March 25, 2015

Modi Government launches “Soil Health Card” Scheme, addresses many Challenges

In a brilliant move to address multifold problems of Indian agriculture Modi government on Thursday launched a nationwide scheme “Soil Health Card” from Suratgarh in Rajasthan. Indian agriculture has not witnessed the optimum growth potential it is capable of achieving. While the problems are many, a large part of it has to do with irrational use of fertilizers. With this well needed move the Modi government aims to cut the fertilizer subsidy bill and subsequently the fiscal deficit. 

The proposed “Soil Health Card” will entail the characteristics of soil, both Physical and Chemical. Physical characteristics include texture, compaction, color and depth.
The Soil Card Scheme proposes increasing the soil testing laboratories from about 1200 to 4700. This includes increasing mobile laboratories as well. 
Soil testing laboratories typically charge 150 rupees for basic parameters. For micro nutrients it can cost 100 rupees per parameter.

Chemical characteristics include PH value and the presence of nutrients like Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Calcium, Iron, Zinc, Copper and Sulphur etc.

The quality and yield of the crop depends significantly on the supply of these nutrients from the soil. Irrational use of fertilizers not only impacts the crop quality and yield negatively but also increases the Fiscal deficit as Fertilizer subsidy is a big part of it. Once the farmer has beforehand information about the nature of soil, he/she can make appropriate use of fertilizers and manure. For instance, if the soil is Acidic then Lime based nutrients can be applied. Similarly for Alkaline and Saline soils gypsum based fertilizer should be applied. It will also help in decreasing the import bill on coal and other inputs like Gypsum which are imported from abroad. 

Similarly it will help the farmers make more informed and rational choices. The use of fertilizers also depends on the choice of crop. For Rice, Nitrogen based fertilizer is required more, whereas for Pulses Phosphorus is more required. Similarly for Potato, Banana and Pineapple, Potassium is indispensable. Further, this could lead to customized products tailored for specific regions in other words growing crops which are suitable for the soil and climatic conditions of the region. Punjab and Rajasthan have started facing problems because of unscientific use of fertilizers. Punjab in particular is worst hit by it leading to many health problems as well.
 As underlined by the recent Economic Survey, the ratio of fertilizer use is heavily flawed. The primary nutrients of the soil are Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium and the ideal ratio of use (in general, it may vary according to locality) is 4:2:1. However the actual ratio (as per Economic Survey 2013)   8:3.2:1, in other words Urea is being used excessively, Urea is a Nitrogen based fertilizer. This also increases Coal import because Coal is used as fuel while making Urea, thereby upsetting the Current Account Deficit. Natural gas is also used in manufacture of fertilizers. Also this is subsidized by the government so the excess use of it increases the Subsidy bill of the government. Fertilizer subsidy is bigger than Fuel subsidy. 

Hence it is a very well thought about move that will not only help our farmers in achieving the maximum potential but also decrease the Fiscal Deficit and Current Account Deficit by rationalizing the use of fertilizers.

Indian agriculture still employs about 55% of our workforce. Many people still practice subsistence based agriculture, in other words they produce mostly for their own use and not much left to be sold in the market. Though Modi Government has made grand plans to make India a manufacturing hub but in this process we cannot ignore agriculture sector. Agriculture provides the raw material to be used in many other sectors like textile. 1 % growth in agriculture production leads to more growth in many other sectors. Manufacturing sector will take time to be robust enough to employ our huge workforce. Furthermore, we would always need a vibrant agriculture sector as we cannot rely on our food needs on any other country/countries.
We need to substantially increase our food production, make it diverse and also change its nature from subsistence based to commercially viable. This would need providing the farmers adequate support, which has been there but has not been rationalized. Now, with Narendra Modi’s pragmatic leadership we hope that agriculture would stop lagging and become revenue earning for the country.
As explained in the passages above, the intention of the government is to improve soil health and contain the mounting fertilizer subsidy bill, which is fully provided for and comes to 100,000 crore annually. Two third of this amount is Urea alone. 
With this decision, Modi Government has sought to address many challenges. Eyeing the Subsidy bill, the Fiscal Deficit and the Current Account Deficit as well.
The vision of Narendra Modi is commendable, it has been rationalizing the resource base of the country to remove the impediments and make the best use of available resources. 

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