Soil health management and conservation needs partnerships at multiple levels: Hemendra Mathur, Chairman, FICCI Task Force on Agri Startups

New Delhi : Addressing the programme, “Commemorating World Soil Day 2022″, Mr Hemendra Mathur, Chairman, FICCI Task Force on Agri Start-ups, FICCI, yesterday said it is high time we look at the food supply chain from a different lens “Conventionally, we have defined it from farm-to-fork. I think it’s time that we look at it from soil to stomach”, he said.  

According to estimates, 12 million hectares of agricultural land are lost yearly due to soil degradation. Mathur noted the challenges, especially soil fertility, productivity, organic carbon content and microbial activity in the soil, and added, “we need collaboration, partnerships at multiple levels, to make things work”, adding, “there has to be some sense of urgency”.  

On occasion, Dr MS Rao, Former Head & Principal Scientist, ICAR – IIHR, DARE, Government of India, emphasised it is crucial to nurture life by sustaining the soil through safer chemicals and biopesticides and balanced fertilisation. Dr Rao noted that during the last seventy years, the organic carbon content in the soil in India fell from 1 per cent to 0.3 per cent. “Ideally, we should have 3-4 per cent organic matter/carbon”, he said.  

Organic matter is vital for the multiplication of microbes, leading to the plant’s health. “In India, we lose around Rs 80,000 crores due to losses attributable to diseases, insects, weeds, and rodents”, said Dr Rao. However, he added that it is possible to restore soil health. “It is possible by adding organic amendments, beneficial microbes, green chemicals, and balanced nutrition.  

Dr Naved Sabir, Principal Scientist, Centre for Protected Cultivation Technology, I.A.R.I, spoke on GAP. He said, “good agriculture practices are responsive and responsible production systems”. 

Dr Sabir added that GAP rests on four fundamental pillars, of which first is the economic viability of the venture. Secondly, the produce has to be healthy. Thirdly, it has to be environmentally sustainable; and lastly, it has to be socially acceptable. “Whatever we produce has to be good, not only economically, environmentally, but also ethically and behaviourally”, he said. 

Dr Sabir also alluded to the importance of traceability. He said, “in our country, it has developed, but our awareness and affordability are not at that level that every consumer demands certified produce.” He added that technology holds a lot of potential. “From one acre, you could produce food for 100 acres. It allows us to give 99 acres back to nature to re-heal. Technologies allow us to intensify at one point, on the one hand, be more safe and complete in terms of nutrition, and the more sustainable in terms of not only the production systems but also as an environmental.”  

Dr Vishal Somvanshi, Division of Nematology, ICAR-Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, said that advancements in biological research had provided us with an unprecedented understanding of pest biology. “We are now using these insights to disrupt plant-host infection. These new methods are incredibly safe for soil and the environment”, he added. 

Mr Nayeem Pasha, Chief of Marketing, Krishitantra, spoke on soil testing facilities in the country. He said that India has around 4600 KVKs, which are not accessible to all farmers. Pasha alluded to a novel soil testing device, KrishiRasta, to test 11-12 parameters of soils to understand nutrient availability in the soil, leading to fertiliser application recommendations for a specific crop. “We have almost 1000 Plus devices installed”, he said.

Mr Manoj Patil, Strategic Initiatives Lead – South Asia, Corteva Agriscience, said soil health is important from economic, efficacy and ESG vantage point. He emphasised collaboration and added, “if people come together to find a balance between growth and sustainability, it could be a starting point”.