Soil health cards must reach every farmer

Soil health cards must reach every farmer

Estimates by the United Nations project global population to rise from the current 6 billion to about 9.1 billion by 2050 and that most of it will occur in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. To ensure food security for growing population, the Food and Agriculture Orga­nisation (FAO) projects that glo­bal agricultural production will need to grow by 70% by 2050.

The FAO has recommended three strategies to increase agricultural production: bringing new land into agricultural production; increasing the cropping intensity on existing agricultural lands; and, increasing yields on existing agricultural lands, depending on the country-specific conditions.

India, even to meet the projected demand by 2025, must attain a per hectare yield of (in tonnes) 2.7 for rice, 3.1 for wheat, 2.1 for maize, 1.3 for coarse cereals, 2.4 for cereal, 1.3 for pulses, 22.3 for potato, 25.7 for vegetables, and 24.1 for fruits. The production of livestock and poultry products must be improved 61% for milk, 76% for meat, 91% for fish, and 169% for eggs by 2020 over the base year 1999.

Average yields of most crops in India are still rather low. In such circumstances, not only the first strategy is ruled out, but al­so we are losing significant area of farm land on account of factors such as urban settlement, desertification etc. Second strategy demands massive improvement in physical infrastructure such as modernisation of irrigation canal to reduce water losses in other but equally important crops such as pulses, oil seeds.

These interventions warrant huge investments and would take significant time to yield res­ults. However, the third strategy — to increase per unit yield is most appropriate for the Indian context and there are several measures that can be adopted right away. One such initiative is balanced use of agrochemicals.

Enhancing and sustaining agricultural productivity depends on quality of soil and availability of water. Soil has several components of mineral, organic matter, water and air, the proportions of which vary from field to field. Together, these components provide an ecosystem that sustains plant growth.

Various parameters such as potential of hydrogen (pH), electrical conductivity, presence of major nutrients like nitrogen, potash, phosphorus, secondary nutrients like sulphur and magnesium and micronutrients play an important role and right mix of all these parameters are essential for healthy plant growth.

Each one of them, at desired levels, would have a positive impact on plant growth but may have negative impact if present in excess or inadequately. Thus, the challenge for the farmer is to understand the nature of soil and supplement with only those needed. This need can be asses­sed by scientific analysis of soil.

For instance, Karnataka has 78,32,000 farm holdings. Around 19.52% of its soil is acidic and 11.21% alkaline in nature. There is deficiency of around 41.2% of nitrogen, 26.31% of phosphorous and 7.96% in potassium. But, the use of ferti­lisers by individual farmers does not match with actual need.

There is unwanted increase in input costs to farmer. In addition, excess presence of agrochemicals in soil harms soil micro-flora and decreases overall soil health, pollutes downstream water-bodies as well.
The extent of contamination of downstream water bodies from agrochemicals has reach­ed the level that agriculture became a source of major non-point pollution for every river. These agrochemicals tend to cause eutrophication in receiving water bodies and decrease the dissolved oxygen levels and ultimately alter the ecological profile of these water bodies.

Nutrient management

The Soil Health Card Program­me, launched by the Government of India with to diagnose soil fertility-related constraints and develop crop-specific nutrient management for enhancing nutrient use efficiency is laudable. This programme is aimed at providing comprehensive idea about his farm to farmers and empower him with knowledge about fertiliser use, dosage, suitable cropping pattern and possible diversification.

This knowledge enables the farmer to apply fertiliser judiciously without resorting to indiscriminate application as is the practice. This programme, if effectively implemented, will help in increase of per unit productivity and income of the farmer in addition to several non-tangible ecological benefits. However, if compared to the other southern states, Karnataka needs to be given more attention as it is still lagging in making the soil health cards reach individual farmers and bring in desired change in use of agrochemicals.

The following targets for distribution of these cards till April 2017 were made: for Tamil Nadu, the target was 70.47 lakh, Andhra Pradesh 74.55, Telangana 57.21, Kerala 7.05, and Karnataka 92.10 lakh. This, depending on the number of farm holdings in that particular state.

Tamil Nadu has achieved 100% in this but others are lagg­ing with AP at 49.92%, Telang­ana 44.09%, Kerala 51.82% and Karnataka 43.61%. Reasons for this vary from limited laboratory infrastructure to inadequate manpower. It is prudent for the state machinery to make every attempt to cover every farm holding under soil health card soon and undertake extensive interaction programmes with farmers to empower them to reap benefits of this unique card.

(The writer is associated with Karnataka State Women’s University, Vijayapura, Karnataka)
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