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

Dec, 06, 2018

[pib] Soil Health Cards (SHC) for optimal utilization of fertilizers


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.
Sep, 05, 2018

[op-ed snap] Addressing soil loss


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
Aug, 31, 2018

[op-ed snap] Big data for farmers


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
Apr, 24, 2018

[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
Mar, 05, 2016

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
Jul, 22, 2015

Key Points: Soil Health Card

  1. Soil Health Card portal has been developed for registration of soil samples, recording test results of soil samples and generation of Soil Health Card (SHC).
  2. All that and with fertiliser recommendations.
  3. This is a single, generic, uniform, and web-based software accessed at .
Jul, 17, 2015

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.
May, 14, 2015

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.
Apr, 26, 2015

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.
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