Imbalanced use of Fertilizer – Urea Issues- (Geography)

Imbalanced use of Fertilizer

 Government is raising production of fertilizer by setting up new subsidy-guzzling plant rather than capping the consumption of nitrogenous fertilizer.

Important facts about Fertilizers in India:

  • India is the third largest producer and consumer of fertilizers in the world after China and USA.
  • The country produces 25 MT of urea as against the demand for 32 MT. The gap is met through imports.

Imbalanced Use of Nutrients

  • Government has introduced the Nutrient-based subsidy (NBS) regime for P and K fertilizers in 2010, due to which the prices of these nutrients increased rapidly while urea prices remained controlled and significantly low.
  • Government by making fertilizers carrying P & K very expensive and urea cheap, have led farmers to apply excess of N and less of P & K due to which the ratio of NPK has gone up to 2:3.2:1 (2012-13) against the recommended 4:2:1 and caused huge imbalance.

Impact of Indiscriminate Use of Urea

  • Soil: It enhances mining of soil nutrients that are not applied or applied inadequately, thus leading to deterioration of soil fertility.
  • Inefficiency: Nitrogen applied in excess of crop demand is lost through volatilization, denitrification and leaching.
  • Ecological and Climate Change: Excessive use of N (urea) encourages climate change (when lost through denitrification) and groundwater pollution (when lost through leaching).
  • Plant Health: Urea application beyond recommended rates enhances crop succulence, thus making the plants prone to disease and pest infestation, and to lodging.
  • Fiscal: Producing urea by using an expensive feedstock — imported regasified LNG — will, moreover, push up the government’s subsidy payout to the new units.
  • Diversion: Extremely low prices of urea also lead to its diversion for non-agricultural uses as well as smuggling to neighboring countries.

Steps taken by Government to control the use of Urea:

  • Neem Coated Urea (NCU): it can improve nitrogen-use efficiency (NUE) by about 10% by slowing the release of nitrogen.
  • New Urea Policy (NUP) 2015: with the objectives of maximizing indigenous urea production; promoting energy efficiency in urea production; and rationalizing subsidy burden on the government.
  • Soil Health Cards (SHCs): to assess the soil profile and provide an effective data on major and micro nutrients requirement.
  • Direct Benefit Scheme (DBT): subsidy to be released to the fertilizer companies after the sale is made to avoid the leakages.

 Recommendations:

 NITI 3 Year Action Agenda Document: suggests that there is need to create awareness of the optimal nutrient mix and optimal level of fertilizer use among farmers.

  • Working Group for the 12th FYP: recommended the use of water soluble fertilizers through micro‐irrigation systems for increasing water and fertilizer use efficiency.
  • Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Agriculture (2016): suggests that new fertilizer subsidy policy should be formulated which is more favorable to Indian conditions and it should include liquid fertilizers, bio-fertilizers, and farm organic manure under its ambit.
  • Nutrient Balance: Fertilizer application should be balanced not only with P and K but also with deficient secondary and micronutrients such as calcium, magnesium and sulphur.
  • Inclusion of Legumes: as it may curtail urea requirement by 25-50%.
  • Directly Transfer: the money equivalent of the current fertilizers subsidy bill to farmers’ accounts, and let the prices of fertilizers be decided by market forces. This can immediately stop all diversion to non-agri-uses as well as to other countries.
  • Expansion of Soil Testing Labs: to issuing soil health cards to keep soil fertility intact.
  • Digitization of Land Records: as it would help in transferring the subsidy to beneficiaries and disbursement of soil health cards to the beneficiaries.
  • National Best Practices: Since Mizoram and Sikkim already use totally organic methods. The rest of the country needs to follow their example.
  • Global Best Practices: the European Union has stipulated that, after 2020, urea cannot be sold without incorporation of urea and nitrification inhibitor compounds. These are basically chemicals that slow down the rate at which urea is hydrolyzed (which results in production of ammonia gas and its release in the atmosphere) and nitrified (leading to loss of nitrogen and its leaching into the groundwater).

 Conclusion

  • Highly imbalanced use of NPK is largely a result of administered-pricing and subsidy policies, particularly of urea. Since land is a scarce resource in a densely populated country like India, increasing agricultural productivity is the only way out to ensure food security. And to increase agricultural productivity, along with the use of High Yielding Variety of seeds and proper irrigation, the importance of balanced use of fertilizers is undeniable.