Food security is one of the main indicators of economic development. The modernization of agriculture has brought enormous dividends in terms of food security for large sections of the population, in addition to improving agricultural production.
Healthy soil is a key component of sustainable food production, as nearly 95% of global food production depends on soil. The current state of soil health is concerning.
Land degradation on an unprecedented scale is a significant challenge to sustainable food production. Around a third of the world’s soils are already degraded and, alarmingly, around 90% could be degraded by 2050 if no corrective action is taken. While land degradation is thought to occur on 145 million hectares in India, it is estimated that 96.40 million hectares – around 30% of the total geographical area – are affected by land degradation. Globally, the biophysical condition of 5,670 million hectares of land is in decline, of which 1,660 million hectares (29%) are attributed to human-induced land degradation, according to the report “State of Land, Soil and Water” from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. .
The time has come for collective global action involving governments and civil society to reverse this alarming trend. In addition to natural causes, various human activities lead to land degradation. With the threat to global food security compounded by the risk of serious environmental damage, the need of the hour is to adopt innovative policies and agro-ecological practices that create healthy and sustainable food production.
Since ancient times in India, mother earth has been considered a divine entity and her worship is an integral part of the country’s civilizational ethos. Many reverent references to mother earth can be found in the Vedas. In accordance with this divine knowledge, Indian farmers since ancient times have followed sustainable and holistic farming practices. With changing times and a growing population, farmers have adopted modern scientific techniques. Extensive use of fertilizers and pesticides has led to deteriorating soil health and contamination of water bodies and the food chain, posing serious health risks to people and livestock.
Highlighting the urgent need for action to reduce reliance on pesticides worldwide and promote policies that promote healthy and sustainable food systems and agricultural production, “A healthy planet for healthy children” published by the United Nations Institute United for Training and Research and the World Future Council highlighted the successes of various countries, including Sikkim in India, which became the first biological state in the world. He said: “The small state in northeastern India has succeeded in gradually but decisively eliminating pesticides and chemical fertilizers and has converted the entire state to organic farming.”
As soil is a fragile and finite resource, sustainable land management practices are essential to ensure healthy soil. They are essential not only to prevent degradation but also to ensure food security. Every effort should also be made to prevent soil erosion as it not only affects fertility but also increases the risk of floods and landslides.
FAO’s latest “State of the World’s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture” states: “…soil pollution is also a problem. It knows no boundaries and compromises the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe.
Excessive or inappropriate use of agrochemicals is one of the causes of the problem. The global annual production of
industrial chemicals have doubled since the turn of the 21st century, to around 2.3 billion tonnes, and are expected to increase by 85% by the end of the decade. Another challenge comes from salinization, which affects 160 million hectares of cropland worldwide. Land degradation must be urgently addressed and reversed.
As FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said in his address to the World Food and Agriculture Forum on 28 January, “reversing land degradation is vital if we are to feed a population growing world, protect biodiversity and help tackle the factory’s climate crisis”.
I commend the Union Government for introducing the revolutionary Soil Health Map system. Under the program to date, soil health cards have been distributed to approximately 23 million farmers. The program has not only helped improve soil health, but has also benefited countless farmers by increasing agricultural production and their incomes. I am happy to see that India is on track to achieve the restoration of 26 million hectares of degraded land by 2030. A study conducted by the National Productivity Council in 2017 on this program revealed that there has been a decrease in the use of chemicals. fertilizer within the range of 8-10% following application of fertilizer and micronutrients as recommended on soil health sheets. Overall, an increase in crop yields of around 5-6% has been reported as a result.
Several studies have established that natural farming and organic farming are not only profitable, but also lead to improved soil and farmland ecosystem health.
I would also like to express my deepest gratitude to Sadhguru for his “Save Soil Campaign” and for completing 100 days of solo cycling, crossing 27 nations. His attempt to engage with government leaders, experts and government officials for concerted action to save soil is commendable.
From ordinary people to the highest government officials, from farmers to CEOs, from scientists to school children, everyone must join this campaign to save the health of the planet and ensure food security. Each of us has a stake in this movement because our survival depends on reliable and sustainable food security.
This column first appeared in the print edition of June 24, 2022 under the title “Preparing the ground for the future”. The writer is the Vice President of India