The PM PRANAM Scheme was launched under the GOBAR DHAN Scheme, which stands for Galvanizing Organic Bio-Agro Resources Dhan

The effort is aimed at cutting the use of chemical fertilisers, while also improving crop yields and saving on subsidies.

The Union Cabinet is likely to approve the PM PRANAM Scheme (PM Programme for Restoration, Awareness, Nourishment, and Amelioration of Mother Earth) on June 14. The government launched the scheme to enhance its efforts towards green growth.

India’s agricultural reforms, especially since 1991, have been aimed largely at doubling food output and empowering farmers. However, the government’s new focus is on the growing burden of fertiliser subsidy and soil health.

Excessive use of chemical fertilisers has led to a decline in crop-yield response and an imbalance in nutrient application. Moreover, the government’s subsidy burden on chemical fertilisers was estimated at Rs 2.25 lakh crore in FY23, a 39 percent increase from Rs 1.62 lakh crore a year earlier. The government allocated Rs 1.75 lakh crore for fertiliser subsidies in the budget for FY24.

What is the PM PRANAM scheme?

The PM PRANAM Scheme was announced in the Union Budget presented by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

“PM Programme for Restoration, Awareness, Nourishment and Amelioration of Mother Earth will be launched to incentivise states and Union Territories to promote alternative fertilisers and balanced use of chemical fertilisers,” she said on February 1.

How will the scheme operate?

The scheme will use savings from subsidies to encourage states to use alternative soil nutrients and keep track of the use of fertilisers.

The scheme will not have a separate budget allocation. It will be financed by savings of existing fertiliser subsidies.

Half of the subsidy saved will be given as a grant to the state that saves the money, of which 70 percent can be used to create assets and adopt technology related to alternative fertiliser production at the block, village and district levels.

States can use the remaining grant to incentivise panchayats, farmer producer organisations, farmers and self-help groups involved in awareness generation and reducing fertiliser use.

The government will evaluate the utilisation of fertilisers in terms of increase or decrease in overall consumption in a year vis-a-vis consumption over the past three years. The Integrated Fertilisers Management System (iFMS) is the platform envisaged to track the use of fertilisers.

How is the scheme beneficial?

The PM PRANAM scheme will accelerate policies that not only enhance agricultural production but also safeguard the environment and health.

The scheme is aimed at reducing the use of chemical fertilisers, especially urea. Excessive exposure to fertilisers affects human health through cancer and diseases caused by DNA damage. Fertilisers also pollute water bodies, leading to algal bloom and affecting aquatic life.

The scheme will promote the use of other nutrients and fertilisers, including natural nutrients. This is expected to improve soil quality in the long run and increase crop yields, apart from preventing environmental damage.

According to the government, India’s consumption of fertilisers was about 40 million metric tonnes from April to mid-December 2022, with production of 32 mmt and imports of 12.8 mmt.

How will the scheme affect subsidies?

With the launch of PM PRANAM, the government aims to reduce the rising fertiliser subsidy bill while also checking soil degradation.

In FY23, the government allocated Rs 1.05 lakh crore as fertiliser subsidy, an amount that was revised to Rs 2.25 lakh crore. For this year, the allocation is Rs 1.75 lakh crore.

While subsidies are paid to fertiliser-producing companies and farmers benefit from lower prices, they have encouraged indiscriminate use of chemical nutrients in agriculture. Subsidies have effectively distorted the economical use of chemical fertilisers.

The key issue with subsidies is that the soil in India has a low use efficiency for nitrogen, the main constituent of urea. The ideal ratio for using nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in the country is 4:2:1, whereas it was 12.8:5.1:1 in the 2022 kharif season.

Also, with urea sales crossing a record 35.7 million tonnes in FY23, the crop-yield response to fertiliser use has decreased.

What are the other initiatives taken to save the soil?

Apart from the PM PRANAM scheme, the government has incorporated new nutrients like nano urea and bio-stimulants, while the Department of Fertilisers has made it mandatory for all domestic companies to produce 100 percent neem-coated urea.

Improvement in soil health, reduction in usage of plant protection chemicals, higher yield of paddy, sugarcane, maize, soybean, and tur/red gram, and reduction in pest and disease attacks are some of the benefits of neem-coated urea.