The sustainable capacity of soil to support biological productivity, maintain the quality of air and water environments, and uphold the health of plants, animals, and humans is known as soil health.

According to a report by ISRO in 2016, approximately 29% of India’s land (including soil) was found to be degraded, and this degradation continues to increase. In light of this, Professor Rattan Lal, a renowned soil scientist and the recipient of the 2020 World Food Prize, has emphasized the necessity of formulating a ‘National Soil Protection Policy’ in India.

Status of Soil in India:

Extensive degradation: Soil degradation affects around 147 million hectares (Mha) of land in India, resulting from various sources such as water erosion (94Mha), acidification (16Mha), flooding (14Mha), wind erosion (9Mha), salinity (6Mha), and others.

Nearly one-eighth of India’s landmass is degraded due to severe erosion.

Magnitude of degradation: In eight states—Rajasthan, Goa, Delhi, Maharashtra, Nagaland, Jharkhand, Tripura, and Himachal Pradesh—around 40% to 70% of the land has experienced degradation.

Northwest India, specifically Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Gujarat, exhibits the highest soil degradation due to wind erosion.

Punjab, Haryana, and Western Uttar Pradesh have alarmingly low soil organic matter content, as low as 0.1%.

Imbalanced fertilizer use: The current consumption ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) stands at 6.7:2.4:1, significantly skewed toward nitrogen (urea).

In Kerala, 91% of fields were found to be moderately to strongly acidic due to excess phosphorus in the soil.

Government initiatives to enhance soil health in India:

Soil Health Card: This initiative aims to promote soil management practices and restore soil health by ensuring the judicious use of nutrient inputs.

Approximately 22.5 crore Soil Health Cards (SHCs) have been distributed, leading to an 8-10% decrease in chemical fertilizer usage while enhancing crop yields by 5-6% (data from the National Productivity Council).

The “Development of Model Villages” program encourages soil sampling and testing in collaboration with farmers.

  • Land degradation neutrality: Aims to achieve neutrality by 2030.
  • Bonn Challenge: India is part of this global effort to restore 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030.
  • Sustainable land and resource management: Focuses on generating livelihoods at the community level by making local lands more productive and healthier.
  • Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas of India: Released in 2016, it provides baseline data for prioritizing action based on vulnerability and risk assessment.
  • Other schemes: PM Fasal Bima Yojana, PM Krishi Sinchayee Yojana, Integrated Watershed Development Project, etc., are employed as tools to combat soil degradation.

However, the aforementioned measures are insufficient for soil protection due to the following factors:

  • Development pressures: Rapid urbanization and encroachment on natural wetlands and flood banks for housing purposes without adequate consideration for soil preservation.
  • Climate change impact: Historical and present efforts are inadequate to counter the impact of climate change on soil, such as changes in soil organic carbon and increased soil erosion rates due to high-intensity rainfall events.
  • Policy design limitations: Constraints on soil-related extension services limit the scope of advisory services provided to farmers.
  • Lack of awareness and sustained campaigns: Inadequate awareness about poor soil health and measures to address them, as there is no policy for sustained awareness campaigns.
  • Limited infrastructure support: Insufficient testing equipment, soil testing labs, and associated physical assets in India.
  • Insufficiently trained personnel: Shortage of trained soil scientists and extension workers, as well as a lack of IT-trained personnel for
  • interpreting analysis reports, negatively impact soil conservation efforts and hinder soil surveys.

Importance of formulating a national soil protection policy in India:

  • Soil significance: Soil health is crucial for human sustenance and growth.
  • Rights of soil: Similar to the right to life, outlining the right to healthy soil as part of the right to health.
  • The policy would ensure that people demand soil health protection and measures against degradation as their right, from the government.
  • Agricultural economy: Over 48% of India’s population depends on agriculture, and soil health and fertility are essential for sustainable profitability of farmers.
  • The soil protection policy would recommend optimal fertilizer doses and cropping patterns based on scientific recommendations, leading to sustainable farming practices.
  • Protection against non-agricultural uses: Demarcating prime agricultural land and safeguarding it against urbanization and non-agricultural utilization.
  • Climate commitment: Soil serves as the largest carbon reservoir among terrestrial pools. Globally, soil contains about 4000 billion tonnes of carbon, while the atmosphere and vegetation combined contain only around 1500 billion tonnes.
  • The policy would facilitate the sequestration of atmospheric carbon in soil, providing a cost-effective option for mitigating global warming.
  • Value of the carbon market: Farming carbon in soil, by retaining crop residues and recycling bio-wastes, presents a new tradable commodity.
  • Farmers can be rewarded through payments for ecosystem services, considering the societal value of soil carbon.
  • The policy would expedite the potential carbon market.
  • Dialogue for soil protection: Encouraging dialogue among scientists, the general public, and policymakers regarding soil protection.


  • The policy would raise awareness about the importance of soil by revising school curricula and incorporating soil and environmental education from primary school onwards.
  • Enhancing environmental laws to uphold the quality of soil, water, and air.
  • Developing soil protection resolutions at local, state, national, continental, and global scales.
  • Farming guidelines: Outlining farming dos and don’ts, such as residue mulching, no-till farming, managed grazing, compost and bio-fertilizer use, agro-forestry, and more.
  • Prohibiting practices like burning residues, flood irrigation, topsoil removal for brick making, excessive or imbalanced chemical use, and rice field puddling and flooding.
  • Restoring Soil Organic Carbon matter (SOC): Reviving SOC in a time-bound manner to enhance soil health and crop yields.


The concept of One Health emphasizes the interconnectedness of soil health, plant health, animal health, human health, environmental health, and planetary health. When soil health deteriorates, it triggers a cascade effect impacting humans, plants, and animals. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated food and nutritional insecurity, making it imperative to advocate for a Soil Protection Policy in India.

Legacy Editor Changed status to publish January 9, 2024