Distorted use of fertilisers

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    • Recent data from the Department of Fertilisers shows a 3.7 per cent increase in the sale of urea during April-October 2022 over the corresponding seven months of the previous year. 

    More about the news

    • Issue:
      • Two ambitious schemes of the incumbent government — Soil Health Card and mandatory neem-coating of urea — were supposed to promote balanced use of fertilisers. 
      • Urea:
        • However, far from weaning farmers from urea, annual consumption of this nitrogenous fertiliser has risen from 30 to 35 million tonnes (mt) in the last five years. 
      • DAP:
        • There is a another fertiliser — di-ammonium phosphate or DAP — that is seeing a similar phenomenon of over-application
      • Sales of all other fertilisers:
        • Sales of other fertilisers including complexes containing nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), K (potash) and sulphur (S) in different proportions – have fallen. 
      • Imbalanced use:
        • In other words, instead of balanced use of plant nutrients based on soil testing and specific crop requirement, Indian farmers are effectively applying just urea and DAP — both high-analysis fertilisers containing 46 per cent N and P respectively.
    • Outcome:
      • The effects of these – the current NPK ratio is about 13:5:1, as against the ideal 4:2:1 – would ultimately show up in crop yields. 
      • Plants, like humans, will respond poorly to fertilisers if only one or two nutrients are given in excess. 

    Reasons behind this imbalance

    • Underpricing of other fertilizers:
      • Government has fixed maximum retail prices of Urea & DAP. It has informally-fixed MRPs for NPKS complexes and muriate of potash (MOP). 
      • Prices of other fertilizers compared to Urea & DAP are relatively higher. So farmers have little incentive to buy other fertilizers.
      • The fact that DAP does not contain K, S or other macro and micro nutrients wouldn’t matter to a majority of farmers. 
      • For them, choice of fertilisers is primarily a function of prices
    • Subsidisation & political motives:
      • Underpricing of urea (a historical phenomenon) and DAP (recent) is a product of subsidy-induced market distortions. 
      • High government subsidies are behind the low pricing, and high sales, of these two fertilisers.
      • The compulsions of electoral politics have clearly trumped concerns over soil nutrient imbalances.
    • Supply-side constraints:
      • India is facing a tight supply position in fertilisers, especially of phosphatic and potassic nutrients.
      • The challenges include securing supply from new sources, costlier raw material, and logistics.
      • The pandemic has impacted fertilizer production, import and transportation across the world.

    Government initiatives to rationalise the fertiliser use

    • The Soil Health Card Scheme: Soil health card provides information to farmers on nutrient status of their soil along with recommendation on appropriate dosage of nutrients to be applied for improving soil health and its fertility.
      • Objectives:
        • To issue soil health cards every two years to all farmers, so as to provide a basis to address nutrient deficiencies in fertilization practices.
    • Neem Coated Urea (NCU): It is a fertilizer and an agriculture scheme is supported by the Government of India to boost the growth of wheat and paddy.
      • Apart from the increase in yield, Neem Coated Urea application has other use full effect in paddy and wheat crops. 
        • Farmers have observed that the incidence of white ant was reduced with the use of Neem coated Urea in wheat crop. This is because of fragrance of Neem oil that on dissolution was released in the standing water in the standing water and insecticidal properties of Neem.
      • The move will not only benefit the environment and improve farmers’ lives, but curb illegal urea diversion for industrial use.
    • ‘One Nation, One Fertilizer’ scheme:
      • Under the scheme, all fertiliser companies, State Trading Entities (STEs) and Fertiliser Marketing Entities (FMEs) will be required to use a single “Bharat” brand for fertilisers and logo under the PMBJP.
        • The new “Bharat” brand name and PMBJP logo will cover two-thirds of the front of the fertiliser packet.

    Suggestions & Way ahead

    • The government should replace subsidies on individual fertiliser products with a flat per-hectare cash transfer, maybe twice a year
    • Every farmer can have an e-wallet account into which this money can be credited before the kharif and rabi planting seasons
      • The e-wallet may be used only for the purchase of fertilisers

    The government can maintain a stock of basic fertilisers, including urea and DAP, to ensure no untoward price rise even in a decontrol scenario.