SHIVAMOGGA: There is a reason why Indian farmers occupy the sacred position of ‘Sons of the Soil’. Cementing a symbiotic bond with the very soil they till, they have the gift of enriching the ‘life-giving’ property of that land, which over time feeds millions.
Soil is the embodiment of evolution, blessed with fertility to support massive ecosystems. For a predominantly agricultural country like India, it also becomes an economic asset, apart from being an emotional one. Soil conservation is imperative for the citizen, the farmer and the country as a whole. For several years now, the agriculture department has been emphasising the need to understand soil fertility and quality, prior to cultivation of crops.
Over the years, chemical fertilisers have been used to increase yields, but with growing awareness, there has been a considerable shift towards organic farming. Aimed at this, Bengaluru-based Sustainable Organic Initiatives for Livelihood (SOIL) aims to conserve soil health and educate the farming community about understanding, conserving and protecting life of the soil.
SOIL founder secretary P Srinivas Vasu is engaged in protecting and rebuilding soil health across Karnataka, with a focus on promoting sustainable agriculture. He has developed a demonstration module through which he educates farmers about ascertaining the quality and fertility of the soil on their land in a simple way. Called the ‘bottle method’, Vasu explains its features: “Fill three-fourths of a bottle with water, with half of it already filled with soil. Shake it for about 5-10 minutes and leave it still for 4-5 hours. By this, one can have a clear picture of the soil’s content like – sand, clay, and also the percentage of organic material.”
After gathering basic knowledge about the soil’s quality, the next step is to understand its physical and biological traits and composition. Physical features like colour, appearance, whether the soil is hot or cold in nature (by holding some of it in bare hands), and above all, when the soil is dropped on the ground, will it release any dust particles, are to be observed. Fertility of soil is termed as good when it is composed of certain physical characteristics – like its dark colour, aroma, porous quality, whether it contains organic matterl, and whether it is cool.
Speaking about soil’s biological features, Vasu says, “Soil is a living world, supporting life within its many hues and depths. Several kinds of critters, such as millipedes, centipedes, ants, earthworms and other insects call soil home and live off its many nutrients. It’s these organisms living in the soil which add more life to it.” Further he adds, the quality of soil depends on three ‘Ms’ – Organic Matter, Moisture and Microbes. Organic matter creates pores in the soil to support air and water circulation, while soil moisture is formed or developed in those pores created between soil particles, and diversified soil microbes emerge and transform organic matter into nutrients.
He emphasises that with an increase in organic matter in the soil, further diversified soil life is invited, fed, nurtured and protected, thereby sustaining plant life above.
Improving soil fertility
Vasu says by adding organic matter, the resultant fertile soil produces diversified nutritious food, which feeds the hungry. There are several kinds of organic matter which can be added to the soil, i.e., greenleaf manure, farmyard manure, compost, vermicompost, organic liquid manures, weed tea, multiple cropping, tank silt application, cattle herd manure, oil cakes and mulching.
Accordingly, Vasu, along with his team member B Prabhakara, is involved in educating farmers about conserving soil fertility and quality using simple means. So far, Vasu and Prabhakara have organised over 1,000 seminars and workshops for farmers in different parts of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, where they teach ways to protect soil health and improve crop yield – triggering off a green revolution of their own.
Sustainable Organic Initiatives for Livelihood was started to address nutritional food security for life above and below soils
Its mission is to protect soil microbes and engage with diversity-based ecological farming systems through education, demonstration, research and advocacy
Empower gram panchayats to build soil health centres to address problematic soils in the region
Educate students and youth on the relationship between soil life and humans
Employ diversity-based ecological farming practices to achieve balance between soil and biodiversity
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