Soil fertility must be priority policy concern

Published: 00:00, Oct 10,2019


THE agricultural economy has slowly started to manifest the negative impact of short-sighted, ecologically-insensitive policies. The introduction of high-yield seeds, mechanised ploughing and irrigation, chemical fertilisers and pesticides has helped Bangladesh become self-sufficient in staple food to a certain degree, but not without negative impacts. Changes in agricultural practices and increased dependency on chemical fertiliser and pesticide have left a lasting impact on soil quality. The Department of Agricultural Extension at a meeting with stakeholders in Narsingdi on Tuesday expressed concern about the random and excessive use of chemical fertiliser and mono-cropping as they destroy land fertility. The Soil Resource and Development Institute has made similar observation earlier. A 2018 research of the institute says that there has been a rapid loss of soil fertility. It shows that organic content in about 60 per cent of arable area fell below 2 per cent. It requires 3.4 per cent organic contents for soil to remain fertile and provide plants with nutrients. In an economy largely based on agriculture, the depletion of organic contents is, therefore, a matter of serious concern.

Department of Agricultural Extension officials primarily blame farmers for their lack of knowledge of chemical use and their tendency to harvest the same high-yield crops in a single piece of land. It is assuring that the department has raised the issue, but farmers alone are not to blame. The government has for long been warned of its policy oversight that it has encouraged production of high-yield crops and left the agrochemical intervention unregulated. Besides, traders have pushed the sales of unsafe and banned pesticides. In July 2017, New Age reported that highly toxic banned insecticide Endosulfan was still in use. Soil scientists are also concerned about the soil intake of toxic municipal waste that increasingly makes it more acidic. Decreased soil nutrient and increased toxicity levels in soil carry the risk of turning arable land barren and producing toxic crop that is equally risky for public health. It is worrying that the government has taken no step to assess the situation or to prevent the impending soil infertility.

Dominant agricultural practices are heavily dependent on chemical fertiliser and mono-cropping. 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. It must also take steps to regulate the agrochemical industry to keep unsafe and banned products off the market. The economic policy for agricultural development cannot be singularly focused on higher production; and nutrient and organic matters in soil cannot just be extracted. A routine replenishment through siltation and polyculture must be a priority policy concern.

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