Greenpeace India launches “Living Soils” campaign; call to save soils from harmful impacts of chemical fertilizers

Press release - August 2, 2010
Guwahati, India — Greenpeace India today launched “Living Soils”, a nationwide campaign with a call to implement Government policies to save soils from the harmful impacts of chemical fertilizers. This campaign assumes significance in the context of the Central Government acknowledging1the agrarian crisis due to soil degradation and initiating a reform in its fertilizer subsidy policy. As part of the campaign, a series of social audits will be organized in selected districts of Assam, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Karnataka.

“The ‘Living Soils Campaign’ will bring out grass root level realities concerning soil health and soil fertility management policies of the Central Government, including the newly launched Nutrient Based Subsidy (NBS)2 for chemical fertilizers and Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY)3.which aims at overall agriculture development. These will be reviewed using a participatory approach, basically to examine their capability to solve the soil degradation crisis and the impending food security threat” said Gopikrishna SR, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner, Greenpeace India. He further stated that “The information, observations, data, and insights collected from the grass roots will be compiled and submitted to the policy makers at the Centre and respective states”.

Soil is an ecosystem which is home to several living organisms. Organic matter both in terms of quality and quantity is vital to sustain life in this ecosystem. Indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers gradually leads to its degradation. Deteriorated/dead soils lead to poor plant growth and thus reduced productivity of agricultural system.

“Any policy in Agriculture will be successful, only if we have a vibrant soil ecosystem. If the soils are dead, all investments in Agriculture will go waste. So there is an urgent need to act on a comprehensive policy to support ecological fertilization practices. This is critical to ensure food security of the country”, said Dr Amiya Sharma, Executive Director, Rashtriyia Gramin Vikas Nidhi (RGVN).

Every year Central Government spends around Rs 50,000 crores on chemical fertilizer subsidies, and this is a major driver that catalyzes intensive chemical fertilizer usage4. The Nutrient Based Subsidy (NBS) policy which was brought in to correct this problem continues to support only chemical fertilizers, and hence fails in its own cause. The new policy proves to be an old wine in new bottle.

 “On one hand our Union Government worries about the declining agricultural productivity due to soil degradation and food security and on the other hand they continue to support chemical fertilizers. Support for organic fertilization practices in mainstream agriculture is very minimal. This anomaly can jeopardise the Agriculture production system”, said Tapan Sharma of Diamond Club Community Center, Sipachar, Darrang.

“We should not wait for the problems to appear. In the case of Assam we should learn from bad experiences from other regions and go the ecological way at the earliest, said Kulendra Deka, General Secretary of North East Centre for All Round Development (NE CARD), Darrang

In Assam, the survey and the public hearing will be organized in Darrang district, which has one of the highest per hectare fertilizer consumption in the State.

Apart from the direct visible impacts, manufacture and use of chemical fertilisers also contributes significantly to emissions of greenhouse gases, and thus climate change. The total emissions from the manufacture and use of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers represent six per cent (3% from manufacture and 3% from usage) of India’s total emissions, comparable to sectors like cement or iron and steel industries, and to emissions from the entire road transport system4& 5. Chemical fertilizers also contaminate drinking water6 and pose threat to human health..


Several states in the country including Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Nagaland, Sikkim, Mizoram and Uttarakhand have initiated policies to support ecological farming. North eastern states have taken more pro-active roles. Sikkim, Nagaland, and Mizoram have decided to go completely organic.  But the Central Government continues to push the high external input chemical intensive model of farming, which is evident from the new NBS policy and the decision to push intensive agriculture models in the eastern states under RKVY.


Pursuing an agenda to ensure healthy soils and sustainable Agriculture production Greenpeace has been making the following demands


   1. Create an alternate subsidy system that promotes ecological farming and use of organic soil amendments.
   2. Shift the irrational subsidy policy for synthetic fertilisers to sustainable ecological practices in agriculture.
   3. Re-focus scientific research on ecological alternatives, to identify agro-ecological practices that ensure future food security under a changing climate.                                          


1. A concept note on Living soil (

2. A briefing paper on Nutrient Based Subsidy (NBS) system (
Notes to Editor

1. In 2009, during the budget speech, Union Finance Minister expressed concerns over the declining response of agricultural productivity to increased fertilizer usage and initiated a reform. Union Finance Minister’s budget speech can be accessed at (Refer para. 34 in this page for his statement on fertilizer subsidies)

2. Nutrient Based Subsidy (NBS)

The newly introduced subsidy system for chemical fertilizers, made effective from 1 April 2010. As per the Government it was devised to address the issue of soil degradation due to indiscriminate fertilizer use. However it proved to be old wine in new bottle as it continues to support chemical fertilizers only with no support for organic fertilization. A short summary of Greenpeace policy brief on NBS is enclosed. Full version can be accessed at

3. Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojans (RKVY)

Concerned by the slow growth in the Agriculture and allied sectors, the National Development Council (NDC), in its meeting held on 29th May, 2007 resolved that a special Additional Central Assistance Scheme (RKVY) be launched. One of the components of RKVY is soil health management. More details about RKVY at

4. Subsidising Food Crisis - A Greenpeace India report on impact of chemical fertilizer subsidies on environment (soil and climate) can be accessed at:

5. Production of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser is a very energy intensive process, and requires large amounts of fossil fuel energy, and hence emits Green House Gases. Application of Nitrogen fertilizers in the fields releases N2O. The concern over N2O emissions arises from its long atmospheric life (166 ± 16 years) and its higher global warming potential (296 times that of CO2).

6. Chemical fertilisers in our water - A recent study by Greenpeace India in the Malwa region of Punjab which has shown that drinking water was heavily contaminated with nitrates. 20 percent of all sampled wells had nitrate levels above the safety limit of 50 mg per litre as established by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The report can be accessed at:

7. Ecological fertilization includes a wide array of eco-friendly practices that nourishes soil and facilitates the natural cycles within the soil ecosystem. Fertilization using Farm Yard manure, Green leaf manure, biofertilizers, compost etc forms part of this model. In addition to this there are several practices developed by farmers through years of observation and on farm experimentation.
Vision, video, photos, report information

* Gopikrishna SR, Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner, Greenpeace India. Mob: +91 9900897341, email: * Prarthana Banikya, Greenpeace India, Mob: +91 7399105251