CWRDM expected to develop a model for budgeting of soil nutrients

Farmers and agricultural experts in Kerala will soon have access to a powerful scientific tool enabling them to diagnose soil health problems and come up with cost-effective strategies to enhance crop productivity without disturbing the environmental equilibrium.

The Decision Support System (DSS) for sustaining soil fertility will be one of the outcomes of an India-Austria collaborative research project on sustaining and improving rural livelihoods through adaptive approaches to land, soil, and water management.

Approved by the Technology, Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC) of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, the Rs.1.8-crore project will involve the Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (CWRDM), Kozhikode, along with the National Institute of Hydrology (NIH), Institute of Rural Management (IRMA), Gujarat Institute of Development Research (GIDR), and International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Austria. As part of the research project, the CWRDM is expected to develop a model for budgeting of soil nutrients.

Scientists from the institution will carry out a survey among farmers and conduct field experiments on select crops such as banana, tapioca, coconut, and vegetables in Kozhikode district to identify the agricultural practices and socio-economic conditions responsible for depletion of soil fertility.

“Productivity of almost all crops, except rubber, is low in Kerala compared to other States,” points out U. Surendran, Scientist, Water Management (Agriculture), CWRDM, and principal investigator of the project. “Improved agricultural productivity is imperative to sustaining the livelihood of small and marginal farmers in the light of the increasing pressure on natural resources, declining soil fertility, low groundwater levels, deterioration of water quality, and inadequate policy support for resource management, and climate change factors impacting crop yield,” he says.

The proposed DSS will be an interactive software-based mechanism to help policymakers diagnose soil nutrient problems at the local level and prescribe appropriate solutions.

It is expected to be a useful tool for officials in the Agriculture and Soil Survey departments to evolve decisions on fertilizer application, irrigation frequency, and cost-effective methods to address site-specific problems such as soil salinity or soil acidity.

“Calculation of nutrient balance is the most cost-effective technique to assess the decline in soil fertility. It provides an early indication of potential problems like toxicity or acute deficiency responsible for declining yield.

Assessing nutrient balance at the field level, farm level, and regional level allows judicious manipulation of inputs to sustain fertility,” Dr. Surendran says.

The DSS will integrate the data provided by the partnering institutions to factor in elements such as climate change and development scenarios, changes in land use and cropping systems, and water management alternatives and sustainable soil nutrient management practices. It will be submitted to the governments of India and Austria to help in policy decisions related to adaptation options for climate change, water management, and soil fertility.

The project, Dr. Surendran said, would link its assessment of options, methods, and scenarios with related global projects like IIASA’s ‘water futures and solutions’ and ‘agro ecological zoning development.’

P.S. Harikumar, Head, Water Quality, CWRDM, and K. Madhavachandran, Scientist, Water Management (Agriculture) are co-investigators of the project.


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