NAGPUR: Policy distortions, in the form of schemes like minimum support price, high subsidy on fertilizers and free power, have led to drastic changes in the cropping pattern of the country, mostly for the worse, say agriculture experts. Farmers are growing crops like rice and sugarcane, extremely water intensive crops, where there is little or no rainfall. Soil quality, weather condition, water availability and rainfall pattern no longer govern the cropping pattern.
Such schemes have allowed farmers in Punjab, where the average rainfall is just about 500mm, to take up rice cultivation, and ending up with a drastically lower groundwater table. Similarly, farmers in Marathwada are growing sugarcane. All this is extremely damaging to natural resources like soil and water.
“The situation has worsened to an extent that only regional crop planning consistent with natural resources of that area can save further degradation of resources like land and water,” said Prof Ramesh Chand, director of National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research ( NCAERPR).
Chand was is in the city for the national seminar on ‘Managing land resources for sustainable agriculture’ being hosted by the Indian Society of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning (ISSLUP) at the city-based National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning (NBSS&LUP).
“I am not saying that subsidy and MSP are not needed at all. But we shouldn’t ignore the other dimensions and ramifications of these schemes. There should be a rationale behind the subsidies. Free canal water and power have done more damage than good,” said Chand.
At present, out of the total income of farmers growing rice, 80% is from subsidy and only 20% from actual agriculture. “This way, we would cross the subsidy levels of China as well as western countries like USA and harm our agriculture more. India uses just 420 gm per hectare of pesticides, whereas Japan consumes 10kg. But still there is no residue in their grains, vegetables and fruits, whereas our products have very high residues. So, while improving fertilizer and pesticide subsidy we need to use it scientifically,” said Chand.
Central government is planning a new mission on sustainable agriculture to counter and repair the damage that has come along with green revolution. Twelve major challenges in front of the XII plan planners in agriculture include addressing regional imbalances, improving food and nutrition security, managing degrading and shrinking natural resources, judicious use of all inputs in agriculture, preparing agriculture to face changes in operating environment and harness modern science to tackle climate change.
‘Not matching crops to soil has degraded land’
Not just scientists, but farmers also know very well that different soils have different nutrients. Yet, they have never cultivated crops suited to their soil type. This has led to land degradation to an unimaginable extent, says Anil Kumar Singh, deputy director general, natural resource management of ICAR
Taking serious cognisance of this, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is working towards site specific nutrient management by first preparing fertility maps for the country. Indian Institute of Soil Sciences has prepared the nutrient and fertility maps at the district level for 21 states and up to taluka levels in 12 states. The exercise is aimed at working out the nutrient ability of soils in 92 districts.
“It is actually possible to point out the exact nutrient levels and requirements for a crop. Crops should be grown based on the soil type and nutrient content. But unfortunately, most soil testing laboratories in India are in bad shape,” said Singh. He too was in the city to attend the national seminar at NBBS&LUP.
Soil has 17 different macro and minor nutrients. Even if one is deficient it affects the productivity of the crop. Thus, soil type should be the basic deciding factor for choosing a crop for any area. But unfortunately there is no standard of soil quality index in country. Most physical, chemical and biological indicators of soil are never measured.
One of the biggest causes of concern for the country is excessive use of fertilizers. During the onset of green revolution, use of major nutrients (NPK) was suggested in the ratio of 4:2:1. But since then it is being blindly followed for all soil types across the country for almost all crops.
“We need to switch to precision farming, which is extremely site specific, to tackle the damage that has been done due to excessive use of natural resources like water, soil and land. There is also a strong need to promote integrated farming system,” said Singh.
Climate change is another factor that needs serious consideration with respect to soil health, and agriculture being a state subject, land use policy at state level is a must, he added. On its part, ICAR is guiding farmers about handling extreme weather conditions.