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India’s soil crisis

In his fields, Badhia Naval Singh , a farmer tilling 8 bighas of land in the Bagli tehsil in Madhya Pradesh, has been seeing something strange for a while now. Earlier, if he pulled out a tuft of grass, he would see earthworms . “Ab woh dikhna bandh ho gaye hain (they don’t show up any longer),” says the 45-year old .

Also, he says, when he ploughed earlier, the soil would break into soft crumbs and fall along the long furrows the plough left behind. Now, the soil is harder and the plough uproots a succession of large clods – dheplas, in local parlance – from the earth. The changing nature of soils – for the worse – is a refrain with farmers in these parts, even across the country.

Ishwar Lal of Pandutaki village nearby does not see as many birds or frogs around his fields as before. Near Bhopal, farmers say traditional vegetable crops do not grow in their fields any longer. Across the country, farmers say yields drop if they don’t add more fertiliser every year. These anecdotes suggest dramatic changes in Indian soils in about 40 years.
these are changes that call rachel carson’s silent spring and the vast dust storms, so well described by donald worster in dust bowl, that swept the US during the depression years to mind. across the country, farmers are categorical that their lands are changing. in this story, i tried to gauge whether these anecdotal reports were valid. based on what field samples collected by the indian research establishment tell us, the farmers are right — nutrient deficiencies are widespread, stocks of organic carbon (humus) are low, resulting in soils’ ability to absorb water falling, erosion rising, and numbers of soil fauna falling.
the print edition had a set of graphs that are integral to this story. am appending a link to the pdf of the story. do take a look at that as well. ETD_2011_7_12_17 india’s soil crisis
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1 Comment

  1. You obviously care about the soil degradation problem. I have spent years working on viable solutions. I would love to collaborate with you to test the A2WH grow dryland process in rural India where you have seen the degradation first hand. We would then need to figure out how spread knowledge of how to adopt it without negative impact on the farmers income.

    The A2Wh Grow Dryland process was designed to solve soil degradation problems. In sunny parts of India a single acre of land India could produce over 40,000 pounds per year of nitrogen rich leaves which can be applied as mulch to restore degraded land. The same leaves are edible for cattle, sheep and goats during drought years. When used for mulching the leaves do not even need to be dried before application. The A2WH technology provides enough water to keep tree seedlings alive on severely degraded land. The rest of the Grow Dryland process can grow trees on severely degraded land where they would normally die of dehydration. Multiple studies have demonstrated doubling of production of other crops after a few years of applying these leaves as mulch. There are many tree choices which allow the process to work across many climates. In areas with adequate rain farmers can use the process for free without the A2WH.com equipment. It can be implemented in small pieces so farmers can see the benefits before they make a larger investment. I believe that farmers with a few acres of degraded land can double their net production while eliminating their costs for commercial fertilizers. Now we need field test it in India and spread knowledge to those who need it.

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