10 Dec 2014

Celebrating Soil: Krishi Samellan (Farmer’s Meet) on World Soil Day-5th Dec

The world is currently facing the blow of different environmental crisis among which is Climate Change and the outcomes of the same are looming. The impact of the climate change is very imminent on different biotic and abiotic factors of the ecology. Soil which is an integral component of the ecosystem, has no doubt faced the blow of development whether it is concretization of the top soil, conversion to housing or intensive agriculture playing role in adding to greenhouse gasses and malpractice undertaken. Talking of intensive agriculture, the resource exhausting agriculture, as seen post Green revolution has put a pressure on two life giving components i.e. water and soil. Excessive use of fertilizers, pesticides, continuous rigorous tillage and extensive mono cropping, has led to the deterioration of soil flora and fauna leading to biotic and abiotic stress. If seen Indian agriculture, the productivity is at stand still and cultivable area will also declining so as to fulfill the burgeoning need of Indian population for housing roads and infrastructures.
Engaging in the discussion of Soil Conservation as need of the hour

Soil a life giving living matter if not dealt with serious efforts will become barren and will die to produce back new life in the form of crop. Agriculture currently has a number of malpractices like burning of trash, excessive tillage practice, excessive use of inputs and water, has detrimental effect on soil. Seeing the gravity of the soil conservation and its impact on human being, Food and Agriculture Organization has announced year 2015 as International Year of Soil. Taking it as an issue of concern, Aga Khan Rural Support Programme-India celebrated World Soil Day- 5th December, 2014, in its working area in the district Junagadh of Gujarat State. The day saw participation from farmers of vicinity villages, scientists from Junagadh Agriculture University, Independent Consultants and AKRSPI staff.

The proceedings of the day are as follows:

1)     The farmers and all the participants were introduced to the importance of the celebration of this day and why it has gained importance to celebrate such a day. The farmers were introduced to the emerging issue of soil and the blow to its sustainability. Malpractices of burning field to get rid of biomass, high use of inputs and water was brought into discussion with the farmers.

2)     Dr. Rankh of Soil and Water Conservation Department, Junagadh Agriculture University gave a short summary of importance of soil and water conservation. Different ways how top soil removal can be avoided through different structures like heavy bunding, mixed cropping, sowing against the slope for sloppy land contour trenching, use of sprinkler and drip to increase the efficiency of irrigation was explained to the farmers.

3)     A video excerpts from documentary “Symphony of Soil” and Conservation Agriculture were shown to the farmers that how faming is possible without tillage of soil and the benefits like reduction in cost of production, increase in soil flora and fauna and sustenance of productivity. The video show was followed by the discussion with the farmers regarding the practice of field burning, after harvesting of crops and zero tillage. The following reasons emerged for the same:

a.     The cost of labor has increased to a great extent which makes it unprofitable for the farmers to manage the crop residue to collect it and make compost.

b.    The harvester leaves a larger length of straw stubble in the soil which makes it problematic for the tractor mounted implements to till the soil.

c.      Burning of fields kills harmful soil fungus and bacteria and weed seed which will affect next crop of Sesame. (although a na├»ve reason, yet was listened to)

d.     Farmers do understand the problem of field residue of burning that somewhere it harms the soil but they seek that if there is some chemical or biological product which can decompose the residue fast in the soil then the practices can be changed.

Listening to the irrational reasons given by the farmers it was discussed by the experts that how detrimental the logics are, which they are engaging in burning the crops residue in field and how the straw can be further used to mulch soil or make compost and give it back to the soil. The need of changing this paradigm has become need of the hour for the farmers and how the new interventions like Conservation Agriculture can be engaged to raise field crop. There was huge acceptance resistance for the fact that cultivation can be done without tillage what they were doing is detrimental which made it hard to make them understand the logic engaged.

4)     The discussion was followed by a Role Play in local language organized in between, to give some light moments to the session and to understand the practice of conserving soil for its sustainability. AKRSP staff enacted the role play with some humor thrown on farmer’s practices. The role of Soil was enacted by a one of our specialist of Soil Testing Lab, how Soil cries and weeps whenever the farmer kills living soil, first by heavy tillage blades, then poisons like pesticides and then by annihilating it by burning. The 5 minute role play had a lasting impact on farmers mind.
Role Play on Conservation of Soil. In centre Mr. Mansing inenactings soil

5)     Followed by this role play there were farmers who were not burning their fields were called in front and asked to share their experiences and reasoning. Buddhesh Bhai who in last Rabi season did not burned the residue while left it over soil and applied 2 irrigation, to let it decompose. He later on cultivated Groundnut on the soil by doing rest tillage practices,  his observation of the soil reflected that the water holding capacity of the area where he did the same is higher now and while the area where he had burnt in the demanded more water for irrigation. This became a default treatment and control plot in his 8 bheega land (1.28 hectare) which I later confirmed by visiting his field and taking a video record. Bhayabhai with whom we are doing the trial of Conservation Agriculture was also asked to explain how he cultivated Wheat in this season without tillage in an area of 200 square meter after Groundnut and has confident in the practice as beneficial for farmers.

6)     The experiential sharing by the local farmers was again followed by profound discussion with the farmers on what can be done to save soil by our local consultant and farmers. The options of reducing tillage, use of fertilizer as demanded by the soil and not on exorbitant rate (farmers in the nearby vicinity uses about 150 % more Nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers as needed by the crop), adoption of biocontrols like Trichoderma to enhance the soil biological value to fight pest problems, adoption of soil mulch application or converting the residue to compost to use back in field, stopping field burning, and zero tillage practices were suggested to them. In the end of the meet the farmers came to a consensus and promised to congregate and conserve soil but asked some practical adoption questions and suggestions, they are:
Learning sharing by a farmer named Mr. Alibhai on Soil Conservation 

a)     They implements for zero tillage for sowing in Wheat is not available in the region
b)     This can be practically started with a small area after Wheat harvest then it can be expanded.
c)     The farmers also demanded such materials which decomposes the mulch fast in soil if one has to stop burning now immediately.
d)     The practice will be accepted and adopted slowly as farmers also have to see their current needs of livelihood, so it can happen with a continuous hand holding and developing confidence among them.

Seeing the response it was an enlightening moment for the team and we also kept in mandate that first the current need of the farmers will be met alongwith demonstration of the practice of Conservation Agriculture to the farmers and then slowly winning their confidence. For now we could locate a bio-culture which decomposes the mulch fast for that Junagadh Agriculture University and Anand Agriculture University will be contacted and made available with the farmers. This intervention will be talked and discussed in every village meeting after the crop is harvested in the month of March. We are looking forward to bring a positive change in the practice of farmers in the year of 2015 i.e. International Year of Soil and we are hopeful for that as it is said,
Farmers giving consent to conserve the soil for sustainability

“There is no worse death than end of hope”