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Monday, October 25, 2010

Soil Health and Organic Farming

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What is Soil Health?

The ability of soil to perform all its functions in an ecosystem is called as soil health.

Soil health is an assessment of ability of a soil to meet its range of ecosystem functions as appropriate to its environment.

The term soil health is used to assess the ability of a soil to -

  • Sustain plant and animal productivity and diversity;
  • Maintain or enhance water and air quality; and,
  • Support human health and habitation

A healthy soil is not just a growing medium, rather it is a living, dynamic, and ever-changing environment. Physical, Chemical, and Biological properties are regarded as its health-indicators. The arrangement of soil particles and the movement of air and water in and out of the soil are called as physical properties of soil. Healthy soil can supply sufficient air and water to plants for their proper growth. Tillage operations are done in order to improve the physical properties of soil.

Chemical soil properties act as chemical indicators of soil health and deal with the nutrients in the soil and the ability of soil to supply nutrients to the plant. The living components of the soil are its biological health indicators. These are micro organisms, worms, insects and other organisms. An unhealthy soil cannot support the lives of organisms in it.


A form of agriculture which is mainly based on the use of organic fertilizers, natural pesticides, natural feed for cattle and poultry, and indigenous varieties of crops is called as Organic Farming.

Definitions of organic farming

1. According to the Codex Alimentarious, a joint body of FAO and WHO- “organic agriculture is a holistic food production management systems, which promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It emphasizes the use of management practices in preference to the use of off-farm inputs, taking into account that regional conditions require locally adapted systems. This is accomplished by using, where possible, agronomic, biological and mechanical methods, as opposed to using synthetic materials, to fulfil any specific function within the system”.

2. According to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) -

"Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved."

Beginning of Organic Farming

The Organic Farming began as a movement in the 1930s and 1940s as a reaction of people against growing dependence of farmers on synthetic fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, and other agro-chemicals like hormones etc. Synthetic fertilizers had been created during the 18th century, initially with super phosphates and then ammonia derived fertilizers mass-produced using the Haber - process developed during World War I. These early fertilizers were cheap, powerful, and easy to transport in bulk. Similar advances occurred in chemical pesticides in the 1940s, marking the decade as the 'Pesticide Era'.

Merits of Organic Farming

Organic Farming has a number of merits over the modern farming as it is sustainable and environment friendly. Organic farming normally does not involve capital investment as high as that required in chemical farming. Since chemical inputs, which are very costly, are not required in organic farming, small farmers are not dependent on money lenders. Crop failure, therefore, does not leave an organic farmer into enormous debt, and does not force him to take an extreme step. We know that many small farmers worldwide commit suicide due to increasing debt. Organic farming involves synergy with various plant and animal life forms. Small farmers have abundance of traditional knowledge with them and within their community. Most of this traditional knowledge cannot be used for chemical farming. However, when it comes to organic farming, the farmers can make use of the traditional knowledge. They don’t need to ask anything from experts.

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