Agro-ecological Regions for Better Crop Planning and Ecosystem Services

  • D. K. Pal


Food and nutritional security on sustainable basis will remain the major challenge for Indian agriculture like in many tropical countries of the world in the twenty-first century. Through irrigation, an increased crop production may be possible, but the speed of the expansion of irrigation potential in 140 m ha of Indian arable land is not taking place at the expected speed at present. On the other hand, an improvement of the water productivity of rainfed situation holds, particularly in the semi-arid tropical (SAT) region, a promise to increase the crop productivity due to a large gap between farmers’ yield and achievable yield. This gap can be filled considerably by adopting a sustainable management approach of natural resources, and in order to achieve this goal, an assessment of land/water and climate resources to create an integrated system needs to be given the highest priority. To make it happen, the task is to create near-homogeneous soil climatic regions that are compatible for sustenance of a particular group of crops and cultivars. A near-homogenous area having similar soil, bioclimate and moisture availability related to crop production is known as agro-ecological regions (AER). The AER made following the creation of broad crop feasibility zone based on length of moisture availability period, which was superimposed on FAO/UNESCO global soil and terrain map of 1:5000, 000 scales by Indian researchers as ecosystem service providers, is very broad and thus fraught with difficulty for crop planning both at state and district levels. Thereafter, several attempts were made in the recent past including the refinement of agro-ecological regions by the ICAR-NBSS &LUP to divide 20 agro-ecological regions (AER) into 60 agro-ecological subregions (AESRs) in 1999. The usefulness of 60 AESRs as ecosystem services was realized while estimating the stocks of soil carbon and available potassium of the Indo-Gangetic Plains (IGP) and black soil regions (BSR) and in prioritizing areas of carbon sequestration. But further research is warranted to refine the AESR boundaries in SAT climate, which can match rainfall with crop water requirement. Therefore, collection of antecedent soil moisture, after the cessation of rains when rainfall (P) falls short of 0.5 potential evapotranspiration (PE), becomes an essential requirement. In absence of such essential data, the present AESR boundaries vis-à-vis crop performance exhibit scenarios a little away from reality in SAT areas. The soil moisture dynamics is greatly influenced by saturated hydraulic conductivity (sHC), which in turn is affected by exchangeable sodium percentage (ESP). Besides, gypsum, Ca-rich zeolites and palygorskite also influence soil moisture. In the FAO method, the length of growing period (LGP) is computed from monthly/decadal precipitation (P) and potential evapotranspiration (PET). Available water holding capacity (AWC) of shrink-swell soils was computed considering the available water of all the soil layers to a depth of 1 m or up to least permeable layer (sHC < 10 mm h−1). Some of the measured sHC of the pedons indicated that the values vary from 4 to 20 mm h−1 and rapidly decrease with depth, even though the clay content with soil depth is almost uniform. This suggests that there is a need for correcting LGP and in turn AESRs, based on quantitative values of soil drainage, i.e. sHC data of soils. In view of immediate concern about the use of soil map information for agricultural land use planning, ICAR assisted and World Bank funded a National Agricultural Innovation Project (NAIP) ‘Geo referenced Soil Information System (GeoSIS) for Land Use Planning and Monitoring Soil and Land Quality for Agriculture’. This was executed during 2009–2014 by ICAR-NBSS&LUP as the Consortium Leader. One of the three primary objectives of this NAIP was ‘To prepare modified AESR map for agricultural land use planning’. It was envisaged that the project output will equip natural resource managers of the country with a soil information system, which will provide a robust platform for future monitoring of the changes in soil properties induced by dynamic land use changes. In this NAIP, the IGP and BSR were undertaken as these two are the major food production zones of the country. The spatio-temporal information on sHC and soil water retention-release behaviour are essential for crop and land use planning in SAT areas. For the IGP soils, the sHC is affected by the increased subsoil bulk density due to intensive cultivation. In the BSR, the presence of Na+ and Mg++ ions affects the drainage and water retention and release behaviour of the soils. The AESR maps of the IGP and BSR are modified based on newly acquired soil resource database and revised LGP class with greater emphasis on soil quality parameters linked with crop performance. Following this unique method, 17 AESRs of IGP and 27 AESRs of BSR are re-delineated, respectively, into 29 and 45 subregions. The observed compatibility between revised LGP and cotton yields in shrink-swell soils aptly justifies the inclusion of the proposal to modify the AESR boundaries as one of the objectives of GeoSIS under NAIP. Thus, in view of their ecosystem capacity to provide multiple biophysical and crop yield benefits, the modified AESRs should be considered as an effective ecosystem service provider of SAT soils. The soil property-driven revised AESR delineations thus add a unique value to the soil ecosystem services and can also act as a technology transfer tool for agricultural land use planning at the national and regional level.


Agro-ecological subregions (AESRs) Revision of AESR Soil properties Hydraulic conductivity Length of growing period Ecosystem services 


  1. Bhattacharyya T, Pal DK (2014) Special Section on ‘Geo referenced soil information system for land use planning and monitoring soil and land quality for agriculture. Curr Sci 107Google Scholar
  2. Bhattacharyya T, Mandal C, Mandal DK, Prasad J, Tiwary P, Venugopalan MV, Pal DK (2015) Agro-eco sub-region based crop planning in the black soil regions and Indo-Gangetic Plains -Application of soil information system. Proc Indian Nat Sci Acad 81:1151–1170.
  3. Bhattacharyya T, Pal DK, Chandran P, Ray SK, Durge SL, Mandal C, Telpande B (2007) Available K reserve of two major crop growing regions (alluvial and shrink–swell soils). Indian J Fertil 3:41–52Google Scholar
  4. Bhattacharyya T, Pal DK, Chandran P, Ray SK, Mandal C, Telpande B (2008) Soil carbon storage capacity as a tool to prioritise areas for carbon sequestration. Curr Sci 95:482–494Google Scholar
  5. Bhattacharyya T, Sarkar D, Ray SK, Chandran P, Pal DK et al. (2014a) Final project report: Geo referenced soil information system for land use planning and monitoring soil and land quality for agriculture (NAIP, C-4), NBSS Publication no. 1074, NBSS&LUP (ICAR), Nagpur, p 92Google Scholar
  6. Bhattacharyya T, Sarkar D, Ray SK, Chandran P, Pal DK et al (2014b) Geo referenced soil information system: assessment of database. Curr Sci 107:1400–1419Google Scholar
  7. DES (2015) Crop production statistics. Directorate of Economics and Statistics (DES), Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Government of India, New Delhi.
  8. Deshmukh HV, Chandran P, Pal DK, Ray SK, Bhattacharyya T, Potdar SS (2014) A pragmatic method to estimate plant available water capacity (PAWC) of rainfed cracking clay soils (Vertisols) of Maharashtra, Central India. Clay Res 33:1–14Google Scholar
  9. FAO (1976) Frame work of land evaluation. Soils Bulletin 32. FAO, Rome, p 72Google Scholar
  10. FAO (1978–1981) Report on agro-ecological zones project. World soil resources report, 48. FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
  11. FAO (1983) Guidelines: land evaluation for rainfed agriculture. FAO Soils Bulletin 52. FAO, Rome 52:237Google Scholar
  12. FAO (1995) Planning for sustainable use of land resources: towards a new approach. FAO Land and Water Bulletin no. 2, Land and Water Development Division, FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
  13. FAO (2002) Global agro-ecological assessment for agriculture in the 21st century: methodologies and results, pp 1–5Google Scholar
  14. FAO/UNESCO (1974) Soil map of world, Vol. II (Asia). UNESCO, ParisGoogle Scholar
  15. Kadu PR, Vaidya PH, Balpande SS, Satyavathi PLA, Pal DK (2003) Use of hydraulic conductivity to evaluate the suitability of Vertisols for deep rooted crops in semi-arid parts of central India. Soil Use Manag 19:208–216CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Khanna SS (1989) The Agro-climatic approach. In: Survey of Indian agriculture, The Hindu, Madras, India, pp 28–35Google Scholar
  17. Krishnan A, Singh M (1968) Soil climatic zones in relation to cropping patterns. In: Proceedings of the symposium on cropping patterns, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi, pp 172–185Google Scholar
  18. Mandal C, Mandal DK, Bhattacharyya T, Sarkar D, Pal DK et al (2014) Revisiting agro-ecological sub-regions of India- a case study of two major food production zones. Curr Sci 107:1519–1536Google Scholar
  19. Murthy RS, Pandey S (1978) Delineations of agro-ecological regions of India. Paper presented in Commission V, 11th Congress of ISSS, Edmonton, Canada, 19–27 June, 1978Google Scholar
  20. NAAS (2009) Agriculture sector: status and performance in states of Indian agriculture. National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, New Delhi, pp 2–34Google Scholar
  21. NBSS&LUP (1994) Proceedings of national meeting on soil-site suitability criteria for different crops. Feb. 7–8, Nagpur, India, p 20Google Scholar
  22. Pal DK, Dasog GS, Vadivelu S, Ahuja RL, Bhattacharyya T (2000) Secondary calcium carbonate in soils of arid and semi-arid regions of India. In: Lal R, Kimble JM, Eswaran H, Stewart BA (eds) Global climate change and pedogenic carbonates. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, pp 149–185Google Scholar
  23. Pal DK, Bhattacharyya T, Ray SK, Bhuse SR (2003) Developing a model on the formation and resilience of naturally degraded black soils of the peninsular India as a decision support system for better land use planning. NRDMS, Department of Science and Technology (Govt. of India) Project Report. NBSSLUP (ICAR), Nagpur, p 144Google Scholar
  24. Pal DK, Bhattacharyya T, Ray SK, Chandran P, Srivastava P, Durge SL, Bhuse SR (2006) Significance of soil modifiers (Ca-zeolites and gypsum) in naturally degraded Vertisols of the peninsular India in redefining the sodic soils. Geoderma 136:210–228CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Pal DK, Mandal DK, Bhattacharyya T, Mandal C, Sarkar D (2009a) Revisiting the agro-ecological zones for map evaluation. Indian J Genet Plant Breed 69:315–318Google Scholar
  26. Pal DK, Bhattacharyya T, Chandran P, Ray SK (2009b) Tectonics–climate linked natural soil degradation and its impact in rainfed agriculture: Indian experience. In: Wani SP et al (eds) Rainfed agriculture: unlocking the potentials. CABI International, Oxfordshire, pp 54–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Pal DK, Bhattacharyya T, Chandran P, Ray SK, Satyavathi PLA, Durge SL, Raja P, Maurya UK (2009c) Vertisols (cracking clay soils) in a climosequence of peninsular India: evidence for Holocene climate changes. Quat Int 209:6–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Pal DK, Sarkar D, Bhattacharyya T, Datta SC, Chandran P, Ray SK (2013) Impact of climate change in soils of semi-arid tropics (SAT). In: Bhattacharyya et al (eds) Climate change and agriculture. Studium Press, New Delhi, pp 113–121Google Scholar
  29. Pal DK, Bhattacharyya T, Sahrawat KL, Wani SP (2016) Natural chemical degradation of soils in the Indian semi-arid tropics and remedial measures. Curr Sci 110:1675–1682CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Sehgal J, Mandal DK, Mandal C, Vadivelu S (1992) Agro ecological regions of India, 2nd edn. NBSS&LUP publication no. 24. National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning, Nagpur, p 130Google Scholar
  31. Smyth AJ, Dumanski J (1993) An international frame work for evaluating sustainable land management. World soil resource report 73, FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
  32. Subramaniam AR (1983) Agro-ecological zones of India. Arch Met Geophys Bioclim Ser Bull 32:329–333CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Tiwary P, Patil NG, Bhattacharyya T, Chandran P, Ray SK, Karthikeyan K, Sarkar D, Pal DK et al (2014) Pedotransfer functions: a tool for estimating hydraulic properties of two major soil types of India. Curr Sci 107:1431–1439Google Scholar
  34. Velayutham M, Mandal DK, Mandal C, Sehgal J (1999) Agro ecological sub regions of India for planning and development, NBSS&LUP publication no. 35. National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning, Nagpur, p 372Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. K. Pal
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Soil Resource StudiesICAR-NBSS&LUPNagpurIndia

Personalised recommendations