In an attempt to check deteriorating soil quality and spruce up farm productivity, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has recently launched the soil health card scheme in Suratgarh, Rajasthan.
The scheme will provide all 145 million farm owners in the country with a soil health card in the next three years. The ambitious scheme was announced in the first budget presented by finance minister Arun Jaitley in July last year. The budget allotted Rs 100 crore for issuing cards and an additional Rs 56 crore to set up 100 mobile soil testing laboratories across the country.
The soil health card details existing nutrient status of the soil and crop-wise recommendations of nutrients and fertilisers required, making it easier for farmers to improve productivity by using appropriate inputs.
“Applying fertiliser, best quality seeds and ample water is not enough. Farmers should nurture their soil and know what inputs to use and in what quantities,” Modi said while launching the scheme. “Starting soil health laboratories could be an employment avenue for rural youth. In Gujarat where every farmer has a soil health card unnecessary expenses on inputs have come down and farmers have saved a lot of money.”
Modi urged state governments and the newly formed Niti Aayog, the successor to the Planning Commission, to set up expert committees on agriculture. “Thereafter, states and the centre together can draw up a common minimum programme on agriculture for nationwide implementation,” he said.
Between May and December 2014, the agriculture ministry released Rs 86 crore for the soil health card scheme. In comparison, between 2007-08 and April 2014, the ministry had spent Rs 112 crore on the scheme. The flagship scheme of the ministry has been sanctioned Rs 568 crore for the next three years.
A similar scheme, the National Project for Management of Soil Health and Fertility, was launched during 2008-09 by the previous United Progressive Alliance government.
Imbalanced use of fertiliser is has led to declining crop productivity in the country, further fuelled by a skewed fertiliser policy where urea is heavily subsided, leading to overuse.
While urea consumption increased from 59 percent to 66 percent of total consumption in 2012-13 over 2010-11, per hectare consumption of fertiliser declined from 140kg to 128kg over the same period, noted the Economic Survey of 2014. Current trends in farm output reveal that the marginal productivity of soil in relation to the application of fertilisers is declining, it reported.