India is on the verge of a looming soil crisis which can potentially impact its agriculture in the near future, says a report. A third of the total 350 million hectares has already turned problematic.

Soil is turning either acidic, saline, sodic or alkaline. Tthe declining health of soil can have a big impact on agriculture productivity, sustainability and also human health, says a report brought out by a consortium of agriculture institutes.

World Soil Day

Soil is key to the ecosystem as it plays a vital role in carbon cycle and in storing and filtering water. The organic matter content, on an average, has gone down to a critical level of 0.3-0.5 per cent and several micro-nutrient deficiencies are surfacing in different parts of the country, the report observed on the occasion of World Soil Day on December 5.

For India, which has over 17 per cent of the world population with limited land resources, the present situation warrants immediate attention and urgent remedial measures. A national policy should be framed to address the critical issue, suggested MANAGE (National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management), one of the institutes in the consortia.

According to VP Sharma, Director - Information Technology, Documentation and Publication, MANAGAE, and other contributors, the Centre has been adequately briefed about the evolving situation. Countries such as Germany and Kenya have national soil policies. Two institutes — Institute of Soil and Water Conservation, Dehradun, and Indian Institute of Soil Sciences, Bhopal — are involved in studying some aspects of soil.

Low carbon content

Giving an example of the emerging crisis, Sarma said the carbon content in soil is less than 1 per cent in plains and around 2 per cent in hills States in India, compared with the world average of 4 per cent. The increasing salinity and decreasing carbon content do not bode well for the future of agriculture.

The declining response ratios due to excess spraying of fertilisers, which leads to wasteful expenditure on fertiliser subsidy, only leads to loss of key national resources. This will affect human health as the agriculture produce is deficient in nutrition values.

India has varied geological, climate and vegetation which gives it different soil types. It takes thousands of years to make one metre deep soil. Therefore, there is no option before the country but to halt and reverse the deterioration, so that the ability to feed billions and their nutrition needs is not severely impacted, the report says.