Shree Prasad Vista
As the world marks another World Soil Day on December 5th, the focus shifts to the critical role that soil and water play in sustaining life on Earth and the urgent need for global action to raise awareness on the vital role of soil and water in achieving sustainable and resilient agrifood systems. This year's theme, "Soil and Water: a source of life," aims to highlight the relationship of soil and water for sustaining life and the necessity of safeguarding this important natural resource. World Soil Day serves as a poignant reminder that the ground beneath our feet is more than just a foundation; it is a living, breathing ecosystem that demands our attention, care, and collective effort for the well-being of our planet.
In the rich tapestry of existence, ancient philosophies and traditions have often turned to the concept of Panchatatva, the five elements, to explain the very essence of life. Rooted in Hindu and Ayurvedic traditions, Panchatatva, also known as the Five Great Elements, are Earth (Prithvi), Water (Jal), Fire (Agni), Air (Vayu), and Sky/space (Akasha). This elemental framework not only provides a lens through which to understand the physical world but also serves as a profound metaphor for the interconnectedness of all life. Of the five elements, the most fundamental elements and silent stewards of life (soil and water) have been addressed by this year’s theme.
It acts as a natural filter, purifying water as it percolates through its layers, and plays a pivotal role in nutrient cycling, carbon storage, and supporting biodiversity.
As we celebrate the interconnected role of these vital resources, it is essential to recognize their symbiotic relationship and the critical role they play in supporting life on Earth. Soil and water provide the foundation for food production, ecosystems, and human well-being. Healthy soils promote water retention and reduce the risk of water runoff and erosion. It acts as a natural filter, purifying water as it percolates through its layers, and plays a pivotal role in nutrient cycling, carbon storage, and supporting biodiversity. Soil's ability to retain water is crucial for agriculture and to sustain ecosystems. On the flip side, water nourishes the soil, thus enabling the growth of vegetation and fostering life. Water, often referred to as the elixir of life, is the essence that sustains all living organisms. It supports biodiversity, regulates temperature, and facilitates nutrient transport. Freshwater, in particular, is indispensable for human survival, agriculture, and industrial processes. Rainfed agriculture systems account for 80 percent of croplands, contributing to 60 percent of the global food production. These systems rely heavily on effective soil moisture management practices. On the other hand, irrigated agriculture systems withdraw 70% of the world's freshwater and account for 20 percent of croplands. Improved soil and water management improves the land's capacity to withstand extreme climate events such as droughts, floods and sand/dust storms and provide essential ecosystem services, supporting life on earth and enhancing ecosystem resilience. Healthy soils act as a carbon sink, by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, thus contributing to both climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts.
In Nepal agricultural production is largely rain-fed and growth rates are strongly influenced by weather conditions. With an average landholding size of 0.7 hectares and 55% of farms operating on less than 0.5 hectares, Nepalese agriculture is mostly small-scale, semi-commercial farming characterized by a mix of crop and livestock farming. Of the 2.2 million hectares of potentially irrigable land, only 50% have access to irrigation infrastructure and one-third of the irrigated land has year-round irrigation facilities. The lack of reliable access to enough water when needed has resulted in lower land and agriculture productivity. In terms of soil fertility management Fertilizer use in Nepal is low. It has lower chemical fertilizer use in comparison to its neighboring countries like Bangladesh, India and other Asian countries. The mismanagement of pesticides and fertilizers not only threatens soil and water quality but also poses significant risks to human health and ecosystems. Unsustainable soil fertility management is further exacerbated by the imbalanced application and unequal distribution of fertilizers.
Integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) - defined as a set of soil fertility management practices that necessarily include the use of fertilizer, organic inputs, and improved germplasm combined with the knowledge on how to adapt these practices to local conditions, aiming at maximizing agronomic use efficiency of the applied nutrients and improving crop productivity - can be effective in providing balanced nutrients, maintaining soil health and increasing crop productivity. ISFM technologies can reduce market dependency and facilitate the use of local resources and the traditional knowledge of men and women farmers. The adoption and associated gain derived from ISFM can be enhanced if it is implemented in inclusive and gender-responsive ways.
The web portal of the soil map allows users, including the farmers themselves, to identify a domain with similar soil properties, identify soil fertility status including macro and micronutrients to facilitate soil management decisions.
NARC hosts the digital soil map of Nepal, the first of its kind in South Asian countries, that provides access to location-specific information on soil properties including soil texture, soil pH, organic matter, nitrogen, available phosphorus and potassium, and micronutrients zinc and boron across Nepal’s arable land. The web portal of the soil map allows users, including the farmers themselves, to identify a domain with similar soil properties, identify soil fertility status including macro and micronutrients to facilitate soil management decisions. Similarly, local water conservation practices such as multiple-use water systems, restoring dug wells, rainwater harvesting, ponds, water storage tanks and drip irrigation needs to be promoted together with the monitoring of groundwater resources with spatial and temporal resolution to avoid over-exploitation of groundwater resources.
Efforts must be made to empower and capacitate the 753 local governments for soil fertility and water resource management within their jurisdiction. Programs and subsidies for fertilizer and irrigation technologies need to be targeted resulting in balanced soil fertility and integrated water resources management. Developing capacities of all levels of government through evidence-based research and programs that support multistakeholder engagement and data sharing will be essential for creating harmony in soil and water management for transformative change.
The delicate balance of water resources is under threat due to climate change, pollution, and over-extraction. As we face global challenges such as climate change and population growth, the need to protect and conserve soil and water has been more urgent. Today Nepal has access to international collaborations, has the best examples of community-led initiatives, and advancements in technology by the public and private sectors from rainwater harvesting to precision agriculture, these efforts strive to strike a balance between human needs and environmental preservation.
On this occasion of World Soil Day, let us reflect on the profound connection between soil and water—the silent heroes that sustain life on Earth. It is a shared responsibility to protect and preserve these resources for the benefit of current and future generations. Through collective action, awareness, and sustainable practices, we can ensure that the delicate balance of soil and water remains intact, securing a thriving future for our planet.