THE GOVERNMENT will set aside P523.57 million to support a national soil health program that will enable sustainable crop production.

Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said President Rodrigo R. Duterte recently approved the program, to be implemented by the Department of Agriculture (DA) via the Bureau of Soils and Water Management (BSWM) between 2021 and 2023.

“Soil is the foundation of agriculture; we must protect, preserve, and nurture it to sustainably produce adequate, affordable, and nutritious food… Aside from water, healthy soil is the other key ingredient,” Mr. Dar said in a statement Wednesday.

He described the program as “a science-based framework to rejuvenate our sick soils that will lead to increased crop harvests and farmers› incomes,” he added.

According to the DA, the program creates a national soil database and monitoring system to revive degraded soils.

The program will also upgrade the equipment at national and regional soil laboratories and expand the hiring of technical staff.

The program will also procure mobile soil laboratories which will tend to remote farms with no access to BSWM provincial and regional laboratories, and train local government extension workers and other stakeholders on soil science.

“With these modern soil laboratories, farmers would have their soil samples analyzed in a matter of minutes, with the corresponding specific site and crop nutrient recommendations,” Mr. Dar said.

The program hopes to improve partnerships between the BSWM and other organizations on food security and provide soil test kits to local government units for distribution to their farmer-constituents.

The DA said the national soil health program was modelled after the soil rejuvenation program implemented by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Karnataka, India between 2009 and 2012.

Mr. Dar served as ICRISAT’s Director-General between 2000 and 2014.

The DA said the Indian program covered 3.3 million hectares and resulted in an increase in crop yields ranging from 23% to 66%, with the use of quality seed and soil-test based nutrient management recommendations.  — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave