SOIL infertility that looms as an impending threat to food security warrants adequate government attention. In a research report of the Soil Resource and Development Institute, as New Age reported on Wednesday, it was revealed that the country is experiencing a rapid loss of soil fertility, leading to possible severe food insecurity. The report shows that the organic content in about 60 per cent of the arable area fell below 2 per cent. According to international standards, it requires 3.4 per cent organic contents to make soil fertile and provide nutrients for plants. In an economy largely based on agriculture, the depletion of organic content is a matter of serious concern. The researchers of the institute observed a decline in soil quality since 1970s. The situation is, however, worsening faster than expected. In 2015, a report of the same institute noted that soil of northern districts lost 23 per cent of organic content in a very short span of time. Soil scientists are also concerned about the soil intake of toxic municipal waste that is increasingly making it more acidic. Decreased soil nutrient and increased toxicity level in soil carry the risk of turning the arable land barren and producing toxic crop that will be equally risky for public health and agricultural growth. It is worrying that the government took no step to assess the situation or to prevent the impending soil infertility.
Soil scientists and researchers identify the over-exploitation of land coupled with the excessive use of chemical fertilisers, removal of top soil for new urban centres and aggressive withdrawal of ground water. In addition, unplanned road construction often disrupts the natural network of rivers distributing nutrient-rich silt across the country, thus, hampering natural siltation process. In violation of environmental policies, a section of owners of brick fields remove top soil, destroying the balance of organic matters. The dominant agricultural practices heavily dependent on chemical fertiliser and a turn towards monoculture aggravated the situation. Farmers today use seven kilograms of chemical fertiliser on each hectare of land. It is, therefore, not surprising that the soil quality in Bangladesh is declining rapidly. Soil scientists blame the government for its lack of initiative and failure to recognise a problem of national interest. The government virtually keeps no records of the declining rate of organic matter content as it is known for carrying out incomplete studies mostly focused on segregated areas. Green activists too have persistently raised concern about the government’s ecology-unfriendly policies and emphasis on increased yield than a sustainable agricultural growth.
The government, under the circumstances, must immediately take an initiative to conduct a nationwide soil quality assessment study involving experts already working on the issue for long. More importantly, it must revisit its development policies related to road construction, agricultural production and waste management to ensure that nutrients and organic matters are not just extracted but also routinely replenished through siltation and polyculture. It must abandon its policies that disentangle ecological concern from issues of economic growth.
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