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Private firms to run 25 soil labs

Ranchi, Dec. 25: The state agriculture department today invited Expressions of Interest from firms to equip and run 25 upcoming soil testing centres and provide scientific aid to farmers.

The last date of applying is January 16, 2013. A pre-bid meeting is slated on December 29.

Currently, Jharkhand boasts eight soil-testing hubs — one each in Ranchi, Latehar, Chakradharpur, Gumla, Hazaribagh, Giridih, Dumka and Sahebganj. But they have been deemed inadequate for soil testing requirements of farmers across the state spread over 79 lakh hectares.

That is why 25 new centres, now in various phases of construction, are expected to be ready by March 2013.

The new centres will be outsourced to private firms who will provide infrastructure and run them on a daily basis under the private-public-partnership mode, State Agricultural Management and Extension Training Centre (Sameti) director Jatashankar Choudhary told The Telegraph.

Each centre will come up at a cost of around Rs 6 lakh. Each district will have one new centre each, except Ramgarh with two centres.

On public-private modalities, Choudhary said the primary job of the outsourced firms would be to conduct regular soil assessments and furnish reports and bulletins for farmers and experts. “This will enable one to know the nature of the soil and variations so that farmers can plan crops for better produce,” he said.

On existing eight soil testing centres, Choudhary said four were run by NGO Krishi Gram Vikas Kendra and the rest as mobile testing hubs by Ramakrishna Mission.

But, he stressed the need for deeper farmer outreach.

“Soil testing needs to be a massive endeavour. Agriculture is the mainstay of more than 80 per cent of rural population of this state. But it is largely dependent on mono cropping, low investment, small and marginal landholders, among others. We get plenty of rain, around 1,400mm annually, but output is low due to poor know-how and techniques. This should change,” he said.

Labs were crucial to study soil patterns, their nature and scientific multi-cropping selection, he said.