Interview: DJ Bagyaraj – India’s only contributor to the Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas

Chethan Kumar reports: The recently Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas, is a first-of-its-kind attempt to present the latest research and raise awareness on the role of soil organisms. Bangalore-based scientist D.J. Bagyaraj, the only Indian contributor to the Atlas, talks about the vital role of soil biodiversity for sustainable food production and prevention of land degradation.

Chethan Kumar, The Times of India

D.J. Bagyaraj

Ninety nine per cent of the world’s food comes from the soil — crops grown, livestock maintained on it — and an estimated 25% of earth’s biodiversity is found in the soil.

“Fertile soil is vital for human survival,” said Dr DJ Bagyaraj, 75, a Bengaluru scientist and the only Indian member of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Working Committee on the UN’s initiative for a Global Soil Partnership programme contributing to sustainable soil management using microorganisms.

The United Nations (UN), although late, declared 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity and last year, it said that December 5 will be the World Soil Day and 2015 as the International Year of Soils. “There is a lot of work going on about soils across world as the health of the soil is directly related to the world’s food security. With the UN and other international agencies taking lead, we hope that policy maker begin paying attention,” Bagyaraj said.

VIEW/DOWNLOAD: Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas (low-res pdf – 172 MB)

Bagyaraj, who retired as HoD of Agricultural Microbiology at GKVK, UAS-Bengaluru and is now an Honorary Scientist and Chairman of the Centre for Natural Biological Resources and Community Development (CNBRCD), Bengaluru, which is funded by the Department of Biotechnology and Department of Science and Technology, is the only contributor from India to the recently released Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas.

Fertile soil is vital for human survival. Ninety nine per cent of the world food comes from crops grown in soil and livestock maintained on it. Soil is alive and supports a variety of flora and fauna.

Stating that soil organisms are responsible for many ecosystem services like nutrient cycling, plant growth, control of pests and diseases, degradation of wastes et al, Bagyaraj said: “The Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas, released by the European Union (EU) in May 2016 will act as a guide to policy makers.”

The Atlas is a result of a lot of discussions, including those during the International Workshop on ‘Managing Living Soils’ conducted by FAO in Rome in 2012. From 2013 to May 2016, over 100 scientists working on different groups of soil flora and fauna across the globe were invited to contribute on their area of specialisation.


The Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas, which raises awareness on the role of soil organisms in sustaining life on our planet, and presents the latest research on soil biodiversity, has 8 chapters and 176 pages.

Bagyaraj, whose contribution has been on mycorrhizal fungi, says that the Atlas will create awareness to the public on the importance of biodiversity which are essential for sustainable food production and prevention of land degradation.

Mycorrhizal fungi, he says, is naturally available in the soil and is responsible for helping plants take in phosphorous, which is very important for plants.

“But in India, like in any other tropical region, the direct availability is low. So, my research focuses on how to make this available to farmers,” he said.

VIEW/DOWNLOAD: Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas (low-res pdf – 172 MB)


New atlas illustrates global soil biodiversity and threats to soil organisms
European Commission Joint Research Centre
The atlas describes soil as habitat for a myriad of organisms that live under our feet and the factors that condition them. In addition, it draws attention to the threats to soil biodiversity, including invasive species, pollution, poor land use practices or climate change. It also proposes solutions for sustainable management of soil. The publication was coordinated by the JRC with more than 70 contributing organisations and several hundred individual contributions. It illustrates the diversity of soil organisms, explains their geographical and temporal distribution, the ecosystem functions and services provided by soil biota. Most importantly, it draws attention to the myriad of threats to soil biodiversity. These include inappropriate land management practices (e.g. deforestation, land take for infrastructure development), agricultural systems, over-grazing, forest fires and poor water management (both irrigation and drainage). Other practices such as land conversion from grassland or forest to cropped land result in rapid loss of soil carbon, which indirectly enhances global warming.


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