Soil health and zero hunger challenge

By M S Swaminathan Jan 14 2015

Long ago, Aristotle described the soil as the stomach of the plant. Nearly 90 per cent of the world’s food supply comes from crops or animals reared on the soil. According the FAO, our soils are in danger because of expanding cities, deforestation, unsustainable use, pollution, overgrazing and climate change. Thus, the current rate of soil degradation endangers our capacity to achieve a balance between human numbers and the human capacity to produce food. The UN has therefore designated 2015 as the international year of soils. The focal theme for the year is ‘healthy soils for a healthy life’. The Global Soil Partnership established by FAO in 2013 on my suggestion will monitor the progress of the steps taken during this year in improving soil healthcare and in conserving prime farm land for agriculture. Every nation should try to promote effective policies and action for the sustainable management of soil resources. In India, we will have to produce at least 50 per cent more food by 2030 from diminishing per capita land resources and expanding biotic and abiotic stresses, including climate change. There is no time to relax on the soil health conservation movement.

Land acquisition has remained a controversial issue in our country. On December 31, 2014, the government promulgated an ordinance to amend some provisions of the land acquisition law brought to Parliament by the earlier government. The amendments are designed to ensure the right to fair compensation and transparency in land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement. The national commission on farmers had emphasised that serious steps should be taken to prevent the diversion of good farm land for non-farm purposes such as the establishment of special economic zones (SEZ). We had proposed that like SEZ, there should be special agriculture zones (SAZ). While SEZ is for allocation of land for economic activity, SAZ should be for the conservation of good farm land for agriculture. For example, I had suggested, that the Indira Gandhi Canal Area of Rajasthan, the Kuttanad below sea level farming system of Kerala and similar important agricultural sites should not be allowed to be diverted for non-agricultural use. The earliest investigation of the soils of India date back to 1988 when four major soil groups viz., Indo-Gangetic alluvium, black cotton soil, red soil and laterite soil were recognised. Moreover, the immense variability and complexity of soil behaviour is also perceived by practicing farmers who recognise the differential response of the land to soil management and production inputs according to different soil types.

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