Salt affected soils have been known to the mankind since time immemorial as these lands have been an integral part of the landscape of arid and semi-arid regions. The problems gained prominence in the post irrigation era because the farmers, who were supposed to get high yields, failed to achieve the same. For many farmers, cultivation became uneconomical and they have to abandon the land for good. Although varying figures on the extent and distribution of salt affected soils are quoted yet the reconciled estimate made by CSSRI recently put this figure at 6.73 M ha. Compared with the figure given by the institute in 1970, the extent remains almost the same. As such it appears that land reclamation and degradation had the same magnitude during the last 4 decades. Besides loss in productivity, these lands are an eyesore and have severe eco-environmental problems. The CSSRI, with an all India mandate, gave a real impetus to the reclamation of salt affected soils and use of saline water in the country. You are all aware that the institute lived up to the expectation of the Government of India and the ICAR and as such has been rated as the best institute in 1998 and 2009 by the Council. I congratulate all the staff for the latest achievement of being adjudged as the best institute.
Although the achievement of CSSRI are well publicized and known to all, I may repeat that with the large scale application of gypsum based technology about 1.8 M ha of barren alkali lands have been reclaimed. It has been a stupendous task for which CSSRI, Line Departments, Land Reclamation Corporations and above all the farming community need our applause that realized the potential of this technology and added more than 12 million tonnes of food grains to the national food grain basket. Besides, it has directly favorably altered the socio-economic status of 9 million people living in rural India. Besides it has generated employment opportunities at the mining sites, on-farm and at the grain markets. The surveys have revealed that women in the households have been the most beneficiary of the land reclamation revolution. The subsurface technology has also spread to several states. Although the technology is picking up slowly, individual farmers are coming forward to implement the technology at their own cost in Gujarat and Maharashtra where gravity outlets are available. Besides, manholes and sumps constructed under this technology have become sources of water supply for irrigation. Development of salt tolerant varieties is our major achievement and I am happy to say that CSR 30 variety developed by the institute is in great demand and finds mention in the brochures of several seed corporations and insurance companies. Replacement of other Basmati varieties by CSR 30 is a real happening in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Use of saline/sodic water, package to apply wastewater for different cropping sequences, bio-drainage, bio-saline agriculture, agro-forestry interventions are some other success stories or best practices that find application in managing saline soils and waters. Our regional research stations have their own successes and they are catering to land reclamation efforts in their areas of jurisdiction. Our RRS canning gave full support to the administration and the farming community to cope up with the damage caused by ?Aila? cyclone. CSSRI team earlier saved crores of Rs. on purchase of gypsum meant to reclaim tsunami affected lands in Andaman and Nicobar islands, as it was not required as per our recommendation. This brief is nnot meant to highlight a particular technology but to focus that our efforts have been commendable. The social audit reports carried out by the two teams constituted by the Council to assess the social benefits of the institute technologies are testimony to this statement.
Our achievements have been appreciated but that should not allow us to sit on our laurels as our peers and the Council wants much more from us. Honourable Dr. S. Ayyapan, Secretary DARE and DG, ICAR in his address emphasized that he expects best from the best institutes. We have to live up to his expectations and the expectation of the farming community who are looking at us for new cost effective technologies for sustainable livelihood. We need to research new areas, which might not have been our priorities before. Climate change is a reality and that would alter the water availability and quality scene beyond any one?s expectations. For such issues we have to explore new linkages, invest in new infrastructure and update our human resource so that we have the best faculty and facilities. I am happy that many new colleagues have joined the institute and CSSRI and the council has great expectations from them as their expertise and new thinking would be most crucial in meeting the new challenges. I have jotted down some of the new initiatives that we need to pursue in the 12 plan. It is not a complete list and many of you might have several new ideas. You may like to try these provided the issue is within the approved mandate of the institute. I suggest that we together should start planning for the 12th plan so that any new infrastructure that we wish to create could be included in the SFC document. Some of our priorities are:
- Strengthening the resource inventories on waterlogged salt affected soils and poor quality waters in relation to land use classification and to document the potential use of salt affected soils and poor quality waters.
- Reclamation and management of alkali soils of the Central and Eastern Gangetic Plains including alternate land management of areas adjoining to the water distribution systems.
- Reclamation of rain fed salt affected soils
- Bio-saline agro-forestry for fuel wood, bio-fuel and energy plantation.
- Management of poor quality waters, including domestic, drainage and agro-industrial effluents including their bio and phyto-remediation technologies
- Climate change and its impact on salinity/water logging and quality of groundwater
- Crop improvement for salinity, alkalinity, water logging and toxic elements stresses through conventional and biotechnological approaches
- Alternate land uses of salt affected soils specifically geared to growing of halophytes, medicinal, aromatic and spices. Growing and processing of sea weeds for national and international markets
- With increasing consciousness on product quality, product quality researches needs strengthening.
- Improved cropping systems for sustained livelihood of the coastal agricultural and fish farming communities.
- New cost-effective reclamation technologies for salt affected Vertisols.
- Reclamation of abandoned aqua ponds along the eastern coast
- Technology transfer, impact assessment and human resource development. Transfer of technologies to low productivity environments should receive our attention since it is here we could make significant impact.
All of us are aware that funds, human resource and other infrastructure is limited. Therefore, we have to prioritize our activities with clear monitorable indices. We need to work as a multi-disciplinary team within the institute and even in a multi-institutional framework. Economic assessment of the technologies is of utmost importance as otherwise it would be remain an academic exercise and farmers would not accept the technology. We do not wish that our technologies should remain on the shelves of the institute. Taking a cue from the advice given by our Honourable DG, I have circulated a proposal to publish few success stories and best practices. I hope these publications would be brought out soon. Dr. A.K. Singh, DDG (NRM) is very keen to know our progress on day-to-day basis and he has assured full support in our efforts. His advise and encouragement is a source of inspiration far all of us to excel in our respective fields of specialization.
Finally, we are fortunate to have the blessings and foot prints of our peers that should help us in taking their vision forward. We should also embark upon the new path and chart out our own foot prints so that new generation of scientists could follow while traversing the complex and tedious path of managing degraded lands and water. On my part, I assure you my full support to any activity that you would like to pursue within the mandate of the institute.
(Dr. D.K. Sharma)