Wake Up Before It is Too Late: Notes on the Importance of Kashmir’s Deteriorating Soil Health

Dr. Tasneem Mubarak

The ever expanding population and changing life styles are creating enormous demand for food, fodder, feed, fiber and fuel. To keep pace with increasing population, production must increase but not at the cost of environment and ecology. For sustainability in agriculture and allied sectors it is quite essential to maintain soil health. In ignorance and sometimes because of greed to get more and more without understanding the consequences, we are losing precious soil and greatly harming soil health. Many things are happening around us that pose a great threat to soil health and overall damage to the ecosystem.

A good number of farmers are using agro-chemicals indiscriminately over the years, which is not only affecting crop production and quality standards but also consume soil health besides increasing costs of cultivation. In addition to this, these practices pose a great threat to human and animal health and the costs involved in the treatment of serious health issues is humungous.

Reports are being received that some farmers are using very high doses of few agro-chemicals especially fertilizers and pesticides and omitting application of other essential elements. Not only this, some are reported to be applying common salt in their apple orchards. Thousands of hectares of land are affected with the problem of soil salinity in the country particularly near coastal areas rendering them unfit for crop cultivation. Huge investments are made to reclaim these soils so that suitable crops are grown there and unfortunately farmers here in some parts of the valley are ignorantly degrading productive soils by adding common salt.

We fail to understand from where these recommendations come to farmers.

Daily addition of tones of polythene in water sources and soil, on the other hand makes situation more alarming. These practices need to be stopped immediately and for that awareness needs to be raised through all sources especially through the print and electronic media.

The challenge is not easy as we live in a society where people despite seeing the images of cancer and a warning printed on cigarette packs/cases “Tobacco causes cancer” don’t quit smoking but ignore the message as if it doesn’t exist at all.

We can’t afford to wait for our soil dying of these silly things as new generations will curse us if we fail to do something significant in this regard. All stake holders must use their available sources and linkage to sensitize the masses. It is high time to understand the importance of soil health and stick to the fundamental farming practices encouraging a sustainable agriculture to meet the present and future demands. If soils are sick that sickness will definitely not spare us and creep into us. A healthy nation cannot be expected when the soil is sick. There is urgent need to follow integrated crop management in terms of nutrient and pest management.

The emphasis on the application of Biological and organic sources of nutrients and encouraging biological and cultural techniques of pest management is need of the hour. Maintenance of a good level of soil organic matter is very important and for that there is need to develop and popularize location and situation specific integrated farming systems. Soil organic matter is a source of nutrition for both macro and microorganisms and also for plants.

There are many other benefits associated with organic matter which we generally add through Farmyard Manures, Composts and crop residues in the soil. In nutshell we can say that soil organic matter for soil is what blood is for us. Use of suitable cover crops between cash crops, green manuring, good farm-specific crop rotation and application of chemical amendments based on soil analysis are other practices which contribute in soil heath. Besides soil test based fertilizer application not only contributes to soil health but also reduces cost of cultivation in general and improves crop production and quality as well. To have better understanding about soil health and other farming aspects a network of Krishi Vigyan Kendras (Agriculture Science Centers) under the aegis of SKUAST-Kashmir has been set up in all the districts of valley which farmers must visit and interact with the scientists available there.

The author is a Senior Scientist and Head of KVK-Kulgam, SKUAST-Kashmir. He can be reached at: drtasneem.mubarak@gmail.com

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