soil erosion climate change

View from India: Conserve the soil for a better tomorrow

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The states of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have signed up for the Save Soil campaign, a global movement spearheaded by Indian spiritual leader Sadhguru.

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, founder of Isha Foundation, has been named one of India’s 50 most influential people. His transformational programmes have touched the lives of millions the world over. This time, he has set out on a global mission to motivate people in diverse parts of the globe to save the soil from extinction. The visionary has embarked on this expansive 30,000km #JourneyForSoil on a motorcycle. The 100-day global journey kick-started in London earlier in the year, crisscrossed 27 nations in Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East and is now spreading the message on the Indian terrain.

The movement is envisioned to initiate policy-driven action to address land degradation, advocate for healthy soil and save it from extinction. There’s a pressing need for saving the soil everywhere, because the UN Food and Agriculture Organization indicates that there’s only 60 years of soil left on planet Earth. The UN has pointed out that one acre of soil is lost on the planet every second. Hence the soil crusade is to initiate national policies and actions towards increasing the organic content in cultivable soil.

As a backgrounder, Isha Foundation, located in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, is a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Global bodies like the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Food Programme (WFP) and IUCN are supporting the Save Soil Movement. IUCN has engaged with governments and farming communities to focus on agriculture and land health and protect agricultural landscapes.

The states of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have set the template by signing a memorandum of understanding with Isha Outreach. This is the Foundation’s social outreach initiative, which implements several large-scale human service projects to support individual growth, revitalise the human spirit, rebuild communities, and restore the environment.

As the movement navigates across the Indian landscape, it is also envisioned to reverse the desertification of fertile land and save it from becoming barren. It is hoped to bring back at least 3-6 per cent organic content in the soil. This could happen by bringing the land under shade from vegetation and enriching the soil through plant litter and animal waste.

Conserving soil is important and urgent as well. Erratic and unexpected climatic conditions have resulted in wind erosion which has led to the upheaval of the top soil. Probably R&D labs can be initiated privately or through government support to conduct research for converting arid and barren land into fertile soil. Also let’s not forget that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched the Soil Health Card Scheme for farmers.

Respecting the soil is deeply entrenched in the socio-cultural ethos of this country. Hence it’s mandatory to save it. And in any case, loss of soil could mean job loss among farmers and food scarcity as agricultural yields shrink. It also hobbles the GDP (gross domestic product) growth of the nation. Ecological imbalance, loss of biodiversity, climate change and water scarcity are other consequences.

Perhaps new irrigation methods can be explored to make the soil sustainable and retain more nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, sulphur and potassium, besides increasing its fertility. Crop rotation could also be a means of soil management. By doing so, the roots of plants will grow to different lengths. It could mean that they will hold on to the soil at different depths and levels. This will keep the plants secure during erratic weather conditions.

The Save Soil movement aims to galvanise people and initiate them towards soil-saving efforts. Spreading awareness and making people realise the importance of soil conservation is essential. Already youngsters in parts of the country have come forward to share the feeling. Probably the urgency of the situation as well as the sentiment could be taught to students through skits, essays and poster competitions. Perhaps they could spread word at home and the community at large.

Sadhguru incidentally had initiated a national movement in 2017 titled Rally for Rivers to save India’s rivers. Being the lifeline of the people, the vision was supported by 162 million people, making it the largest ever ecological initiative of its kind. Rally for Rivers was featured in UNEP’s Compendium of Nature-based Solutions at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit in New York. A yogi-mystic, he has been a primary speaker at the UN World Headquarters, Unesco Headquarters, a regular at the World Economic Forum, and a special invitee at Microsoft, Google and TED, among others.

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