Excessive and improper use of synthetic or chemical fertilisers in agricultural practices in a bid to increase agricultural yields is one of the major factors that degrade soil health. In recent years, the soil health of Manipur has considerably degraded due to the replacement of good farm practices of using biological fertilisers with chemical or synthetic fertilisers. Considering the deteriorating soil health, experts have suggested the government for effective implementation of specific soil health policy at the earliest in the effort to restore and boost the quality of soil in the state.
It may be mentioned that agriculture is the mainstay of Manipur’s economy as 80 per cent of the state population depends on the sector. However, it is increasingly becoming a challenging task to engage in this sector in the wake of global warming. Today, the impacts of climate change are being witnessed in every part of the world. Manipur too is witnessing extreme weather conditions which are disrupting the state’s economy and affecting the lives of farmers in the state.
According to information provided by the Directorate of Environment and Climate Change, maximum temperature in the year 2017 was 39.97 degree Celsius, in 2018 it was 39.92 degree Celsius, 2019 was 40 degree Celsius, 2020 was 39.83 degree Celsius and 2021 was 39.97 degree.
The department also stated that minimum temperature increased over the years. The minimum temperature in 2017 was 1.15 degree Celsius, 2018 was 1.63 degree Celsius, 2019 was 1.8 degree Celsius, 2020 was 1.38 degree Celsius and 2021 was 2.03 degree Celsius.
Annual rainfall continued to decrease and fell drastically in 2021. Annual rainfall received in 2017 was 1798.79 mm, 2018 was 1431.44mm, 2019 was 999.63mm, 2020 was 1531.17 mm and 2021 was 751.95 mm.
Amid this changing weather patterns, there are reports that agricultural land in Manipur has deteriorated to a great extent that the acidity content in the soil has been constantly increasing and important nutrients of the soil are increasingly becoming disproportionate.
Owing to the changing and extreme weather conditions reported from across the state, since the last many years, farmers are facing frequent drought-like or flood-like situations. The state has been witnessing erratic and high intensity rainfall patterns in recent years.
Increase in temperature is also an undeniable factor that poses a serious threat to the agriculture sector, affecting cultivation of seasonal crops and consequently the fall in yields.
In the wake of this changing scenario as one of the very reasons, many farmers have started perceiving that farming could no longer be a sustainable source of livelihood.
One of the research papers entitled: ‘Climate resilient agriculture in Manipur: Status and Strategies for Sustainable Development’, carried out by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) published in the year 2015 reveals that Manipur has been affected by the changing climate.
Trend analysis of weather variables in Imphal under the National Innovations on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA) also pointed out that the mean annual maximum temperature from 1954 to 2014 has been increasing in a range of 0.1 degree per decade.
It states that the mean annual minimum temperature has also increased significantly to a tune of 0.3 degree per decade. The total annual rainfall during 1954 to 2014 was also increased on an average of 23.5 mm per decade. However, a decreasing trend was observed in February, June, July and November rainfall.
This research paper also observes that with this changing phenomenon, the state will face a deficit of 22,18,000 tonnes of food grain by 2050.
In an interaction with the Imphal Free Press, scientist, Soil Science of ICAR Manipur, Tensubam Basanta said that impacts of climate change coupled with excessive use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, weedicides and herbicides damage the soil health in Manipur.
The scientist explained that compared to the soil in hill areas, the type of soil found in plain areas or Imphal valley is more difficult to carry out agricultural practices. The type of soil found in the hill region is red soil whereas black soil is found in plain areas.
There is high content of clay in black soil. Owing to the characteristic of black soil, it can solidify very hard in high temperatures and becomes very sticky when it gets wet. Because of this characteristic, black soil is not so easy to cultivate. Yet, if proper irrigation and nutrients of soil are maintained properly, agricultural activities can be carried out successfully by planting suitable crops, which is a good farm practice.
But instead of doing so, the trend which farmers in the state are presently following is almost similar to destroying the health of the soil.
Simply focusing on good agricultural yield alone is the easiest cultivation method. In the process, farmers tend to use only synthetic fertilizer that does not abide by the guidelines of its usage. There are specific guidelines of using fertilizers in cultivation of crops to boost production.
As such, every farmer should inculcate the habit of using the fertilisers in crops after consultation with experts and avoid asking fertilizer retailer shops, he added.
The ICAR scientist said that as per norm, nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium should be used in the ratio of 4:2:1. However, most of the farmers, with limited awareness, are concerned only about spreading only nitrogen by using urea fertiliser. Such practice results in long-term damage to the health of the soil in an agricultural land. Disproportionate use of chemical fertilizers has also damaged the soil nutrients that are produced naturally by microorganisms. On top of this, soil is highly eroded due to deforestation and high intensity rainfall.
While mentioning about soil health status of Manipur, he said that soil should contain as many as 17 nutrients. They are Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Sulphur, Iron, Copper, Zinc, Manganese, Boron, Molybdenum, Chlorine, Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen and Vanadium.
Soil testing of almost all the districts is done in ICAR. As per their findings, the level of nitrogen stood at medium to low, phosphorus is low, calcium very low, potassium is in medium range, boron and molybdenum is very low and magnesium, iron and zinc are in sufficient amounts, he added.
He further said that the reason for reducing the nutrients content is the sign of failure of soil treatment and soil conservation. Plants continue to suck up the necessary nutrients from soil. Farmers should replenish it from time to time by spreading bio fertilizer, vermi compost etc.
The soil health of the state would completely deteriorate after some years if farmers continue to rely only on chemical or synthetic fertilizers, he added while suggesting that to implement soil health management policy is the need of hour. Besides this, people should also start practices using kitchen waste material as compost or manure in their home.
In an exclusive interview to the Imphal Free Press, assistant agriculture officer, State Soil Testing Laboratory, Porompat, Imphal East district, M Geetchandra said that most of the land in the state is degraded due to various factors. One of the factors includes excessive use of chemical or synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, and insecticides.
The State Soil Testing Laboratory at Potompat had tested around 60,000 soil samples collected from almost all the districts of the state.
Through this testing, it was found that the PH level of the soil is 5.0 to 5.5 which is below its optimal range of 6 to 6.5 pH. Having pH value less than normal shows that the soil is acidic in nature.
The indigenous variety of crop wouldn't be able to grow once its pH value reached four. In such a situation, the hybrid variety may tolerate and sustain to grow. There is a dire need to improve the condition of soil health otherwise the decline in the agricultural yield year by year would surely lead to food insecurity in the state in 10 to 20 years.
Geetchandra further said that using chemical or synthetic fertilisers may produce good yield but disproportionate use of chemical fertilizers may result in irreparable damage in many ways.
The agriculture officer said that excessive use of toxic chemicals destroys the microorganism found in the soil, which is responsible for soil fertility. Moreover, the condition of groundwater, health of humans and animals have also been adversely affected by these chemical fertilisers directly or indirectly, he said.
The use of organic fertilisers such as green manure, bio-fertiliser, vermi-compost and bio-pesticides are recommended good farm practices. It is considered one of the most sustainable agricultural practices, he added.
Geetchandra also stated that the state government had started issuing soil health cards since 2016. So far, it has been issued to as many as 2, 40,000 farmers in the state. Under this soil health card scheme, farmers can check the soil health condition of their agricultural land. On the basis of this report soil nutrients or supplements are provided by the concerned authorities.
Considering the present challenges caused by climate change that farmers are facing today driven by deterioration of soil condition and other climate change impacts, there is an urgent need for farmers of Manipur to start adopting smart agricultural practices.
The farming community should have soil profiling carried out before planting crops and consult with experts if they find nutrient imbalance in the soil, he suggested.
Pointing out that plant health clinics have been opened in all district agriculture offices, he said farmers should approach the nearest plant health clinic for help.
The agriculture officer also informed that at present the state has only one Soil Testing Laboratory that has the capacity to conduct 10,000 samples testing per year. However, they had proposed setting up a soil testing laboratory in every district to help the farmers in the villages increase their agricultural yields.
Speaking to the Imphal Free Press, Mutum Churamani, president of Loumee Shinmee Apun Lup (LOUSAL), a farmers’ group, said that though the state government says the total arable land in the state is 1,95,000 hectares in both hill districts and valley, only 88,820 hectare of it is in hill areas and 35,000 hectares of land are used for organic farming under the Manipur Organic Mission Agency (MOMA). After deducting all these areas, the size of cultivable land area left is just around 60,000 to 70,000 hectares. This size might also decrease to a great extent as many structures are being constructed in paddy land, he said.
Churamani also said that the land area of paddy fields is decreasing every year due to encroachment or being turned into land for houses or fish farms.
The implementation of the Manipur Conservation of Paddy Land and the Wetland Act 2014 indicates that paddy land area in the state is diminishing. But contrary to it, import of urea fertilisers is being increased. In 2004, the amount of urea procured by the state was 15,000 MT and it has been increased gradually. It reached 20,000 MT last year, he added.
And the government claims that there is enough stock of fertilisers, but there’s always a long queue of farmers waiting for fertilisers and reports of shortages, he said.
Considering the rise in demand for fertilisers, he stressed that the state government should import only required urea after conducting proper survey of cultivable land in the state
The LOUSAL president said the state government should formulate policies and programmes for promotion of biological fertilisers and limit the use of urea fertilisers in the state.
Climate change is a global phenomenon that can’t be addressed overnight and anybody can escape from it. Therefore, adaption is another essential approach that every section of society should go for, he added
It is not recent that the state has been encountering climate change impact in agricultural sectors. In view of it, some countable number of farmers might have changed their agricultural practices into a climate resilient system. But, the maximum number of farmers is still into the conventional or traditional agricultural practices that too with limited knowledge of irrigation systems, use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides and weedicides.
Hence, every farmer needs to equip themselves with the idea of smart agricultural practices for which constant support and coordination from concerned departments is required. The economic progress of the state also largely depends on how much the farmers are content with policies and programmes of the state government, which are meant for their welfare.