SOIL

Ex­ces­sive use of urea, pes­ti­cides has com­pro­mised soil fer­til­ity

India Today - - COVER STORY -

The ma­jor­ity of farms in the Gangetic valley of north In­dia have al­lu­vial soil, one of the most fer­tile soils in the world,” says Alagh. Yet, soil degra­da­tion has been an area of ma­jor con­cern in the past few decades. The In­dian Coun­cil of Agri­cul­tural Re­search (ICAR) had in 2010 es­ti­mated that of the coun­try’s total land area of 328.7 mha, nearly 120.4 mha is af­flicted with land degra­da­tion of some sort, whether wa­ter and wind ero­sion, wa­ter­log­ging, soil al­ka­lin­ity or seep­age of min­ing and in­dus­trial waste, along with ex­ces­sive use of fer­tiliser, in­ten­sive crop­ping and de­ple­tion of or­ganic mat­ter.

In­dian soil con­sists of pri­mary nu­tri­ents such as ni­tro­gen (N), phos­pho­rous (P) and potas­sium (K), sec­ondary nu­tri­ents such as sul­phur, cal­cium and mag­ne­sium, and mi­cro-nu­tri­ents such as zinc, iron, and man­ganese. “While the thumb rule for us­ing N,P and K fer­tilis­ers is 4:2:1, In­dian farm­ers usu­ally end up us­ing 6.7:2.4:1.6, an ex­cess of ni­tro­gen given the overuse of urea, some phos­phate and very low lev­els of potas­sium,” says Ut­pal Singh, ad­di­tional sec­re­tary in the Union min­istry for agri­cul­ture.

This is be­cause of the cur­rent regime of fer­tiliser sub­sidy. To pro­mote the use of fer­tiliser by farm­ers, the cen­tral gov­ern­ment pro­vides a sub­sidy to the pro­duc­ers of fer­tilis­ers. In 2017-18, Rs 70,000 crore has been al­lo­cated to the pur­pose, the largest after food sub­sidy. Al­lo­ca­tions to fer­tiliser sub­sidy have been in­creas­ing at an an­nual rate of 11.4 per cent be­tween 2000 and 2016. Of the sub­sidy al­lo­cated in 2017-18, Rs 49,768 crore has been al­lo­cated to sub­sidy for urea. Cur­rently, the amount of sub­sidy to be given is de­ter­mined by the cost of pro­duc­tion of the fer­tiliser com­pany. As a re­sult, com­pa­nies with a higher cost of pro­duc­tion re­ceive greater sub­si­dies. This re­duces their

in­cen­tive to lower their cost of pro­duc­tion. Although urea con­sump­tion has been in­creas­ing over the past decade, no new do­mes­tic pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity has been added in the past 15 years.

HOW TO FIX IT

Dis­trib­ute soil health cards to all farm­ers. The NDA gov­ern­ment in 2 015 launched soil health cards, to be is-sued free once in three years to all farm­ers. "The soil health cards cover six crops of the farmer's choice," says Singh. "The card in­forms farm­ers about the nu­tri­ent sta­tus of the soil and the rec­om­mended dose of nu­tri­ents to im­prove soil fer­til­ity in or­der to grow crops of his choice. The use of soil health cards will help bring about soil amend­ment, op­ti­mal use of nu­tri­ents, which will re­duce ex­cess wa­ter, salin­ity and al­ka­lin­ity in the soil." The gov­ern­ment claims it has dis­trib­uted 65 mil­lion soil health cards so far and aims to cover ev­ery­one by 2018-19. "In the next two-year cy­cle, the plan is to pro­vide soil health cards to 140 m ill ion farm­ers," says Dr Ashok I)al­wai, ad­di­tional sec­re­tary in the agri­cul­ture min­istry. A com­mit­tee that ex­am­ined the role of the Food Corpo-ra­tion of In­dia rec­om­mended that cash trans­fers be made to farm­ers to re­place the cur­rent fer­tiliser sub­sidy regime. Sources in the agri­cul­ture min­istry re­veal thothy Tuly 2017, the gov­ern­ment is likely to re­struc­ture the sys­tem of fer­tiliser sub­sidy. Fer­tiliser com­pa­nies will be given sub­sidy only once the dealer has sold the fer­tiliser to the farmer. The idea is to pass on the fer­tiliser sub­sidy to the farmer in­stead of the in­dus­try. This would also en­able farm­ers to choose fer­tilis­ers in the com­bi­na­tion best suited to their needs, and help them to fix the fer­tiliser im­bal­ance in soil. In July 2016, the gov­ern­ment had an­nounced that it would be con­duct­ing pi­lot stud­ies of di­rect ben­e­fit trans­fer in 16 dis­tricts in 2016-17. lb pre­vent di­ver­sion of urea to non-agri­cul­tural use and make it more read­ily avail­able to farm­ers, all sub­sidised urea now has to be coated with neem. This is some­thing, the gov­ern­ment claims, that has led to a 5 to 17 per cent in­crease in crop yield. 11 Bring more farm­ers in the am­bit of or­ganic farm­ing un­der the gov­ern­ment's Param­para­gat Kr­ishi Vikas Yo­jana.

YASIR IQBAL

Parched earth A farmer in Ma­hoba district, Ut­tar Pradesh

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