"The 'Panchbothas' or the five elements - Wind, Fire, Air, Water and Soil determine the fate of agriculture. And Soil is the major element," says Banoth Sitharam, a seasoned farmer from Telengana ITC has worked with for years. At the heart of Sitharam's knowledge is a simple tenet - good soil makes good crops.
Today, World Soil Day 2022, is an opportunity to draw attention to the practices and methods that enhance soil health. This year's theme - 'Soils: Where Food Begins' - also underscores the close relationship between healthy soil and healthy food.
ITC's farmer partners grow a number of food crops, including wheat, potato, rice, spices, coffee, and a variety of fruits. Many are increasingly focusing on improving soil quality, advocating for the sustainable management of soil resources, and adopting new technologies. These translate to higher farm productivity, nutritious produce and better farmer incomes.
Consider the case of Babaji Shivram Borhade, a farmer from Maharashtra, who says he has been using a special technique to improve soil fertility. "From an ITC farmer field school, I learned about trash mulching. For five years I have been practicing it in my fields and I have much better yields" he says.
For decades, ITC has collaborated with farmers, running natural resource management programmes across many states in India, that help conserve and replenish three natural resources critical for agriculture - Water, Biodiversity and Soil - effectively sustaining agricultural livelihoods. To improve physical and biological soil health, ITC operates catchment treatment for top soil conservation by controlling rainwater run-off and bund strengthening across 8.8 lakh acres. Conservation agriculture practices such as zero tillage cultivation in wheat to add crop stubble to soil are spread over 4.2 lakh acres a year, while 66 lakh tons of tank silt application has improved soil health to date.
ITC also promotes compost use, green manuring over 10,000 acres and the piloting of toilet manure application in fields is enriching soil resources. Hari Chandra Kushwar, a Rajasthan farmer, told us that using toilet-linked biogas on his soil has made a significant difference to the quality of his crops.
Tank silt application improved nutrient content and the structure and texture of soil, resulting in soil organic carbon content going up by 117%. Catchment treatment boosted top soil retention and moisture conservation, and generated about 50% higher organic carbon. These measures have had a significant positive impact on improving soil health and farmer livelihoods by reducing chemical fertiliser costs and improving yields and incomes.
As a result of these interventions, 4.5 lakh farmers in 17 states have significantly improved yields and incomes by improvement in soil health and adoption of other package of practices, in close to 15 lakh acres. Various methods of improving soil quality are captured in the collage