Preserve organic matter in the Soil

All the soils have been formed by the particles of withered rocks, followed by the gradual emergence of fungi, algae, grasses, weeds, shrubs, small trees and finally thick forests (rain forests).  It is said that the land was totally covered by thick forests.  More than to meet the basic human needs like food, clothing and shelter, it is the greed for lavish lifestyles, which has led to the destruction of forests converting them to deserts.  For instance, the forests in the Western Ghats were cleared to grow plantation crops such as coffee, tea, cocoa, beetle nut and not for food crops.  Similarly, most of the forest trees in Coorg and Mysore districts were felled for tobacco curing, while vast forest areas in the Himalayas were destroyed to grow apples and for packing materials.  Even in the plains, sacred groves, the main source of herbs, medicine, oil seeds, manure in the form of dry leaves, humus, timber, fuel and water springs, have been cleared for building sites. Owing to lack of vegetative cover, soil is exposed to sun, wind and rain washing off precious top soil formed from ages, creating ravines, thus  resulting in unproductive land.

Deforestation has resulted in the drying up of streams, lakes, rivers causing water shortages, both for drinking and cultivation purposes. In about 20 years period, the ground water level has gone down from 30 meters to 300 meters.  Much of this valuable ground water was abused to grow water intensive high yielding varieties and hybrid crops like paddy, maize and sugarcane, not to feed people, but mostly to manufacture livestock feed, thus, resulting in the depletion of soil health and productivity. Water utilization both for domestic and crop cultivation should be carefully adapted or redesigned to minimize the wastage.  Paddy growers have to adapt Madagascar method of paddy cultivation, by which there is possibility of saving more than 65% of water without sacrificing paddy and straw yields.

Actually, nature itself has a tendency to self-rejuvenate. But humans and animals (domestic more than the wild) cause damage to forests, by overgrazing and felling.  Such unnecessary activities need to be stopped. Grazing can be given up by resorting to stall feeding.

We have to build up soil and water holding capacity by preserving soil organic matter atleast by 2% which is around only 0.5% at present in our soils.  Human excreta can be a very good source of improving soil fertility.  Mahatma Gandhi has said “Humanity can sustain atom bombs, but not septic tanks fitted to lavatories”. This means that night soil should be recycled back to the soil in the form of compost. The night soil, passed through gobar gas plant, could also generate methane gas for cooking purposes. India has second highest human population and the highest livestock population in the world.  If all the dung and human excreta have been passed through gobar gas plant atleast 50 % of the demand for manure could have been met.

Tank silt is another important source for improving soil quality. Traditionally farmers desilted the tanks, the silt of which was used for direct application on farm lands. But now this wisdom is disappearing and farmers have to be educated about the importance of tank silt in improving soil quality.  It is also necessary that soil conservation and tree cropping be taught in the schools and colleges.

Discourage the use of chemical nitrogenous fertilizer which augment the burning up of soil carbon, resulting in the release, of poisonous gases like nitrous oxide. Instead of giving subsidies for chemical fertilizers and pesticides, government should subsidise, oil cake production, compost making, worm composting, cultivation of green manure crops, use of bio-fertilizer and bio-gas plants, livestock breeding, tree cropping etc to increase vegetative cover to conserve and improve soil productivity.

Most important task is to encourage rainwater to percolate into the soil where it falls; by digging trenches, bowls, particularly at higher levels and ridges, building check bunds and gully traps at the valleys. Contour bunding is important both in the cultivable as well as wastelands. It is mainly the slopes having lost all the top soil, suffering from water scarcity, vegetative cover.  Hence protecting the soil with green vegetative cover like Khus grass, citronella etc. is beneficial.  Hill burning has become a regular practice everywhere, which should be discouraged on war footing.  Plant more and more grasses, bushes, shrubs and trees to conserve water and soil.

It is high time that we care to regenerate the degraded land to improve soil productivity underground water table, clean and healthy environment. The best examples for such action are the watershed developments in Karnataka and water conservation methods of Tarun Bharathi in Rajasthan. The local communities, should however be involved and their capacities strengthened to maintain such projects on their own.

L. Narayana Reddy, Srinivasapura, via Maralenahalli, Hanabe Post, Doddaballapura Taluk – 561 203, Ph : 080 7651360



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