Volume 1 Issue 3 - 2015
Soil Science and Land Use Planning: Myth, Reality, Evidence and Challenge
B. B. Mishra*
Department of Soil Science & Agricultural Chemistry, Bihar Agricultural University, India
*Corresponding Author: B. B. Mishra, Department of Soil Science & Agricultural Chemistry, Bihar Agricultural University, Sabour, Bhagalpur, India.
Received: November 21, 2014; Published: March 28, 2015
Citation: B. B. Mishra. “Soil Science and Land Use Planning: Myth, Reality, Evidence and Challenge”. EC Agriculture 1.3 (2015): 140-148.
Soil science integrating with soil evaluation and land use planning covers a complete science and terminates at management outcome within a wheel of sustainability. Obviously, researchable problems need to be systematically discovered and defined to get better production options through smart management strategies. This requires an accepted work culture and that too within the realm of soil science. The FAO has outlined some detailed action plans under “Land evaluation & land use planning following the suitability identification”, which may be tested, revised and validated on specific location and limitation basis. To develop and formulate a work culture for soil science professionals/graduates would strengthen the fundamental footing of this science and eliminate the possible confusion and diffusion often appeared off and on. Let soil be the indicator of a site-specific livelihood following a glorious future and full of opportunities.
Keywords: Soil science, land use planning, work culture, future soils
Soil is the true foundation base to connect our life with food, air, water, climate, biodiversity and even energy for survival and nourishment. It is not only a huge reservoir of biodiversity, but also works for protective medical treatments. It is a source of construction and raw material as well as also used in industry and nanotechnology even. Prime agriculture land without healthy soil is far off the truth and evidence. So, there is need to follow a work culture in soil science. Shrinkage of soil either due to erosion or degradation or even non-farming activities like construction of houses or roads is the most terrifying consequence causing climate change and carbon emission. Evergreen or conservation agriculture is the most powerful mitigation option to combat with challenges of climate change. There is thus need to develop a strong global support in order to pay true respect to soil. The road map of agriculture without proper soil evaluation and land use suitability classification is virtually a professional blunder, because ignorance of truth and reality results into disastrous consequences. The World Soil Day campaign aims to connect people with soil and raise awareness on its vital importance in our lives for gross happiness.
Towards the bare truth
Science is the key to a system to exploit and that too for the welfare of mankind. Alternatively, it is about testing the ideas against evidence. As more and more evidence come to existence we can have more and more confidence that brings us nearer to the truth. Truth may be thus the balance of evidence. Sometimes, what we feel is presumed to be our truth, but lacks evidence. As a soil scientist, I see a soil, just as a strange but full of wisdom that needs to be discovered in whatever ways and means we have. Most often, we are ignoring soil because we are trampling by our feet and its possession is found beneath the feet. In true sense, soil covers an arena of complete science, but probably it lacks evidence. Let’s think on well-articulated system research to know the soil in more comprehensive dimension, since research is the systematic process of collecting and analyzing information or data-set in order to increase our understanding of the phenomenon approaching the reality of the facts.
Soil is the soul of infinite lives. It is foundation for survival and nourishment of such lives [1]. Soil has its origin, its growth and its end. It is natural and takes several years to grow, develop, mature, reform and transform or even erode. Soil cannot be a waste unless it is washed.It is not renewable and manufactured. It is a resource and so, subject to production that necessitates site-specific management inputs. It works in critical zone concept (surface-rhizosphere-underground) and influences three basic needs of life viz. ecosystem, food and water besides influencing the climate, biodiversity, energy and livelihood. As a soil system in agriculture, it needs an integrated management skill, but often lacks an acceptable “work culture” within the framework of soil science; for which a global mandate needs to be developed, accepted and practiced in order to attain a balanced soil sustainability.
Soil belongs to an open system in its environment that may be both natural and synthetic or even artificial. Before testing the top soil (0-20 cm), one has to move to (a) evaluate the soil (pedon) for deciding its actual and potential productivity/capability (b) identify the associated limitations (correctable/non-correctable) following the subsequent amelioration, reclamation, mitigation and overall improvement through locally available management and/or technical inputs (c) fix suitability of land use choice in a specific set (crop rotation in case of agronomical crops) and lastly (d) decide the fertility level of soil and recommend how much a particular nutrient is applied in the most preferred way i.e. balanced form to enhance the nutrient use efficiencies and so. This should be made bare mandatory prior to start with such crop cultivation. Often, I used to say such system approach as "work culture" of a soil scientist, wherein all soil related prescriptions are made available in the form of a written document covering all pedogenic, physical, chemical, microbiological, biochemical, nutritional, pathologic, heavy metallic, arsenic and biodiversity issues. Such system approach can safely predict the soil health. Management of a soil for restoration of total soil health must not be in isolation, but it necessitates integration after due evaluation in line with above modes of prescription. In spite of being so vital for livelihood, soil is still not well respected. Most unfortunately, the soil science is being replaced by Natural Resource Management even in ICAR system in India and it is indicator of degradation towards the importance of soil science and this is of vital concern. The FAO has published commendable soil research works on land evaluation and suitability identification, but the same is seldom followed in totality across the globe.
A soil with full prescriptions being provided within the above work culture by soil science professionals/graduates may then be transferred to Agronomist, Horticulturalist or Farm Manager or farmers, who could simply follow the said prescriptions and management options within the recommended package of practices for given crops or plantation. Soil science in management terms thus obeys a very specific work culture that needs to be accepted globally to implement.
Myth, reality and evidence
The soil texture (sand, silt & clay) forms the skeleton of soil body in three dimention, while water is as good as blood for identity in all its physical, chemical, microbiological and photopedogenic environment congenial to plant growth. In order to cover the whole soil concept, both pedology and edaphology (Figure 1) need to be critically monitored on regular basis to maintain sustainability in totality. However, Indian system of soil classification, for example, is a long pending demand that should be accomplished as early as possible. The GIS inputs may work purposefully in mapping a classified soil, but it should not be confined only to supplement the reliable dataset, but to translate the truth as a whole. Incoming solar radiation works to energize the soil in different manners as outlined qualitatively in photopedogenesis [2-4], but science rests on its quantification. There is substantial scientific evidence that increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide causes some beneficial effects too upon natural plant and animal environments.
Figure 1: Soil formation.
A comparative data on composition of earth and earth crust indicate wide variation, which may further be compared with soils as well as clays to get a comprehensive knowledge that is influenced by surrounding climate and environment. Erosion, for example, is by and large a natural outcome and mostly negative in terms of soil formation, whereas management is basically the man-made operation that often adds positive inputs to soil genesis. Erosion, as a rule, is natural in a given geomorphic as well as ecologic set up followed by corresponding deposition until geomorphic equilibrium between two reference points is attained. The former through soil removal refers to lessening of soil depth, while deposition results into deepening of the same. Therefore, both erosion as well as management should preferably be the parts of popularly known soil forming factors. Soil formation beginning at point zero on regolith or parent material suffers from complex situations including sedentary, fluvial, alluvial, colluvial and manually disturbed soils, which need to be conceptualized further to develop more comprehensive database for quantification and indexing. The soil genesis as a function of both soil forming factors and processes needs to be simplified to some reliable and accepted indexes of common understanding. Factor-process-feature as opined by Dockuchaev, Jenny and Gerasimov may be basic to understand a soil, but current processes and factors are vital in soil classification. As such, classification may preferably rest on present day pedosphere covering diversity in critical zone concept mode of soils. Morpho-genetic approach alone may not work well in soils, because they are heavily manipulated. Some profile features like gleying, mollic and umbric epipedons under ploughed conditions do not make any clear sense. Moreover, soil varies over the landscape, which offers clues as to “what” can best be done and “where” with lowest risks and greatest opportunities. However, soil degradation, on the other hand, is merely an undesirable pedogenic happening that causes certain deviation in soil characteristics from optimal one, that is specific to a given soil group, which can be assessed even by following a simple method based on parametric evaluation as popularly computed in line with FAO procedures [5].
Soil is not only the medium for biomass production, but also the storage tank for heat energy, water, plant nutrients and waste matter of the environment. It is a natural filter and detoxicant besides being the high capacity buffer system. The effects of management practices, pesticides and heavy metals on soil enzymes are of current interests. The oxidoreductase, transferase and hydrolase enzymes are often used as potential indicators to assess soil productivity, sustainability and pollution indexes. The effect of heavy metals including arsenic needs also to be quantified. Similarly, the capacity of a soil to absorb carbon dioxide needs also to be reassessed. However, to sequester C in soil, we have to find a balance between the carbon getting fixed by terrestrial vegetation and the C losses to atmosphere as CO2 by respiration and so. Carbon in soil can be stored if they are protected against microbial degradation. Such protection is provided by formation of clay humus complexes even. Thus, clay science needs to be prioritized and promoted more than ever before in order to quantify various modes of identification, interactions and reaction products that could be easily understandable in soil science. Clays work as the true heart of a soil and are instrumental in soil management options specific to agriculture
Soil microorganisms (suitable and effective including VAM on organic source) are the major component of biogeochemical nutrient cycling and global fluxes of CO2, CH4, and N. The world’s soils are estimated to contain twice as much carbon as the atmosphere, making them one of the largest sinks for atmospheric CO2 and organic carbon [6]. Humus in soils is widely accepted for improving soil health and increasing plant growth. To obtain humus with all the desired properties for stimulating plant growth, many processes are involved beginning with addition of plant material to soils. In soil, organic matter is the part of a dynamic and living carbon cycle. Many living creatures, microorganisms and small soil animals eat dead plant material, eat each other and eat even the faces of living organisms too.
Soil is not only the sandwich between earth crust and atmosphere but also the lowest boundary of entire earth’s atmosphere, excluding the part covered with ocean, rock-outcrop and construction of roads as well as buildings, that undergoes interactions with incoming radiation including background nuclear counts as well as chemical, biological, physical and anthropogenic interferences, wherein soil science has a bridging role within the critical zone limits [7] in an open system. Besides, soil has immense potential of storing carbon under a suitable pedogenic environment. The global climate change cannot be considered in isolation. As [8] stated, the soil is one of the important sources as well as sinks of greenhouse gases (GHGs) causing global warming and climate change. It contributes about 20% to the total emission of carbon dioxide through soil respiration and root respiration, 12% of methane and 60% of anthropogenic nitrous oxide emissions [9]. It is presumed that the global warming may influence global carbon cycle besides distorting the structure and function of ecosystem. The GHGs virtually trap the outgoing IR radiation from the earth’s surface and raise the temperature of the atmosphere [10-12].
Electro-magno-photo-pedoculture covering electricity, magnetism, monochromatic light and even sound is a somehow little discovered technology that has shown ability to protect disease, insect, pest and enhance the use efficiency of fertilizer as well as pesticide even. Similarly, nano-technology in clay mineralogy is being used for better exploitation of clays and soil, but needs to be made more acceptable and adoptable in farming practice.
The land shrinkage due to non-farming activities or even construction works in productive soils is an alarming policy issue. In some survey report of the Directorate of Statistics and Evaluation, Government of Bihar, for example, an area of 0.73 Mha of the agriculturally productive land in Bihar was used for non-farming activities between 1970 and 1975 (in five years), while 1.62 Mha land was recorded to be put to non-agricultural use by the end of 1999-2000. Thus, the land shrinkage as a result of non-agricultural use was 20.26% of the total cropped area (7.995 Mha) in a densely populated state of India within 25 years [13]. Such shrinkage (sealing) is irreversible causing huge losses in grain production as well as ecological imbalance in a big way and there must be some suitable legal ban against such practice. Similar trend to promote urbanization across the globe is becoming a challenging task of climate change. Today, the option of horizontal production is virtually impracticable and whole of such options truly rest on vertical production, which is surrounded with known and unknown challenges following a decline in partial factor productivity of a given soil. The simplest way to minimize the challenges associated with factor productivity as well as climate change is to adopt and popularize the true conservation or evergreen agriculture by keeping the land covered with vegetation and/or crop residues round the year with least or zero tillage following the basic principles in order to restore the biodiversity and pedo-ecosystem. However, the principles of organic farming should preferably be imposed for success in conservation agriculture [14]. This is the true Mantra of sustainable agriculture, wherein “work culture” as outlined elsewhere for soil science professional is the thumb rule for giving prescriptions.
The great mission to keep the river clean and pollution free can hardly be attainable purposefully without intervention of soil/land. The crown of New Delhi “Yamuna” is perhaps least cared and any ignorance in maintenance of Yamuna may also influence its surrounding soil mass. Obviously, the plan for cleaning the Ganga must also accompany with cleaning the adjoining soils too. By cleaning the soil is meant for activities based on evaluation and total analysis of soils adjoining river bed as well as river bank and improvement thereof.
Soil water related issues are still not fully discovered, though voluminous works on soil physics cover such issues mostly in isolation. If individual farm land or watershed is a unit, water balance must be the target to monitor at a given interval for whole year by substracting the amount of water lost due to evapo-transpiration, absorption-adsorption by soil particles, leaching-underground water recharge and so. In Vidarbha zone of Maharastra in India, soils are developed mostly on basalt, which facilitates more stored water to move down through the cracks and, thus, the shallow soils get dried up soon, though basalt on weathering and transformation results into clay-rich soils with high CEC. A system approach through soil evaluation and land use planning could help in minimizing the expected suicidal case in this region even. Basalt is highly weatherable, but least erosive with high water holding capacity. If basalt contains zeolite, its water storage capacity is increased. Obviously, the issue of suicidal case in Maharastra may be mitigated preferably by effective land use planning. The author [15] had long experience in highlands of Ethiopia with land use planning projects on basaltic soils including both black and red Vertisols (Plates 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5). The massive landslide on July 30th, 2014 in Malin village of Pune in Maharastra was probably due to chemical reduction of lower basalt forming mud on loosening. The heavy rain might have washed such basaltic mud at the bottom causing the houses buried. The truth of such evidence might also be a possible threat to many of multistoried constructions at Mumbai even.
Plate 1: Black basalt of Gilbert Hill, Andheri (Mumbai).

Plate 2: Black basalt of Gilbert Hill, Andheri (Mumbai).

Plate 3: Zeolite in the cavity of basalt, Hirna, Ethiopia.

Plate 4: Cultivation on basaltic land even at steep slope, Highlands, Hirna, Ethiopia.

Plate 5: Cultivation on Basaltic hill top, Highlands, Hirna, Ethiopia.
Diurnal thermal change (DTC) in a pedon could be stable and such soil parameter may be considered as one of soil qualities after validation. Pedon being the accepted “soil unit” must have its own index. All epipedon, endopedon, soil boundary, colour, mottle, horizonation etc suffer from certain reliability and stability. The proposed Universal Soil Classification is searching some criteria out of already documented, where and how to classify a soil for international acceptance.
Challenges and opportunities vs. Need of global initiatives
Soils have been remained virtually neglected in many respects not only by soil scientists themselves, but even the local governments have often ignored land use planning programme and as a consequence, the quality food security, underground water quality, biodiversity and eco-system are at risk, because such vital issues have hardly remained attended in totality without true involvement of land use planning. Even the protective medical treatments should preferably start from soil and end with grain, flesh and milk. Soil, for example, has opportunities to be involved in corporate sectors even in running some selected business among the following issues:
  1. Virtually no soil policy for agriculture and its vital role in framing the road map.
  2. Soil classification lacks coherence with credential and applicability.
  3. Soil quality, as the stable soil characteristics, is not fully recognized
  4. No work plan of a soil science professional/graduate to prescribe suitability criteria
  5. Soil research suffers from authentication and creditability
  6. Soil biodiversity is least inventoried and popularized.
  7. Soil shrinkage due to urbanization creating alarming problem
  8. Soil as a protective medical treatment not even accepted
  9. Soil gene and soil biotechnology are yet to understand.
  10. Soil’s interactions with incoming radiation at micro-level
  11. Nano-technology in soil science and its practical relevance.
  12. Organic matter turnover as an indicator of soil C-stock along the depth.
  13. Soil resource vs. hydroponics in relation to plant growth and development
  14. Monitoring of disease, contamination and pollution free soils
  15. Balanced nutrition of soil and its quantification.
  16. Soil water balance and restoration to sustain the soil eco-system.
  17. Soil evaluation for fixing and rating of potential soil productivity
  18. Soil suitability for land use choice for the most remunerative return
  19. Soil lab
  20. oratory for preparing soil health card and water quality
  21. Soil as direct food, medicine, kaoline, bentonite, attapulgite clays, raw materials (crockery, brick making,) etc.
  22. Soil microbiology and soil gene laboratory to establish soil biodiversity
  23. Soil radiometric laboratory to monitor the radiation penetration/interaction
  24. Soil Patho-lab for anti-pathogenic and anti-pollution measure chart
  25. Soil science as the integral part of medical science
The opportunity is an outcome of synthesis for vision, mission and goal of the profession in hand. If there is sudden but violent forecast that there would be no air for two minutes on the earth next day, such hard message would spread across the globe within no time for combating the challenge, because everyone wants to remain alive. Soil as being the foundation of food chain (soil-crop/plant-grain, soil-fodder-cattle-milk/milk product or soil-fodder-cattle-flesh) tends to facilitate the nourishment and survival of our lives through food, water, forage, climate, biodiversity, energy and ecosystem leading to healthy livelihood as well as gross happiness. Can we define indicators of healthy food qualities in agriculture that reflect their quick impact on human body? We lack symptomatic criteria to be observed quickly on body as a result of consumption of substandard or adulterated or polluted foodstuff. Soil can partly answer many of such questions. Currently, reports indicate that the food materials are often genetically altered, pulses are mixed, spices are polluted, milk and ghee are impure, vegetables are toxic, tea and coffee are adulterated and remaining foodstuffs are made toxic in some way or the other. We have to design and compose the clear-cut symptomatic yardsticks on body that will be corresponding to ill-effects of the foodstuff consumed. Similarly, soil and water qualities need to be well understood in line with their vital impacts on agricultural production. Soil borne diseases as well as fluorine and arsenic problems are seriously emerging. Partial factor productivity causing decline in crop yield is virtually a soil based issue, but we hardly recommend for evaluation of whole soil or pedon. The breeding programme for crop improvement suffers mostly from a sound and environment-friendly yardstick that is also based on soil. Entomology and pathology work mostly in isolation without caring soil types and underground water quality. Clay mineralogy or clay-organic interactions are still least exploited for common understanding. The horizontal shrinkage of land because of non-farming activities through construction of houses, roads etc is one of the alarming consequences of climate change issues. The earth surface is receiving almost 90-95% of incoming solar radiation, but we are practically unaware of such vital issues contributing to enrichment of soil qualities. Photo pedogenesis as a new chapter in soil science [3] seems to be a beginning to understand the qualitative aspects of radiation related issues. Flood with excess water beyond the capacity of a river is virtually a natural resource particularly for agricultural production and calls for a proven soil based management strategy through integrated inputs. These are some of issues that may form the opportunities in shaping the soil science and land use planning education and research. Thus, each chapter in teaching process must include a well defined opportunity that empowers the students to be enthusiastic in learning process. Micro-teaching may help to provide such positive feedback in defining an opportunity of relevance based on prescribed course in soil science and land use planning.
The past may entail the issues, while present will scrutinize the challenges and based on critically documented issues and challenges, our efforts should aim at recognizing the priorities for framing the action plan on integrated basis to look for a future healthy environment congenial to our survival and livelihood on sustainable foundation of the earth i.e. soil. We as the soil science professionals do humbly admire to accomplish the missing gaps with soils of the globe, since our strength would only shoulder the success stories of true food security, water purity, eco-system stability and climate sustainability. The UN declaration for World soil day (December 05 2014) is merely a mark of global concern over soil to connect with food, water, energy, climate, biodiversity and livelihood. The “work culture” for soil science and land use planning professionals/graduates must be made mandatory to furnish in the form of prescription so that other farm professionals should run the business following the specific package of practices already recommended. Let’s take a pledge with commitment to work for land use planning, since soil is not only close to nature, but believe that it is nearer to “Almighty” even.
  1. Bohn HL., et al. “Soil Chemistry”. 2nd Ed. John Wiley & Sons, New York, (1985): 15-17.
  2. Mishra BB. “Theory of Photopedology”. Journal of Indian Society of Soil Science 44.3 (1996): 541-543.
  3. Mishra BB., et al. “Photopedogenesis: New Chapter in Soil Science. Theatre Presentation (New Frontier)”. 85/457b, 18th WCSS, 9-15 July, Philadelphia, USA, (2006a).
  4. Mishra BB., et al. “Photopedogenesis: concept and application”. Journal of Food, Agriculture and Environment 4.2 (2006): 12-14 .
  5. Riquier J., et al. “A new system of soil appraisal in terms of actual and potential productivity (first approximation)”. FAO, soil resources and development and conservation service; Land and water development division. Approaches to land classification, FAO, Rome. Soil Bull 22 (1970): 120.
  6. Jenkinson DS., et al. “Model estimates of CO2 emissions from soil in response to global warming”. Nature351 (1991): 304-306.
  7. Lin H. “Clarifying misperceptions and sharpening contribution”. In. The Future of Soil Science, IUSS, The Netherlands (2006): 80-83.
  8. Janseens IA., et al. “Europe's terrestrial biosphere absorbs 7 to 12% of European Anthropogenic CO2 emissions”. Science 300. 5625 (2003): 1538-1542.
  9. IPCC. “Climate Change 2007: Climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Summary for policy makers”. Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change(2007).
  10. Pathak H., et al. “Global warming mitigation potential of biogas plants in India”. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 157.1-4 (2009): 407-418.
  11. Pathak H and Wassmann R. “Introducing green house gas mitigation as a development objective in rice-based agriculture. 1. Generation of technical coefficients”. Agricultural Systems 94.3 (2007): 807-825.
  12. Pathak H., et al. “Climate change impact, adaptation and mitigation in agriculture: Methodology for assessment and application”. IARI, New Delhi (2012).
  13. Choudhary BC., et al. “25 years Perspective Plan of LUP of Bihar, 2000-2025”. RAU, Bihar, Pusa (2009).
  14. IIRR and ACT “Conservation Agriculture: A manual for farmers and extension workers in Africa, International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, Nairobi” African Conservation Tillage Network, Harare (2005).
  15. Heluf G., et al. “Missing linkage in rainfall-runoff-soil water relationship for sustainable watershed development: a case study around Hirna, Eastern Ethiopia”. Journal of Food, Agriculture & Environment 4.1 (2006): 239-245.
Copyright: © 2015 B. B. Mishra. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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