New budget for Bharat: Agriculture is the key
by K P Prabhakaran Nair on 03 Mar 2016 1 Comment
Stung by the criticism of being a “Suit Boot Ki Sarkar”, which had a severe negative fallout in the recently concluded Bihar election, the NDA has made a bold attempt to address the problems of rural India, in particular, the farming community.


There are a slew of measures like allocation for irrigation, with a dedicated long-term irrigation fund with a corpus of Rs 20000 crores, a cess of 0.5 per cent on all taxable services that would expressly be used to finance improvements in agriculture and schemes to benefit the farmers. There is Rs 850 crores for the dairy sector, a bid to bring in 100 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) through the Foreign Investment Promotion Board in marketing of food products manufactured in India.


The budget has clearly tried to win the huge farmers’ vote bank. Belatedly, or perhaps, more dexterously, the powers-that-be in New Delhi have realised that with a crucial legislative election in Uttar Pradesh round the corner, New Delhi cannot afford to take chances and be seen as just the chaperon of the corporate bigwigs of Mumbai. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has, surprisingly, chosen to ignore Kerala, where rubber farmers are groaning under a crisis. The above explains the rural tilt.


But, as one learns from experience, allocation is one thing, implementation is another, and implementing efficiently is yet another. No other allocation illustrates this more eloquently than the Rs 368 crores allotted for the National Soil Testing Project for soil “health”.  


The term soil “health” is a very vague term. We try to equate human health to soil health. But then, soil health has various visible and invisible parameters. For instance, 50 per cent of a crop plant’s response is decided by the nutrient factor. In other words, if this 50 per cent is not met efficiently, disaster strikes.


Soil testing in India, for which this huge sum is meant, is still rooted in classical and routine “text book” knowledge. In the ultimate analysis, it is the plant root alone which will decide whether or not a nutrient in the soil is “available” to it. Contemporary “soil testing” in India is still rooted in antiquated procedures and techniques in the laboratory, where a soil sample taken from the field is shaken with an external extractant in the fond hope that the action simulates plant root absorption. The quick testing “mobile” laboratories widely use this route.


If there is one lesson to be learnt from the faltered green revolution, it is this: the unbridled use of chemical fertilisers led to much soil degradation and the consequent severe depletion of soil carbon led to crop yield decline. This had its origin in imprecise soil testing procedures. This greatly underscores the need to go in for accountable soil testing procedures.


Mistakes can crop in from the way the soil sample is taken, right from the field to the choice of an extractant. When fertiliser recommendations are made on these routine and text book procedures, many analytical mistakes leading to miscalculations in the quantum of fertiliser recommended can occur.


This will also indirectly reflect on the efficacy of the direct benefit transfer for fertilisers (DBT) pilot scheme that the government is contemplating. It is very important to remember that the fertilizer subsidy is next in size to the food subsidy in India. It is huge. Hence, it is in this context that the revolutionary idea in soil management, which is now globally known as “The Nutrient Buffer Power Concept”, which has met with enormous field success in the US, Europe, Latin America, Africa and other parts of Asia, has come into sharp focus.


No nation has progressed without laying a strong foundation for agriculture. Prophetically, our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru once said, “Everything can wait, but not agriculture”.


One hopes that India takes the right direction in efficiently implementing all these well intentioned schemes for the benefit of rural India. With the United States department of India projecting a falling wheat crop, India has to wake up to sensible soil management. It starts with accountable soil testing for better soil health.

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