International Year of Soils

Soil health and zero hunger challenge |

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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Mr Digwell’s podcast: improving garden soil

It might not be easy to get perfect soil but you can make your soil a little more useful.

By adding organic material and constantly working your soil, you will improve it but it can be a slow job that takes many seasons.

Plants need air for their roots, water and nutrients – the basic building blocks to grow. This generally means a nice fluffy soil that is stuffed with organic material and different sized particles – some larger to allow excess water to drain away, and some smaller ones that encourages some water to seep really close to root hairs.

Clay soil is wet but has no air and is very cold. Sandy soil is dry because the water drains away too much.  Adding compost or well rotted manure to both soil types will improve them.  On really heavy clay I tend to build raised beds and make new soil by mixing compost and brought in loam, and just let it sit on the surface. Over the years, the clay has provided plenty of water and you get great results.

Have a listen to the above podcast for more tips, and for this week’s special offer visit

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Farmers and Ranchers: When was the last time you felt enthusiastic about the soils on your operation?

Plan to be in Holyoke, CO, on February 12 & 13, 2015, for an exciting, informative and motivational event with Gabe Brown and Ray Archuleta. “The Farming Evolution 2015″ will be held at the Event Center on the fairgrounds in Holyoke, CO. Thursday’s program will focus on farming while Friday will look at the ranching operation. Registration is $19 for one day or $25 for both days. Lunch, handout materials and a social Thursday afternoon are included. Registration increases $6 after February 4. Gabe and his family are on the leading edge of unconventional farming and ranching ideas. Gabe and his family own and operate a diversified 5,000-acre farm and ranch near Bismarck, ND. When the Browns purchased their ranch in 1991 it had a carrying capacity of 100 cow/calf pairs. The degraded soils had organic matter levels less than 2%. The rainfall infiltration rates were less than 1/2″ per hour. Today the ranch carries 350 cow/calf pairs along with 400 to 800 yearlings. The organic matter is now over 6% and infiltration rates are 8” per hour! Ray is a Conservation Agronomist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. His infectious enthusiasm for soil is inspiring agricultural producers around the nation. Soil is more than a system to support plants physically. A healthy soil has a balance of nutrients (fuel) and an intricate biological network. Ray will help you decide if your “Soil Engine” has the fuel to fire on all eight cylinders. He will open each day with a soil stability test comparing soil from different tillage or grazing histories.

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