Tuesday, 27 July, 2010

Indian Agriculture - Of productivity & use of chemical fertilizers

Home to 110 billion people, if we can provide our population two square meals per day, the global hunger will go down by half. By linear method of calculation, in the year 2020, it is estimated that India’s population will be 138 billion and the food grain requirement will be 268 million MT.

Longest day length hours diversified climatic condition, diversified soil, diversified crop, highest irrigated land, ecological condition supporting all types of crop. Over the last 40 years, food production has grown multi folds thanks to increased fertilizer usage, hybrid seeds and better irrigation facilities.

The Problem: However, productivity levels for various crops still below world average. Growing population, shrinking agricultural land, limited scope for irrigation, limited growth in mechanization primarily due to fragmented land holding, low level of agriculture extension services, stagnant food production despite increase in fertilizer consumption and neglect of organic fertilizer use are affecting farmers’ profitability. Farmers want to quit agriculture if other option is available.

Fertilizer usage and productivity: With shrinking agricultural land and the limited scope for irrigation given the long gestation periods for constructing viable dams, the onus is now more on improving the “soil health” through effective use of “fertilizers” for better productivity of food grains.

Food grain consumption crosses 250 million MT in 2010 and the challenge is to produce more from the shrinking arable land. Increased demand of food grains will drive nutrient consumption from 25 million MT to 29 million MT. In this scenario, increasing yield will be the key for future sustenance. For the last 10 yrs, Crop yield growth rate has been only 1.20% where as Nutrient consumption has grown by 3.6%. Fertilizer use efficiency is the major concern in the Indian Agriculture.

Indian Chemical Fertilizer Industry is the largest in the world and ranks second both in production and consumption. The industry produces over 50m MT of fertilizers from 28 operational urea plants, 12 DAP plants, 19 complex fertilizer plants and about 80 single Super Phosphate plants.

However, bulk availability of nutrient fertilisers is concentrated in certain regions. ‘N’ (Nitrogen) nutrient in Middle East, USA & FSU; ‘P’ (Phosphorous) nutrient in North/West Africa, USA & Jordan; ‘K’ (Potassium) nutrient in Canada, FSU & Middle East.

India contributes 16% of the Global consumption and imports of fertilizers for 2009-10 pegged at 18 MMTs. For the last 10 yrs, Fertilizer Subsidy Bill’s growth rate is 21.53%. Though Fertilizer Subsidy Bill has gone up, efficient usage of Fertilizer remains a major area of concern.

The Solution: While a right nutrient balance for optimum farm productivity and usage of other micro nutrients like Boron (B), Zinc (Zn), Iron (Fe), Manganese (Mn), Molybdenum (Mo), Nickel (Ni), Chloride (Cl) and Copper (Cu) can help the Indian farmer to improve productivity, the new Nutrient Based Subsidy (NBS) Scheme where the market price of the fertilizers will be determined based on demand supply balance will help the government to contain Fertilizer Subsidy Bill.

Thus, adoption of an appropriate pricing policy for ensuring balance use of fertilizers, a pricing policy to encourage use of all plant nutrients in balanced manner followed by subsidies for Research & Development in the Soil and Technology related matters are pre-requisites for ensuring continued health and growth of the fertilizer industry in India, ensuring high level of self sufficiency in food production and at the same time sustainable development of Indian agriculture.

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