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Bihar University Research Shows Impact of TCI Soil Health Project

A group of men and women using lab equipment
TCI Scholar Kavya Krishnan teaches researchers at the Dr. Rajendra Prasad Central Agricultural University in Pusa, Bihar, to conduct the comprehensive soil health assessment developed by the TCI Soil Health Project. (Photo provided by Kavya Krishnan/TCI)

Investments in soil health infrastructure have boosted efforts by the Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition (TCI) to promote a holistic approach to soil health in India. Two doctoral candidates trained by TCI at a special lab at the Dr. Rajendra Prasad Central Agricultural University (DRPCAU) in Bihar recently presented studies using the comprehensive soil health assessment developed as part of the Institute’s Soil Health Project.

The students used the assessment to study the impact on soil health of different agroforestry systems and the effects of organic and inorganic amendments on rice productivity and nutrient uptake.

Developed for use on Indian lands by TCI and researchers in the Soil and Crop Sciences Section at Cornell University’s School of Integrative Plant Science, the comprehensive assessment tests the physical, biological, and chemical properties of soil. According to Harold van Es, a TCI faculty fellow and professor of soil science at Cornell who helped forge the partnership between TCI and DRPCAU, the studies conducted in Bihar underscore the value of the assessment.

“The ability of our soil health indicators to identify management effects, as well as their consistency over time, is quite remarkable and encouraging,” he said.

TCI Scholar Kavya Krishnan and Cornell lab technician Zachary Batterman enabled soil health lab analyses on the DRPCAU campus. Krishnan and Batterman held a series of workshops to teach students, faculty, and other researchers how to use specialized lab equipment to conduct the 15 tests that comprise the assessment.

“I believe we are seeing a very positive impact from our project by enabling soil health research in Bihar and engaging local PhD students and professors,” van Es said. “The investment is multiplied beyond the research efforts of our own students.”

The soil health lab at DRPCAU is part of TCI’s efforts to build infrastructure for comprehensive soil health testing in India. Krishnan played a lead role in its creation by sourcing the equipment necessary for the comprehensive soil health assessment.

The TCI Soil Health Project endeavors to increase agricultural productivity, reduce malnutrition, and improve the environment in rural India through soil health enhancement. While most current Indian production systems focus on chemical enhancements to boost agricultural production, the Soil Health Project emphasizes a comprehensive approach that also takes into account biological and physical markers of soil health. In addition to building soil health infrastructure through efforts like the lab at DRPCAU, the Soil Health Project also collaborates with national and international partners to create training materials and soil health guidelines for major crops in Bihar.