption of sustainable and resilient practices, organic certification and agri-nutri-gardens.

    Way ahead:

    • Strengthening communication channels:
      • There is a need to strengthen communication channels between academia, policymakers and society for the identification, management and restoration of degraded soils, as well as in the adoption of anticipatory measures. 
      • These will facilitate the dissemination of timely and evidence-based information to all relevant stakeholders. 
    • Greater cooperation and partnerships:
      • Greater cooperation and partnerships are central to ensure the availability of knowledge, sharing of successful practices, and universal access to clean and sustainable technologies, leaving no one behind. 
    • Individual efforts:
      • As consumers and citizens, we can contribute by planting trees to protect topsoil, developing and maintaining home/kitchen gardens, and consuming foods that are mainly locally sourced and seasonal.