Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday announced that the government plans to promote chemical-free natural farming across the country. At the same time, she also reduced the allocation towards the fertiliser subsidy by around a fourth over the revised estimates last year.

Presenting the Union Budget on Tuesday, Sitharaman said, “Chemical-free natural farming will be promoted throughout the country, with a focus on farmers’ lands in 5-km wide corridors along the River Ganga, at the first stage.”

Further, she added that States will be encouraged to revise the syllabi of agricultural universities to meet the needs of natural, zero-budget and organic farming, modern-day agriculture, value addition and management.

For the fertiliser subsidy, the Budget has made an allocation of ₹1,05,222 crore, about 25 per cent lower than the revised estimates of previous year’s ₹1,40,122 crore. Of the total outlay for the fertiliser sector for 2022-23, ₹63,222 crore has been earmarked for urea (₹75,930 crore RE 2021-22) alone and ₹42,000 crore for the nutrient-based subsidy (₹64,192 crore RE 2021-22) for phosphatic and potassic fertilisers.

‘Subsidy inadequate’

ICRA said the budgetary allocation for the fertiliser subsidy is inadequate to meet the sector’s requirement for the year. ICRA expects the subsidy requirement to be around ₹1.30-1.40-lakh crore. While the subsidy allocation remains lower than the expectations, ICRA expects GoI to make additional allocations in case of an increase in the requirements as the year progresses as has been the case for the last two fiscals.

Interestingly, on Monday, the Economic Survey had made a pitch for reduction in use of chemical fertilisers and promote the use of low-cost organic inputs to protect the soil. The main aim for promotion of natural farming is elimination of chemical fertilisers and pesticides usage and promotion of good agronomic practices.

“Natural farming also aims to sustain agriculture production with eco-friendly processes in tune with nature to produce agricultural produce free of chemicals. Soil fertility and soil organic matter is restored by natural farming practices. Natural farming systems require less water and are climate friendly,” the Survey had said.

Natural farming in India is being promoted through a dedicated scheme of Bharatiya Prakritik Krishi Paddhati Programme (BPKP). The scheme promotes on-farm biomass recycling with major stress on biomass mulching, use of on-farm cow dung-urine formulations, periodic soil aeration and exclusion of all synthetic chemical inputs. Under BPKP, financial assistance of ₹12,200 per hectare for 3 years is provided for cluster formation, capacity building and continuous hand-holding by trained personnel, certification and residue analysis.