Fine Start to Soil Health Mission: 90 Percent of Sample Target Achieved, but Testing Lags
The government wants to make testing for soil health a habit with farmers.
About 90 lakh samples have been collected but enthusiastic officials in the agriculture ministry are keen to ensure that all the country’s holdings are mapped by end of next March.
Countrywide, 60 percent of samples have been tested, but Andhra Pradesh, Nagaland, Sikkim and Gujarat have met their targets.
Quietly, beyond the glare of publicity, the agriculture ministry has
nearly achieved the soil health testing target for the financial year
just gone by. By the end of March, 90 percent of the target of ten
million samples had been collected, though only 60 percent of them had
been tested because many laboratories are not equipped to analyse some
of the parameters.
Like the annual body check up, the government wants farmers to make soil
testing every two years a habit, joint secretary Rani Kumudini said. Several state governments have been running soil health programmes, but
the National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture has standardized the
processes and also increased the number of testing parameters to twelve.
Besides testing for acidity, alkalinity, organic carbon, nitrogen,
potassium and phosphorous, the soil health cards also have entries for
secondary and micro nutrients like sulphur, zinc, boron, iron, copper
and manganese. Recommendations to farmers are made based on the
deficiencies and the crops cultivated.
The sampling is being done in ten hectare and 2.5 hectare grids for
rain-fed and irrigated areas respectively. More samples are being taken
from irrigated areas because the intensity of cultivation and multiple
cropping hastens the pace of nutrient depletion.
In all 2.53 crore holdings will have to be sampled to cover the country’s
14 crore holdings as estimated by the agriculture census of 2011. This will
have to be done every two years because soil health is not constant.
The target for the first year was lowered to 1 crore holdings as many of
the country’s 1,539 soil testing laboratories are dysfunctional and only
590 of them can test for micro-nutrients. This limits the capacity to
six lakh samples a month or 72 lakh a year, Kumudini said.
The central government is encouraging states to set up soil testing
laboratories by paying 25 percent of the capital cost. This is small
relief because states also have to bear the recurring cost of salaries
and wages, equipment maintenance, rentals and reagents.
Some state governments have entered into public private partnerships,
where private parties are allowed to use government laboratories and are
paid Rs 190 per sample. Kumudini says Gujarat is a pioneer and has
tie-ups with chemistry colleges and sugar factories.
A new policy to financially assist states in setting up mini-labs is
being drafted. When this conversation was held mid-March, it had been
approved by the agriculture secretary. The mini-lab has been developed
by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. It costs Rs 1 lakh each.
It gives results promptly. Educated village youth and small groups of
farmers are expected to install them, attracted by the subsidy of 80
Given the number of labs, there should be at least two labs in each of
the 660 districts. That is not the case. Some of them are ill-served. The data with GPS coordinates is fed into a server. The information is
available on www.soilhealth.dac.gov.in.
According to the website, as of
29 March, of the target of 1.04 crore samples, 89.52 percent have been
collected. States like Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Telangana, Gujarat,
Meghalaya, Nagaland, Sikkim and Odisha have either met their targets or
exceeded them. Bihar and Tamil Nadu are nearly there. Assam is the worst
performer. It has met just a quarter of its sample collection target.
Karnataka has also been a laggard because of glitches in rolling out its
It did not make headway in outsourcing sample
collection, and decided to do it own after floating a tender.
Consequently, it has collected only 49 percent of the samples it should
have. Countrywide, 60 percent of samples have been tested, but Andhra Pradesh, Nagaland, Sikkim and Gujarat have met their targets.
This article was first published in Smart Indian Agriculture.
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