Earlier, it was believed that continued and even increased use of chemical fertilizers is essential for sustaining India’s high yielding agriculture. Of late, it has been proved through scientific investigations that increase in the doses of NPK through chemical fertilizers does not ensure a corresponding increase in crop productivity in the long run. This practice of over exposing our soil with NPK is not sustainable as it leads to a rapid decline in soil health thereby resulting in multiple micro-nutrient deficiencies. Nutrient removal by crops far exceeds nutrient additions through fertilizers. This situation is akin to mining the soils of their nutrient capital. This, indeed, is a major challenge. Apart from this, the escalating prices of fertilizers and raw materials required for production of fertilizers in global market have made it necessary to search the alternatives sources giving due emphasis to renewable nutrient sources to ensure sustainable agricultural development in the country. Experience shows that the goal of sustainable agriculture can be achieved by technological manipulations blending the indigenous knowledge with modern technologies suited to specific agro-ecological regions. Integrated use of all the nutrient resources (fertilizers, organics, crop residues, biofertilisers, industrial wastes/byproducts etc.) would be essential and inevitable. There is an urgent need to address this issue.
To address the emerging problems of soil health and crop productivity stagnation, IFFCO has initiated a “SAVE THE SOIL” program in a missionary mode. A Pilot Project titled “Soil Rejuvenation and Productivity enhancement” was started initially in 16 villages of India’s Bighapur Block of district Unnao in the state of Uttar Pradesh from May 2009. Through soil rejuvenation, we intend to build farmers’ capacity towards scientific agriculture to increase productivity, profitability and income for better livelihood. In the light of very encouraging results of the project during 2009-10, the project was extended to all the 117 villages of Bighapur block of district Unnao. This project is serving as a role model for breaking yield stagnation through soil rejuvenation. The salient findings of the project are presented here.
The holistic approach of soil rejuvenation and productivity enhancement adopted in this Project are being mentioned here:
System Approach for Soil Rejuvenation: To rejuvenate the impoverished soils, a holistic system approach of integrated nutrient management was adopted. In the first phase, farmers were educated about changing pattern of soil fertility status and incidence of multiple nutrient deficiencies leading to decline in nutrient use efficiency and factor productivity, thus stagnation in crop yields. We have successfully created awareness among farmers about deteriorating soil health and convinced them for responsible nutrient management through IPNS integrating all nutrient resources viz. fertilizers, organic manures (FYM, compost, vermi-compost, green manure, inclusion of pulsed in cropping systems, use of crop residues) and biofertilizers. We also supported farmers for conservation and use of organic wastes for preparing quality composts, green manuring, biofertilizers and secondary (sulphur) and micronutrients (zinc and boron) along with NPK fertilizers.
Field Demonstrations on Cereals, Pulses and Oilseeds: Three-plot and one plot demonstrations (718) were conducted on major crops of the Project area during kharif (Hybrid rice, High yielding Basmati rice, Hybrid Maize, Early Pigeonpea, Urdbean and Sesame) and rabi (Wheat, Barley, Mustard, Chickpea, Pea, Lentil and Potato). Performance of the crops was good fulfilling the goal of productivity enhancement through best management practices. During 2009-10, an increase of 39 to 76 % was recorded in the yield of different crops with improved nutrient management practices over farmers fertilizer practices. During 2010-11, with the introduction of Hybrid rice the average productivity under CIP has shown 3-fold increase in the productivity of rice. In demonstration plots 21 farmers harvested more than 100 quintals per hectare.
Increasing Productivity of Rice-Wheat Cropping System: Record yield of over 100 q/ha of paddy was achieved in 15 demonstrations, 80 to 100 q/ha in 34, 60 to 80 q/ha in 25 and 50-60 q/ha in 11 demonstrations against the average productivity of 28q/ha of Bighapur block of district Unnao. The average productivity of 106 wheat demonstrations was 57.59 q/ha against average productivity of 32.03 q/ha of Bighapur block of district Unnao. Evidently, the productivity of rice – wheat / rice-rice systems can be doubled through adoption of best management practices ensuring integrated nutrient management and the land thus saved open avenues for diversification of agriculture with pulses, oilseeds, fodders, seasonal spices, fruits, vegetables, floriculture etc. to enhance farmers profits and livelihood.
Enhancing Productivity of Pulses: Successful initiatives were taken to increase area under pulse crops in the Project villages by providing critical inputs (seeds of improved varieties, biofertilisers, DAP, phosphogypsum and zinc sulphate). The productivity of pulses increased significantly with best management practices and helped improving soil, human and animal health. The cropping intensity was increased by taking short duration mungbean as a catch crop between wheat and rice. Introduction of short duration pigeonpea – wheat cropping system in place of sorghum + pigeonpea mixed cropping system helped improving soil health and farmers profit. Both mungbean and black gram were introduced as spring season crop after harvest of mustard and potato.
Crop Diversification: To increase fruit production in the project villages, saplings of most promising varieties of Banana, Mango, Aonla etc. were distributed to farmers. To ensure food and nutrition security, improved/hybrid seeds of vegetables (Bitter gourd, egg plant, cauliflower, cucurbits, cucumber, okra, radish, chillies, tomato, potato etc.) were distributed to farmers for large plot demonstrations. Farmers were encouraged to enhance their income through floriculture and spices. Requisite knowledge of best management practices was provided to the farmers through training programs to achieve attainable yield goals of these crops.
Reclamation of Alkali (usar) Land: Usar reclamation program has been undertaken covering 10 hectares. This area represents 3 categories of usar land ie. (1) uncultivated usar land (2) Cultivated usar land with rice only (3) Cultivated usar land with rice-wheat but very poor productivity. In cultivated usar land the paddy productivity prior to reclamation varied between 9 to 20 q/ha with average productivity of 13 q/ha which after reclamation increased to 15.8 to 55.4 q/ha with average productivity of 36.4 q/ha showing 2.8 times increase in paddy productivity. Similar increase in productivity of wheat was also recorded. This program has now been expanded to additional area of 40 ha.
Training Programmes, farmers meeting, CSeminar, Field Day, Farmers visits etc. were organised to educate farmers about soil rejuvenation and productivity enhancement.