Skip to content

Improving India’s soil health card scheme and agricultural markets



Farmers in Hamirpur, Himachal Pradesh

Decision-maker’s challenge

As part of the Indian government’s efforts to transform the country’s 100 poorest districts, leaders worked with IDinsight to improve health, education, and economic indicators. Read more about IDinsight’s work on the Aspirational Districts Program to learn about how our team supported NITI Aayog, the government’s central policymaking unit. As part of this work, IDinsight supported the Ministry of Agriculture in two areas where there were opportunities for data and evidence to strengthen service provision. 

Improving fertilizer use: Soil Health Card scheme

A critical issue in the Indian agriculture sector is farmers’ inefficient application of fertilizer, which compromises the long-term productivity of farm soil. Farmers often don’t have the information they need about how much to apply to improve their yield each year. To address this, the government had been providing personalized fertilizer recommendations to every single farmer on a Soil Health Card.

The Soil Health Card scheme, launched in February 2015, has distributed over 150 million cards to farmers throughout India. The expectation is that, by providing farmers with this information, the scheme can encourage judicious use of fertilizers to improve soil health and ultimately boost stagnating agricultural productivity. The scheme was rolled out across India, yet there was little to no evidence of farmers using these recommendations. The Indian government wanted to understand the specific nuances of the implementation and farmer adoption issues, which would then inform their decision when they reviewed the scheme in 2019.

A farmer in India, Meerut, tests different iterations of the Soil Health Card

Strengthening agricultural markets: Formation and Promotion of 10,000 new Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) scheme

The majority of farmers in India are smallholders, with the amount they produce often limited by the size of their land, lack of storage facilities, transportation to sell higher volumes at larger markets, and other challenges. Farmers’ collectives, or Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs), can help farmers increase their profits – they can enable farmers to access more resources or improve their negotiating power to control prices, among other benefits. The government launched a scheme to create and promote 10,000 FPOs with a clear strategy and a committed budget of Rs 6865 crore. The Ministry of Agriculture needed to understand the barriers keeping FPOs from increasing farmers’ market trading, preventing farmers from working together to negotiate prices of agriculture products, and hindering their investments in infrastructure or technology, and providing other benefits to members.

Impact opportunity

Soil Health Cards

Prior to the project, there were 150 million soil health cards printed, but IDinsight’s early research showed that few understood the cards.


This scheme aimed to achieve an average membership size of 500 farmers in plain areas and 200 farmers in Hilly and North-Eastern regions in every FPO.1

Our approach

IDinsight’s agriculture team supported NITI Aayog and the Ministry of Agriculture by collecting evidence to more deeply understand how to improve the effectiveness of the Soil Health Card scheme and improve market linkages for FPOs.

Soil Health Cards

IDinsight conducted an in-depth diagnostic and process evaluation of the soil health card program to inform policy recommendations. The team then completed a multi-arm RCT to evaluate the effect of improved design and mobile phone-based calls and texts on farmer’s comprehension of recommendations. 

Agricultural Markets

IDinsight conducted a mixed-methods study that identified challenges faced by FPOs across three states and offered insight into how FPOs might improve their business activity. 

Focus group discussion with FPC members in Tamil Nadu.

The results

Soil Health Cards

The Agriculture Ministry adopted the revised design of the Soil Health Card. Ministry considered various policy and scheme design recommendations (like tenure for testing, scale of operation) while revising the Soil Health Card scheme. Additional results:

  • An impact evaluation showed that the redesigned Soil Health Card (SHC) improved farmers’ comprehension of fertiliser recommendations 65 times, from 0.5% to 33%.
  • For every 1,000 spent on printing cards, 1 farmer is able to understand the recommendations on the old card, while 71 farmers are able to understand the recommendations on the new card2
  • The new Soil Health Card contains major changes to the macronutrient and micronutrient tables, with recommended quantities and crop names.
  • Potential reasons the old card wasn’t effective include: farmers were previously confused about the land unit conversion, were not literate, and/or had a lack of awareness of the Soil Health Card scheme.
  • Peer learning and improved awareness of the scheme can increase farmers’ comprehension, indicating that the long-term effects of the redesigned card may be greater than those currently estimated.
  • Automated voice calls and text messages explaining the cards did not affect farmer comprehension.

Agricultural Markets

IDinsight’s team presented findings and recommendations from the study which were internally circulated within the Ministry of Agriculture. We also provided inputs on how to improve state-specific FPO guidelines and Farmer Producer Companies (FPCs). 

  1. 1. Source:,000%20FPOs%20Scheme%20Operational%20Guidelines%20in%20English.pdf
  2. 2. Prices are likely to vary by state, volume, and vendor