The 68th UN General Assembly has recognized 2015 as the International Year of Soils (IYS). The main goal of the IYS 2015 is to raise awareness about the importance of healthy soils and to advocate for sustainable soil management to protect this precious natural resource. This official recognition will emphasize the importance of soils beyond the soil science. This also puts greater responsibility to the Council that envisions ‘Sustainable management of natural resources for achieving food, nutritional, environmental and livelihood security in the country’. Amongst others, the Council has identified a few major thrust areas such as Land Resource Characterization, Management and Land Use Planning, Soil-Health and Nutrient Management, Management of Problematic Soils– Saline, Alkaline, Acidic, and Waterlogged Soils, Soil and Water Conservation-Watershed Management, Arid Land Management, and Evaluation of Resource Conservation Technologies. Whilst soil-health remains priority, soil fertility maintenance and soil nutrient restoration in degraded ecosystems become crucial to ensure production and productivity, particularly that in the rainfed region, as soils there are shallow and eroded that has a bearing on the national food security.
Soils have supported world civilizations including that of India. India has a total of 329 million ha of geographical area with 141 million ha of agricultural land. The entire foodgrain along with oilseeds, sugar, fibre, fruits, and vegetables has to come from this finite land. Even though the availability of total agricultural land has been constant the per caput availability is continuously on decline which has put more and more taxation on our soils over the years. Naturally, such a delivery from soils in terms of productivity of crops is only possible, if we give due consideration on the improvement and maintenance of the health of the soils. That means we have to have a regular monitoring of our soils. It is heartening that the Central Government has just initiated a country-wide programme of assessing the soil-health and distributing the soil-health card to every farmer of the country. In this endeavour ICAR is committed to contribute as desired by the Government of India in the achievement of this noble cause.
There has been a significant progress in the management of soil resources ever since the ICAR came into existence since 1929. For example, the soil maps of the country (1:1 million scale), states (1:250,000 scale) and several districts (1:50,000 scale) have been prepared. Also agro-ecological, soil erosion and soil degradation regions of the country are delineated. Different steps taken include prepartion of digitized soil fertility maps (macro- and micronutrients) for different states and ready reckoners for soil-test based fertilizer recommendations; on-line soil-test based fertilizer recommendation system; integrated nutrient management packages for major cropping systems of the country; and biofertilizer technology for mass multiplication and adoption by the farmers. Significant work has also been done in the area of management of problem soils, viz. acid soils map (1:1million scale) and saltaffected soils of the country (1:1million scale) and eight states (1: 2,50,000 scale) have been prepared, a technology package for amelioration of 25 million ha of critically degraded acid soils has been developed. It is estimated that liming @ 2-4 q/ha along with the recommended fertilizers has potential to double foodgrain production in such areas. Similarly, cost effective amelioration technology for acidic and sodic soils has been developed; salt-tolerant varieties for major crops like rice, wheat, mustard and gram released, feasibility of sub-surface drainage technology for waterlogged saline soils has been demonstrated; and Dorovu technology for skimming freshwater overlying the saline water has been perfected for coastal saline areas. In the field of soil and water conservationwatershed management, a network of 47 model watersheds have been developed, that became the basis for the National Watershed Development Programme for Rainfed Areas (NWDPRA) developed; the annual and seasonal erosivity index maps were also prepared. Alternate land uses of salt affected soils specifically geared to growing of halophytes, medicinal, aromatic and spices need to be evolved. Growing and processing of sea weeds for national and international markets, new cost-effective reclamation technologies for salt-affected Vertisols, and reclamation of abandoned aqua ponds along the eastern coast also need attention. The soil maps prepared earlier now need refinement. More detailed maps at village level need to be prepared for effective planning and a land resource information system of the country need to be developed accessible to all.
Sustainable management of natural resources is vital as agricultural development with positive growth and long-term sustainability cannot thrive on a deteriorating natural resource base. We are today, confronted with widespread land degradation, groundwater imbalances, impaired soil-health and contamination of food and environmental pollution etc. The situation is getting further compounded with the recent climate change impacts on agriculture. To have a holistic solution to these emerging problems, the Natural Resource Management Division, ICAR has set future priority research on abiotic stress management (droughts, cold waves, floods, salinity, alkalinity, acidity and nutritional disorders etc.), climate resilient agriculture, conservation agriculture including organic farming, bioremediation of contaminated soils and water, biofortification, biofuels, bio-industrial watersheds and development of decision support systems for microlevel land use planning etc. Another research priority domain is applications of nanotechnology to enhance nutrient and water use efficiency and development of bio-sensors for soil-quality assessment etc. Another important strategy for Indian soil-health programme is to focus on available crop residues which need to go back to soils and a serious campaign has to be put forward against burning of crop residues. A huge quantity of municipal and solid waste is generated in India annually that are usually dumped into ground that not only occupy valuable land resources, but also poses a threat to the environment, besides causing health hazards to the citizens. Therefore, the soil scientists and other environmentalists have to play a pivotal role in converting these wastes into valuable manure through proper composting technology for recycling. Let us join hands with the international community in protecting our soil, one of the most important natural resources, and celebrate 2015 as the ‘International Year of Soils’.