Excessive use of fertilizers make soil impervious and lose their absorption capacity

Find solutions to break the hard pan formed in soils due to excessive fertilizers and alternative solutions to chemicals
This challenge has been matched
Excessive use of fertilizers make soil impervious and lose their absorption capacity

Hard pans are dense layers of soil formed below the uppermost top soil layer. They restrict the growth of plant roots. Though they can be broken by ploughing or use of soil amendments, but do not work effectively for small holder farmers. Ploughing through tools is uneconomical for small holders. Soil amendments are chemical in nature and affect soil health.

About the organisation and why you are working on sustainability 


Solidaridad is an international civil society organisation that has been working to improve sustainability across various commodities. In India it has been working with DSCL, a unit of DCM Shriram limited to improve sustainability of sugarcane production. It has worked on training farmers on good agriculture practices and improving sustainability in sugarcane production over 300,000 hectares of land. It has worked with sugarcane farmers on various techniques that improves soil health but currently, it is looking for solutions that help to mitigate the effect of fertilizers in soil, especially on “formation of hard pan” which deters the crop growth. 



Over 100,000 farmers in 3 states in India, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh depend on sugarcane crop for their livelihood. Sugarcane is a longer duration crop and stays in soil for over 8-12 months, thus requiring more resources from sowing till maturity. In these sugarcane clusters, it is planted round the year making it the sole crop for farmer’s income. 

Most of the sugarcane farmers practice the traditional fertilizer broadcasting, increased the frequency of application to enhance yield. Excessive use of Nitrogenous fertilizers resulted in decrease in soil pH, a condition which favors formation of hard complexes. The available techniques such as band placement of fertilizers, fertigation was costly and could not be adopted by small holders. Further, there is no such equipment available which can help in breaking the hard complexes or any formulation that can negate the impact of fertilizers in a standing crop. 


Description of the challenge 

Sugarcane is the major crop in the region, which is grown amid extensive use of resources such as water, agri inputs. This has not only drained the region’s groundwater but also poisoned it with excessive farm runoff and accumulation of toxins in the soil. Soil has a natural bearing capacity, beyond which it doesn’t aid for rise in productivity or yield greater benefits. FurtherHowever, farmers of the region have been unsustainably using fertilizers and chemicals which forms a hard pan in soil. 


Key sustainability issues 

  • Unsustainable use of fertilizers 
  • The available techniques of fertilizer application are not customized as per small land holdings (not every farmer can go for fertigation as it is costly and other labour intensive practices) 
  • There is no equipment which can break these hard pans. Since deep ploughing might be the solution but no plough can go deeper than 20 cm 
  • Though soil amendments are available to break these hard layers, and chemicals to adjust the pH but these options have not helped in enhancing the organic matter of soil. Since enhancing organic matter will help in improving the soil structure, which might bring long term sustainability instead of focused on solutions that provider benefits for short period of time. 


For who and how it works 

It works for small holder farmers and organisations who work with farmers to promote sustainable farm management practices. 


Possible Matched (Not limited)

  • IOT on fertilizer management, app based advisory 
  • Agricultural equipment which can help in breaking hard pan in soil 
  • Organic soil amendments
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