NEW DELHI: With Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aim of doubling farmers’ income by 2022 looking too ambitious, NITI Aayog is setting out to improve soil fertility by having the Railways transport gypsum and other micronutrients across the country to help boost agricultural growth.
Having reached out to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and agricultural universities, NITI Aayog is soon to involve Indian Railways in distributing micronutrients to significantly scale up soil fertility in the country. With the government having issued close to 10 crore soil health cards, sources in NITI Aayog said that the next big intervention on the part of the Centre was to help reduce urea consumption by working on nutrient-deficient soils in various regions.
“On the lines of aggregators who have made the business of car pooling and hiring a successful model, the government is seeking to achieve success with the soil health cards mapped on a single platform by offering the services of railway wagons to transport the needed nutritional support, including gypsum. Since a number of regions, including Punjab and Haryana, are reporting erosion of soil fertility, it is incumbent upon the government to take corrective measures to ensure that farmers are not stuck with high input costs, which could further erode their income,” said a NITI Aayog official.
Officials from the policy think tank have held deliberations with officials from ISRO and various agricultural universities to decide on the most prudent model of intervention to improve soil fertility. Incidentally, several agricultural scientists have noted that farmers’ income has not increased. More worrisome for the Centre is the growing clamour in different parts of the country for waiver of farmers’ loans, which is seen as another sign of deepening agrarian distress.
“Now that there is a database of about 10 crore soil health cards spread across the country, we know where to intervene by providing micronutrients, which could be affordable. By doing so, the input cost, which is rising on account of growing urea consumption, could be brought down. That, in turn, will automatically help farmers improve their income, which will get a boost from the increased agricultural productivity,” the official said.
The prime minister, in the 38th edition of his radio programme Mann ki Baat, had shared the story of Tohu village in Hamirpur, Himachal Pradesh, where farmers were seeing dwindling incomes and erosion of soil fertility due to growing use of fertilizers. “After the farmers stopped the use of urea and began working on soil health by supplementation with micronutrients, they reported three to four times more production of wheat in the 2016-17 rabi crop, while income went up by `4,000-6,000 per acre,” Modi had said.
Incidentally, NITI Aayog is seeking to create an institutional support mechanism which can be centralised, with facilities at the ground level to help farmers already issued with soil health cards to benefit by cutting down on fertilizer consumption and enhancing their income.