Soil Health Management – NMSA, Soil Health Card, etc.

Soil Health Management – NMSA, Soil Health Card, etc.

[pib] Soil Health Card SchemeGovt. SchemesPIB


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SHC scheme

Mains level : Soil health and its significance for farm productivity


The Soil Health Card Scheme has completed 5 years since its launch.

Soil Health Card Scheme

  • Soil Health Card (SHC) is a Government of India’s scheme promoted by the Department of Agriculture & Co-operation under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare.
  • It is being implemented through the Department of Agriculture of all the State and Union Territory Governments.
  • A SHC is meant to give each farmer soil nutrient status of his/her holding and advice him/her on the dosage of fertilizers and also the needed soil amendments, that s/he should apply to maintain soil health in the long run.
  • The scheme was launched by PM on 19.02.2015 at Suratgarh, Rajasthan.

Details on the SHC

  • SHC is a printed report that a farmer will be handed over for each of his holdings.
  • It contains the status of his soil with respect to 12 parameters, namely N,P,K (Macro-nutrients) ; S (Secondary- nutrient) ; Zn, Fe, Cu, Mn, Bo (Micro – nutrients) ; and pH, EC, OC (Physical parameters).
  • Based on this, the SHC also indicate fertilizer recommendations and soil amendment required for the farm.
  • It provides two sets of fertilizer recommendations for six crops including recommendations of organic manures. Farmers can also get recommendations for additional crops on demand.

Other details

  • The State Government will collect samples through the staff of their Department of Agriculture or through the staff of an outsourced agency.
  • The State Government may also involve the students of local Agriculture / Science Colleges.
  • It will be made available once in a cycle of 3 years, which will indicate the status of soil health of a farmer’s holding for that particular period.
  • The SHC given in the next cycle of 3 years will be able to record the changes in the soil health for that subsequent period.
  • Soil samples will be drawn in a grid of 2.5 ha in irrigated area and 10 ha in rain- fed area with the help of GPS tools and revenue maps.

 Why needed such scheme?

  • Soil testing is developed to promote soil test based on nutrient management.
  • Soil testing reduces cultivation cost by application of right quantity of fertilizer.
  • It ensures additional income to farmers by increase in yields and it also promotes sustainable farming.
Soil Health Management – NMSA, Soil Health Card, etc.

Radioactive Cesium Technology for measuring Soil ErosionPriority 1


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : About the technology

Mains level : Preventing Soil Erosion

  • Indian scientists have now developed a method to measure the rate of soil erosion and associated decrease in organic content in soil by assessing levels of radioactive cesium in soil.

Radioactive Cesium Technology

  • Researchers at the ICAR-Indian Institute of Soil and Water Conservation, Dehradun have developed a way to monitor soil erosion and decrease in carbon content in soil by relating it with levels of radioactive cesium in soil.
  • Carbon concentration is soil correlates with levels of isotope of cesium.
  • Different sites were found to have varying levels of cesium pointing at different degrees of soil degradation in different sites.
  • By applying various formulas, the cesium loss was then used to calculate erosion and associated carbon loss in soil.
  • For measuring cesium levels in soil, gamma spectroscopy technique was used.

Benefits of this technique

  • Radioactive cesium technology is a more rapid and less expensive method for soil erosion studies in the severely intensive croplands.
  • It gives more accurate results for all types of erosion studies including historic, comparative and long-term soil and soil organic carbon erosion.
  • This method can help in monitoring the effects of soil erosion and effectiveness of soil conservation strategies.

Why monitor Soil Erosion?

  • Soil supports plants, insects and microbial life and is formed by natural forces over a long period of time.
  • Carbon reaches soil through the microbial action on withering plant parts and remains in soil, changing its physio-chemical properties and also enhancing its fertility.
  • This way soil also sequesters carbon helping in regulating carbon levels in the atmosphere.
  • Soil erosion, which involves disaggregation and displacement of soil, leads to decrease in its organic content and eventually its fertility.
  • Natural and human activities are contributing to soil erosion and posing problems for both food production and climate change.
  • Therefore, monitoring of soil erosion induced-carbon loss from soil is important.
Soil Health Management – NMSA, Soil Health Card, etc.

[pib] Soil Health Cards (SHC) for optimal utilization of fertilizersGovt. Schemes


Mains Paper 3: Agriculture| Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level:  SHC scheme

Mains level: Soil Health


  • Soil Health Card Scheme has been taken up for the first time in a comprehensive manner across the country.
  • Under the scheme soil health cards are provided to all farmers so as to enable the farmers to apply appropriate recommended dosages of nutrients for crop production and improving soil health and its fertility.

Unique features of SHC scheme

  1. Collecting soil samples at a grid of 2.5 ha in irrigated area and 10 ha in un-irrigated areas.
  2. Uniform approach in soil testing adopted for  12 parameters viz. primary nutrients (NPK); secondary nutrient (S); micronutrients (B,Zn, Mn. Fe & Cu); and other (pH, EC & OC) for comprehensiveness.
  3. GPS enabled soil sampling to create a systematic database and allow monitoring of changes in the soil health over the years.

Phases of Implementation

  1. In the 1st cycle which was implemented in year 2015 to 2017, 2.53 crore soil samples were analysed and 10.73 crore soil health cards distributed to farmers.
  2. The 2nd cycle (2017-19) was started from 1st May, 2017 and against target of 2.73 crore soil samples, 1.98 crore samples tested and 6.73 crore cards have been distributed to farmers.
  3. The target is to cover 12.04 crore farmers.
  4. To enable quick soil sample testing and distribution of soil health cards, the soil test infrastructure has been upgraded, 9263 soil testing labs have been sanctioned to States.
  5. In addition, 1562 village level soil testing projects have been sanctioned to generate employment for rural youth.


Soil Health Card Scheme

  1. Soil Health Card Scheme is a scheme launched by the Government of India in 19 February 2015.
  2. Under the scheme, the government plans to issue soil cards to farmers.
  3. The SHC will carry crop-wise recommendations of nutrients and fertilizers required for the individual farms to help farmers to improve productivity through judicious use of inputs.
  4. All soil samples are to be tested in various soil testing labs across the country.
  5. Thereafter the experts will analyse the strength and weaknesses (micro-nutrients deficiency) of the soil and suggest measures to deal with it.
Soil Health Management – NMSA, Soil Health Card, etc.

[op-ed snap] Addressing soil lossop-ed snap


Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Land reforms in India

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Soil degradation after floods and how to replenish it again


Problem of soil loss

  1. As the rains abate in Kerala, the loss of lives and the devastation of infrastructure and crops is apparent
  2. As rebuilding is planned, what is often ignored is the soil that has been washed away
  3. The gradual loss of soil productivity can have a lasting impact on the local economy

Impact of soil degradation

  1. In the case of Kerala and Kodagu, the undulation and force of the water would have led to severe soil and land erosion
  2. A 2014 review of soil degradation in India by multiple institutions shows that an estimated 14 million hectares suffer soil degradation due to flooding annually
  3. Researchers from the National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning (NBSS&LUP) and other institutes estimate that 13 flood-hit districts lost 287 million tonnes of topsoil and soil nutrients across 10.75 million hectares of farmland in 2009 floods in Kerela
  4. Under market prices, the replacement of nutrients such as nitrates, phosphates and iron would have cost ₹1,625 crore, while another ₹853 crore would have been spent on replenishing organic material lost
  5. To recover and replace would take a “considerable” amount of time, and a steadfast programme of recovery

Are all floods bad for soil?

  1. Not all floods are bad for the soil, as seen in the oft-occurring floods along the banks of the Ganga, Kosi, Brahmaputra and other rivers taking birth in the Himalayas
  2. There, the gushing river emanating from the mountains carries with it loosened alluvial soil, and not only washes over farmlands but also replenishes floodplains with fertile soil
  3. But in the south and central India, floods wash away rich, weathered soil, which is deposited in reservoirs or as sandbars along the river bed or in the sea
Soil Health Management – NMSA, Soil Health Card, etc.

[op-ed snap] Big data for farmersop-ed snap


Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: The potential of Soil health card scheme and how the use of big data can further leverage it


Learnings from Aadhar

  1. When the Government of India introduced the Multipurpose National ID Card (MNIC) scheme in the early 2000s, it had a limited scope
  2. The MNIC was meant to be an ID card to “verify the citizenship of Indians and secure our borders”
  3. Then came Aadhaar, a paradigm shift, which re-imagined what a country can do with an ID system at scale — from targeting government subsidies to driving start-up business models
  4. Aadhaar is today ubiquitous, transforming service delivery and spurring innovation
  5. Can we think of a similar paradigm shift in the Soil Health Card (SHC) Scheme?

About SHC scheme

  1. The scheme, that was introduced in 2015, intended that every farmer receive a health card for their soils that tells them the status of the nutrients in it, and, as a result, guides them about the fertilisers they should apply to maximise their yields
  2. Labs collected samples, analysed them for 12 soil chemical parameters, recommended fertiliser dosages and printed these on the SHCs, which were given to farmers

Problems plaguing the scheme

  • Operational challenges plague the system
  1. The current “census” approach, where soil samples are collected from every 2×2 hectare parcel of land in irrigated areas (10×10 hectare in dry areas), and transported en masse for analysis in a dated network of wet chemistry labs, has put tremendous strain on the system, and the quality of soil analysis has suffered
  2. A Harvard study in Gujarat last year found accuracy issues in 300 of the 800 plots tested
  • The scheme’s current design oversimplifies the nutrient recommendations
  1. For example, if the health card shows that a farmer’s soil is deficient in zinc, it recommends topping up zinc
  2. Research shows that a crop’s “yield response” to a nutrient is far more complex than this
  3. It is determined not only by the deficiency of that nutrient, but also other variables — rainfall, production practices, the presence of other nutrients, soil acidity, and temperature
  4. The correct yield response can be predicted from a model with data on the above parameters, a system that the scheme currently does not use
  5. The simplistic recommendation based on a deficiency of that nutrient alone is often sub-optimal and can exacerbate the farmer’s problem, rather than solve it
  • The scheme underestimates its own potential
  1. Its large-scale collection of soil data sees little use outside of filling out a physical card
  2.  This vast repository of data aggregated from millions of samples remains largely isolated from researchers, start-ups and even state governments

Prospects of a soil information system 

  1. We can move to a sampling-based soil information system that reduces the need for the tens of millions of samples that strain our lab capacity, and produces better results four times faster, at half the cost
  2. We could develop predictive models using big data to provide recommendations to farmers that account for all the factors that affect a crop’s yield response
  3. The government can make these datasets available through an open API platform
  4. This could help start-ups to combine soil health card data with rainfall and irrigation data and deliver precision irrigation advisories to our farmers on their mobile phones
  5. Fertiliser companies, building upon such a platform, leveraging soils data, weather data, and farmer demand patterns, can shape the distribution of fertiliser blends in different districts

International example of the success of a similar system

  1. In data starved Tanzania, a version of such a platform already exists
  2. The Africa Soil Information Service uses machine learning to bring together various pieces of data (soil, climate, production practices) to enable the government and fertiliser companies determine what blended fertilisers could improve soil nutrition

Way Forward

  1. Stories of farm distress make headlines almost every day
  2. Farm data and intelligent digital platforms that build on the SHC programme and leverage big data analytics can provide a solution to farm problems
Soil Health Management – NMSA, Soil Health Card, etc.

[pib] Achieving Land Degradation Neutrality by 2030 A Critical Need


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, National Food Security Mission, Soil Health Card Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana, Swacch Bharat mission, National Rural Drinking Water Programme, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

Mains level: India’s efforts at combating land degradation


  • Nearly 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil and 27, 000 bio-species are lost every year
  • Nearly 30 per cent of the world’s population lives in dry areas
  • 8 out of 21 UNESCO World Heritage Sites are in drylands

Schemes launched for capacity-building of the stakeholders at multiple levels to arrest Land Degradation –

Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY):

  • To provide insurance coverage and financial support to the farmers in the event of failure of any of the notified crop as a result of natural calamities, pests & diseases.
  • To stabilise the income of farmers to ensure their continuance in farming.
  • To encourage farmers to adopt innovative and modern agricultural practices.
  • To ensure flow of credit to the agriculture sector.

National Food Security Mission (NFSM):

To bring about significant yield gain to the farmers resulting into increase in their income level; the Mission has target of additional production of 25 million tonnes of foodgrains comprising 10 million tonnes of rice, 8 million tonnes of wheat, 4 million tonnes of pulses and 3 million tonnes of coarse cereals

Soil Health Card Scheme:

Meant to give each farmer soil nutrient status of his/her holding and advice him/her on the dosage of fertilizers and also the needed soil amendments, that s/he should apply to maintain soil health in the long run.

Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PKSY):

To ensure access to some means of protective irrigation to all agricultural farms in the country, to produce ‘per drop more crop’, thus bringing much desired rural prosperity.

Swacch Bharat mission:

Eliminating open defecation through the construction of household-owned and community-owned toilets and establishing an accountable mechanism of monitoring toilet use.

National Rural Drinking Water Programme:

Ensuring provision of safe and adequate drinking water supply through hand-pumps, piped water supply etc. to all rural areas, households and persons.

Desertification: Addressed for the first time in 1977 in the United Nations Conference on Desertification. This was followed by the adoption of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Paris on 17th June 1994. The Convention entered into force in December 1996.

  • It is one of the three Rio Conventions, along with United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
  • India became a signatory to the Convention on October 14, 1994 and ratified it on December 17, 1996.
  • The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) is the nodal Ministry to co-ordinate all issues pertaining to the Convention
Soil Health Management – NMSA, Soil Health Card, etc.

Promotion of Soil Test Based Balanced and Judicious Use of Fertilizers

  1. News: Govt is promoting soil test based balanced and judicious use of chemical fertilizers, bio-fertilizers and locally available organic manures
  2. Such as, Farm Yard Manure, compost, Vermi Compost and Green manure to maintain soil health and its productivity
  3. Soil Health Card Context: To assist State Govts to evaluate fertility in all 14 crore farm holdings and issue soil health cards to farmers regularly in a cycle of 2 years
  4. Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is recommending Integrated Pest Management, through a combination of agronomic, chemical and biological methods
  5. Integrated Nutrient Management: Envisaging conjunctive use of both inorganic and organic sources of nutrients
Soil Health Management – NMSA, Soil Health Card, etc.

Soil Health Card scheme takes off gingerly

  1. Centre launched web portals for Soil Health Cards (SHC), organic products certification and fertilizer quality.
  2. Most of the states are lagging behind in their 2015-16 targets of issuing SHC.
  3. SHC provides information to farmers, every 3 years, about the suitability of macro and micro-nutrients based on the type of soil in their farm.
Soil Health Management – NMSA, Soil Health Card, etc.

Punjab becomes first state to issue Soil Health Cards to farmers

  1. Every district of state has been assigned mobile soil testing lab.
  2. These labs will take soil sample from every farm and issue a digitised soil health details.
  3. Importance in Punjab? The advent of green revolution & over-exploitation of soil.
  4. Will help farmers in maintaining the balanced health structure of the soil & educate them to use right quantity of fertilisers.
  5. PM had formally launched the nationwide ‘Soil Health Card’ Scheme in Feb 2015 in Suratgarh, Rajasthan.
Soil Health Management – NMSA, Soil Health Card, etc.

Soil Health Card – Aims & Objectives

  1. To provide a basis to address nutrient deficiencies in fertilization practices.
  2. To strengthen functioning of Soil Testing Laboratories (STLs) through capacity building.
  3. To diagnose soil fertility related constraints with standardized procedures.
  4. To develop and promote soil test based nutrient management.
  5. Dissemination of soil testing results through SMSs will be enabled.

Soil Health Card – A Tool For Agri Revolution

Launched by the central government in February 2015, the scheme is tailor-made to issue ‘Soil card’ to farmers which will carry crop-wise recommendations of nutrients and fertilizers required for the individual farms.


Agriculture as primary activity in India

  • Agriculture since ages is the mainstay of the Indian population.
  • The story of Indian agriculture has been a spectacular one, with a global impact for its multi-functional success in generating employment, livelihood, food, nutritional and ecological security.
  • Agriculture and allied activities contribute about 18% to the GDP of India (as of 2014-15). The green revolution had heralded the first round of changes.
  • India is the second largest producer of wheat, rice, sugar, groundnut as also in production of cash crops like coffee, coconut and tea.

What is the scope and focus of government in agriculture?

  • India is now eyeing second Green Revolution in eastern India.
  • The need for enhanced investment in agriculture with twin focus on higher quality productivity and welfare of farmers.
  • In the entire scenario, importantly the government has laid emphasis on the awareness campaign and enhanced agri knowledge for the farming community.

Why is there a need of awareness in assessing soil health position?

  • Awareness of soil health position and the role of manures would help in higher production of foodgrains in eastern India too and this would help tackle the decline in production in central and peninsular India.
  • The growth in foodgrains, rice and wheat, from eastern India would provide an opportunity to procure and create foodgrain reserves locally.
  • This would reduce the agricultural pressure on Punjab and Haryana as well.


Is it Gujarat’s model programme?

  • From 2003-04, Gujarat has been the first state to introduce Soil Health cards, to initiate the scientific measures for Soil Health care.
  • In Gujarat, over 100 soil laboratories were set up and the result of scheme was found quite satisfactory.
  • To start with, the agriculture income of Gujarat from Rs 14000 crore in 2000-01 had gone up to staggeringly high Rs 80,000 crore in 2010-11.

Why did government start taking effective action on soil health card initiative?

  • According to renowned expert and the ‘father of Green Revolution’, M S Swaminathan, there is need to opt for wide range of crops cultivation.
  • The awareness of soil health conditions would only make these operations easier and more result oriented. The government can help farmers adopt crop diversification.
  • The Soil Health Card mechanism definitely aims to help herald some essential revolutionary changes and salutary effect in country’s agricultural scene.
  • Farmers would understand the fertility factor of the land better and can be attracted towards value added newer crops.
  • This would help reduction in risk in farming and also the cost of overall cultivation process would get reduced.

Why has Soil Health Card portal been launched?

  • Some states are already issuing Soil Health Cards but, it was found that, there was no uniform norm for sampling, testing and distribution of Soil Health Cards across the states.
  • Taking a holistic view on these, the central government has thus rightly taken measures like launching of a Soil Health Card portal.
  • This would be useful for registration of soil samples, recording test results of soil samples and generation of Soil Health Card (SHC) along with Fertilizer Recommendations.
  • Soil Health Card portal aims to generate and issue Soil Health Cards based on either Soil Test-Crop Response (STCR) formulae developed by ICAR or General Fertilizer Recommendations provided by state Governments.

How will it be implemented by Union and State government?

  • The scheme has been approved for implementation during 12th Plan with an outlay of Rs.568.54 crore.
  • For the current year (2015-16) an allocation of Rs.96.46 crore – only for the central government share-has been made.
  • The scheme is to be otherwise implemented on 50:50 sharing pattern between Government of India and state Governments.
  • In order to improve quality of soil and ultimately for better nutrient values and higher yields.
  • Experts say while at present, general fertilizer recommendations are followed by farmers for primary nutrients, the secondary and micronutrients are often overlooked.

Can proactive steps and such programmes lead to efficient and effective agriculture? Really?

  • The government is effectively marching in quite ambitiously for a grand success of the Soil Health Card scheme and proposes to ensure that all farmers in the country have their respective Soil Health Cards by 2017.
  • In the first year of NDA regime 2014-15, a sum of Rs 27 crore was sanctioned and in 2015-16, there is an allocation of Rs 100 crore to all the states to prepare soil health cards.

What do you think on such proactive initiatives by government? Let us know!


Source - Ministry of Agriculture

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