Soil health card scheme in shambles
Launched in February 2015, the scheme envisages evaluating fertility of land and helping farmers improve productivity through judicious use of inputs
The central government’s flagship soil health card scheme seems to have been derailed by shoddy implementation as some states have hired private agencies, which have employed not properly qualified people (for example 10th pass youth) for testing the condition of the soil, a Niti Aayog study has found.
The glaring lapse was pointed out by the central government to states at a recent meeting of agriculture ministers of 13 states, sources said.
The Niti Aayog in a study on the implementation of the project has found that states like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar are lagging behind other states and need to speed up the process.
According to sources, the study has further pointed out that farmers are being given the cards without required prescription of what to do next after the test.
Farmers have also expressed doubts over genuineness of the soil health card (SHC) because they are not provided with any registration number at the submission of the sample.
The central government has put the blame on the states, which in return have transferred the responsibility to the outsourced agencies, sources said.
However, the agriculture ministry has taken serious note of the lapses, as found by the study, and is considering deputing officials to state for field visits, sources said.
Even with such lapses, the study has claimed that there has been a decline in incidence of pests and diseases and 5-6 per cent increase in crops yield due to implementation of the soil health card scheme and the neem-coated urea.
Also, the use of fertilisers by farmers has declined by 4-5 per cent after the launch of the scheme, it said. Farmers have been able to save 8-10 per cent on input costs on fertilisers and other micronutrients, the study said.
The government introduced the soil health card scheme in February 2015 with an aim to evaluate fertility in farms and help farmers improve productivity through judicious use of inputs.
Soil health cards, which provide information to farmers on nutrient status of their soil along with recommendations on appropriate dosage of nutrients to be applied for improving soil health and its fertility, will be issued regularly in a cycle of two years.
Against the target of 2.53 crore soil samples, the states have collected 2.69 crore samples and tested 2.01 crore samples, the government said in March this year. At the same time, 5.53 crore soil health cards have been distributed to farmers, the government claimed in Parliament recently. In total, 14 crore soil health cards were to be issued,
A study conducted by National Productivity Council (NPC) in 2016 reported that around 84 per cent of farmers said the information on soil status and nutrients recommendations helped them in reducing the cost of cultivation and improving productivity of crops.
Essentially, the scheme is modeled on a successful programme launched by prime minister Narendra Modi during his tenure as chief minister of Gujarat. The Gujarat government introduced the scheme in 2003-04 to initiate the scientific measures for soil health care. In Gujarat, over 100 soil laboratories were set up and the outcome of the scheme was found quite satisfactory. To start with, the agriculture income of Gujarat increased from Rs 14,000 crore in 2000-01 to Rs 80,000 crore in 2010-11.
The scheme has been approved for implementation during the 12th plan with an outlay of Rs 568.54 crore. For 2015-16, an allocation of Rs 96.46 crore – only for the central government share – was made. The scheme is to be implemented on the 50:50 sharing pattern between the central government and the state government.
According to experts, to improve quality of soil and higher yields, farmers for primary nutrients follow general fertiliser recommendations, but the secondary and micronutrients are often overlooked. “We have often come across deficiency of nutrients like sulphur, zinc and boron. This has become a limiting factor in increasing food productivity. The soil health card scheme will address these,” said agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh soon after the launch of the scheme.
The government aimed at issuing the soil health card to all farmers by the end of current year.
prabhudatta.m@mydigitalfc.com
Columnist: 
Prabhudatta Mishra
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