Reclaiming ‘kallar’ soils with gypsum
AGRICULTURE in Haryana stands at a crossroads. Farmers’ incomes are falling. Holdings are progressively getting smaller. Intensive agriculture is degrading natural resources. The availability of water is decreasing. Indiscriminate use of irrigation and lack of drainage has raised the water table. Selective cultivation has narrowed down biodiversity. The tree population has gone down. Indiscriminate use of agro-chemicals has created serious problems. Many species of birds have vanished. Pesticides have contaminated water and soil. To cut the long story short, both food and nutritional security are threatened.
The mantra that experts give to solve all these problems is aggressive diversification. But this is easier said than done. A comprehensive diversification policy is needed which should take into account three main considerations: conservation and efficient utilisation of resources; nutritional and food security requirements; and economic security sustained by agro-industries and export promotion.
However, before this exercise can begin the ground realities of agriculture in Haryana have to be considered too. There is over dependence of the population on agriculture – 66 per cent of it depends on this sector. Farmers have poor resources. There is a preponderance of uneconomical land holdings. The entire state is dependent on monsoon for irrigation. Natural calamities play havoc with crops. The productivity is low. The state lacks storage, processing and transport infrastructure.
The stress on diversification in the recent years has led to greater awareness but it is not gaining momentum in the absence of sound policy direction. Scientists of Haryana Agricultural University, Hisar, say that at present, the options for diversification are limited to diverting a part of the resources to horticulture, animal husbandry, dairying and poultry, or to grow industrial use crops without sacrificing food production. However, both are unattractive because there is no clear-cut procurement policy or suitable infrastructure.
According to HAU experts the foremost requirement for diversification is ample financial support for research, as agricultural research needs continuity to tackle new problems arising out of changes in the system. They estimate that hiking the allocation for research from 1.3 per cent of the GDP at present to 3 per cent will be enough so far as the government is concerned. They say the private sector, which is dependent on agriculture, has no mandate to support agricultural research. The private sector must give 10 per cent of its profits to support research. Likewise, while the agricultural sector has benefited other sectors, these in turn have not supported agriculture. The experts want 2 per cent of the market fee diverted to agricultural research.
They also suggest zoning of the state on the basis of agronomic and climatic conditions. Location-specific production technology is available which can help conserve natural resources. For instance, a specific zone for basmati rice can be made, which could help boost exports from Rs 1,100 crore at present to Rs 2,000 crore in just a couple of seasons. Other products which can be similarly grown zone wise include: cotton, spices, coarse grains, flowers and medicinal plants. Disease and insect-free zones can also be identified for producing specific crops and raising animals with export potential. Organic food can be grown in areas bordering the National Capital Region.
Diversification also requires proper soil and water management. To improve soil health farmers have to adopt suitable crop rotations. Organic or green manures and vermicompost have to be preferred over chemical fertilisers. Similarly, cropping system has to be diversified for efficient use of water in crop production. Experts say summer cultivation of rice should be immediately stopped through policy intervention. Sugarcane cultivation should be stopped in areas where water availability is going down. Flood irrigation has to be stopped.
Haryana lacks a crop production policy. Food security, therefore, rests dangerously on rice and wheat. Though self-sufficiency has been achieved, but large sections of people and livestock who live in harsh and difficult terrain have not benefited as there has been little stress on the production of coarse grains, which are highly nutritious and can be used by both man and animal. Australia has successfully grown chickpeas, fieldpeas and lentils for the Asian market. Haryana can also achieve this feat. Production of guar, oilseeds and castor can be easily enhanced.
The state, experts say, has six distinct farming situations. In all these situations crop and varietal diversity is extremely important. Cropping systems are in place for each such situation but because of a variety of factors farmers continue to depend on traditional crops. Unless a policy is in place, the pace of diversification will remain tardy. Like the rest of the country, far-industry-market linkage remains low as there is no agricultural marketing policy.
Perhaps the only area where diversification has yielded good results is horticulture. Haryana has seen growth rates of 11 and 8 per cent in vegetables and fruit crops, respectively, in recent years. Experts say this is because horticulture and vegetable crops provide a remunerative means for diversification of land use and boosting productivity. Another notable trend in this area is that horticulture development has shifted from rural to urban areas, which means it has gone from traditional agriculture enterprise to the corporate sector. This in turn has led to the adoption of improved technology and greater commercialisation. A large number of 100 per cent export-oriented units are coming up in several areas of the state.
Value addition and processing is an area where Haryana needs to concentrate. Farmers need to be trained to improve their skills for understanding new technologies. Four food-processing zones and value-addition parks are coming up in different agro-climatic zones in the state. However, processing facilities for vegetables, fruit, milk and edible oils, etc, are virtually non-existent. The growth in mushroom, honey and fish production has to be supported adequately through processing industries.
One area where the government needs to innovate is the flow of ideas. At present it is from the top to bottom rather than the other way round. Farmers need to be encouraged to participate more in devising suitable policy for diversification. To achieve this, the farmers’ mindset has to be gradually changed.
Experts also say the government itself also needs to change its mindset. Thus far, diversification efforts have been limited to talk, with no concrete plans. Yet, it is showing signs of waking up to the ground realities. The state government recently sought Rs 400 crore from the Centre for promoting the cultivation of pulses, oilseeds and other crops in place of rice and wheat. Since these are considered "delicate" crops as compared to rice and wheat, vulnerable to weather as well as market conditions, the state government had reportedly wanted cash support for farmers who would cultivate the crops. But the Centre expressed difficulty in giving money for crop diversification.
Haryana asked it to help
by other means, including arranging high-quality seeds. The Centre has
now offered Haryana infrastructural support for bringing in
progressive transformation in the agricultural field.
Reclaiming ‘kallar’ soils with gypsum
GYPSUM is used in reclaiming "kallar" soils, also known as alkali or sodic soils in scientific terms.
Sodic soils are very poor in their physical properties and their pH value is high. If the exchangeable sodium (Na+) exceeds 15 per cent on the exchange complex, soils are termed as sodic or alkali. This excessive amount of exchangeable Na+ makes the soil surface very hard and it becomes impermeable. In the sub-soil, drainage is impeded. Thus alkali soils are hard to work.
High pH value of the soil reduces the availability of plant nutrients.
Reclamation technology using gypsum as a cheap and abundantly available soil amendment has been developed at the CSSRI, Karnal, and has been applied successfully on an extensive scale.
For improving kallar soils, excessive exchangeable Na+ is to be removed from the root zone and replaced by more favourable Ca++ ions. Calcium is added through the application of gypsum (CaSO4 2H2O), a soluble calcium salt.
Solubility of gypsum in water is very low — 0.24 per cent. It is, therefore, desirable that gypsum be applied by broadcast 8-10 days ahead of transplanting paddy. Water should be kept puddled during these days. It is applied @ 50% of the gypsum requirement of the soil and its quantity generally varies from 10-15 tonnes per hectare, depending upon soil texture and its Ph value.
Gypsum is mixed only in the upper layer and transplanting of paddy is done preferably without puddling.
The worst affected districts in Haryana are Jind, Karnal, Kaithal, Panipat, Kurukshetra, parts of Gurgaon, Rohtak and Sonepat. In Punjab Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Kapurthala, Patiala, Ropar and Sangrur are affected.
So far, the Haryana Land Reclamation and Development Corporation has been able to reclaim 2,555,48 hectares out 4.5 lakh of total sodic lands. In the state, gypsum has been made available to small/marginal farmers at a 75 per cent subsidy while others are entitled to 50 per cent subsidy.
Saline/saline sodic soils that are mostly water-logged are being treated under a separate project.
In lands where the ground water is sodic and has high SAR (sodium adsorption ratio) and RSC (residual sodium carbonate) values, it is not advisable to use tubewell water as such, for it retards seed germination and plant growth. Sodic water increases the ESP of soils. It is, therefore, recommended that sodic water be used after passing through gypsum stored in a haudi. This treatment with gypsum decreases the SAR value of water.
Continuous use of tubewell water builds up exchangeable Na+ element in the root zone, impairing the physical properties of soil. This results in poor drainage at the surface as well as in soil profile. All this affects soil fertility adversely.
SAFED siris is an important member of the plant genera Albizzia. That in turn is one of the important tree groups belonging to the family Leguminosae-Mimoseae.
The group constitutes large, broad-leaved, deciduous and economically useful trees. The other Albizzias being Albizzia lebbek (kala siris), A. odoratissima (koroi), etc. The botanical name of this particular siris is Albizzias procera, the most handsome amongst all its siblings. While the term safed siris is a common Hindustani name for the species, its other regional names are gurar, karra, karo, karha, karhar, karhai, etc.
Phenology: Safed siris is easily identifiable by its straight, cylindrical and erect bole with apeculiar exquisite smoothness. Its foliage constitutes light green and morphologically compound leaves. The main leaf is 25-30 cm long. The leaflets are in 12-24 pairs on each rachis. Individual leaflets are ovate-oblong and 3-5 cm x 2-3 cm. Old leaves are shed during autumn. New ones sprout during spring.
Safed siris comes in inflorescence during June-July, bearing yellowish white sessile flowers. The fruit pods start appearing during August-September and mature by November-December. By February-March the seeds become ripe.
Silviculture: Albizzia procera is a sun-demanding species. It can tolerate a certain amount of shade in young age to a limited extent. The plant prospers well in areas experiencing temperatures between 10`BA and 48`BA C and annual rainfall between 100 and 500 cm, though it is sensitive to drought.
Soil: The species grows well in sandy loam soil, generally found in river basins. It adjusts to the presence of liberal moisture in the soil. It comes up in clayee soil as well as that having more sand. Its growth, however, is comparatively poor in unfavourable sandy locales.
Distribution: Albizzia procera is seen growing naturally on most of the Indian subcontinent, from the foothills in North India to the North-East.
Regeneration: Seedlings of safed siris come up naturally under and around mother trees because of heavy seed fall. A seedling stock can also be raised in nurseries by sowing the seed either directly in beds or in polythene bags. A crop can also be raised in pre-worked soil patches in the gaps in a forest. New plants also come out of pollarding or root suckers. The seedlings raised in a nursery, when one or two years old, are transplanted to the field during monsoon.
siris is a fairly fast-growing species. It can attain maturity — a
height of 20-25 m and diameter 50-75 cm at breast height — in about
60-70 years. It is very popular as a nurse crop in tea gardens and
also as an avenue tree. A mature tree having a fairly thick crown
gives good shade. Its foliage gives good fodder. The wood weighs about
20-22 kg per cubic foot and is good for furniture, bridges and for
roof members or beams in house construction. It is also used in carts
and truck bodies, sugarcane/oil crushers, rice pounder, etc. Village
artisans also make domestic utility items out of this wood. The tree
gives good firewood and is also good for charcoal. The bark is used in