Protecting Soil Health

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Soil is sometimes dismissed as a dirtying agent that soils our clothes and helps generate mud on the land surface and dust in the air. But the truth is that soil exists as the basis for life because food grows on soil. All food crops grow on soil, so do the greenery and all kinds of herbs and vegetation that keep our environment healthy. Food crops, medicinal herbs, shrubs, bushes, flowers, mangroves, animal fodder, grassland and timber forest, and list can go very long.

Life cannot be imagined in their absence. And these life supporting and oxygen supplying vegetation world cannot grow without healthy soil cover. Therefore, soil fertility, soil health and soil conservation are extremely important. However, this topic remains largely neglected and overlooked. Maintaining soil health has a direct bearing on food security, human health, biodiversity status, environmental balance, ecological health and continued water source prevalence.

In this respect, haphazard process of urbanisation that buries the vital layer of soil under concrete structure is a matter of worry. Agricultural production, healthy environment and crucial ground water recharging cannot sustain without coil conservation.  Soil health and its fertility are determined by different factors such as presence of organic matters, acidity, alkalinity and other minerals.

Agricultural land needs addition of manure, fertilisers and irrigation for good output. But over use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides can bring imbalance in fertile quality and soil health. Such agro inputs can increase crop growth and harvest but helps to degrade the quality of soil. In the long run, constant use of certain chemical fertiliser adversely affects soil health if the organic content keeps declining. Cattle dung and compost manure nurture soil health and helps in the presence of microbial elements. 

Over use of chemical inputs degrades the quality of food as well as adversely impacts the soil fertility. Use of chemical pesticides not only affect human health but also kill the useful insects such as earthworms, spiders, butterflies and bees. Earthworms, which feed on organic matters, keep the soil fertile while spiders eat other insects that destroy crops.

Butterflies and bees play an important role in the pollination of food crops, fruits, vegetables and flowers. Farmers, consumers and agro technicians need to remain well aware of the importance of maintaining soil health. In the wake of the overuse of chemical inputs in farming, there is a growing call now for switching to organic food production. Use of chemicals in farms is rampant in Nepal too. 

Awareness and strict legal provision are needed to reverse this trend. For instance, if the farmers take fruits and vegetable to the market without caring about the residual presence of pesticides in their products, it can have devastating impact on the health of the consumers. Many consumers are ready to play higher for organic vegetables and fruits but such items are not available. Some suppliers claim their products to be organic but consumers cannot believe them in absence of reliable lab testing facilities and government's regulatory bodies.

Soil needs minerals such as nitrogen, urea, phosphorous and potash which need to be applied with proper balance. Haphazard use of such chemicals without the advice of agro technicians can be harmful. Seeping of chemical effluents from industries can also mar soil health. It is in the context of soil related awareness that the nation marked the World Soil Day on December 5. This is a one-day occasion of awareness but the rules of healthy soil should be put into practice every day.

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