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