Current and future need of hill agriculture: Soil Conservation
In recent times, we have achieved the target of good production of food grains for fulfilling the need of increasing population in our country. But till now, areas of hill region are still far behind in terms of agriculture productivity due to several reasons and soil erosion is one of the main reasons which are not allowing the grower to take bumper harvest. Although soil erosion is problem in other areas (plain areas) also but its extent/severity is more in hilly areas due to steep slopes. Soil formation is a very slow process which is dependent on climatic conditions and weathering susceptibility of parent rocks. Soil has often been considered a non renewable resource and not a renewable resource. But, in many cases, it is considered as a slowly renewable resource and degraded soils can sometimes be restored, though restoration may take decades/longer. So, instead of going for restoration in future it is better to conserve the soil. Soil erosion removes the top soil that is necessary for organic matter, nutrients, micro organisms which are essential for plant to grow. Soil conservation is one such step that protects the soil from being washed away. Cultural practices, engineering measures along with suitable long use programme can result in soil conservation.
Soil erosion involves three major steps:
- Detachment of soil particles from soil body
- Transportation of soil particles
- Deposition at other place
Major factors which help in soil erosion:
Rainfall impact, removal of vegetation, freezing and thawing, water and wind velocity, shifting cultivation and development activities and many more.
Main aims of Soil Conservation:
- To protect the soil from erosion
- To maintain the productive capacity of soil
Following practices can help in soil conservation in hilly areas:
- Agricultural practices
- Contour ploughing
Ploughing along the contour/at right angles to the slope of hill. Ridges and furrows thus formed will break the flow of water down the hill.
- Terracing and contour bunding
It is done by cutting hill slope into a number of terraces having horizontal top and steep slopes on back and front.
- Ploughing in right direction
Plough land in perpendicular direction to wind direction. It will reduce wind velocity and protects the soil from wind erosion.
- Strip cropping
In alternate strips different components are grown which are parallel to one another. At no time of the year, entire land is left bare and thus yields are obtained at different interval.
- Crop rotation
Selection of crops for rotation should be made by taking into consideration soil type, texture, slope and nature of erosion. Rotation of crops fulfills the following purposes:
Enrich the soil
Enhance water holding capacity of soil
Increase crop production
Improvement of soil texture
Covering the soil surface by straw, leaves/grasses. Mulches help in checking soil erosion, reduce loss of water by evaporation and improve the fertility of soil.
One of the simplest and easiest ways to conserve the soil is to plant more and more trees. Cutting of forests should be stopped and planting in new areas should be practiced. Roots of trees will bind the soil particles together and thus help in preventing the loss of soil. Foliage of trees will help in intercepting falling rain drops and thus reduce their intensity. Trees play important role in preventing soil erosion due to fast blowing wind as they will act as barrier to wind. Afforestation of economic plants on contour benches according to specific need of area will also increase the income of farmer.
- Control on grazing
Overgrazing by animals should be stopped. Efforts should be made for popularizing the rotational grazing. Grazing must not be allowed in areas of regeneration and young plantations as they require considerable time for establishment.
- Construction of Dams
River floods can be avoided by construction of dams across the rivers at suitable location. Thus it will help in regulating water speed during the rainy season and will help in preventing the soil erosion from nearby areas.
(The author is Ph.D.in agronomy from CCSHAU, Hisar, Haryana)