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Editorial Articles


Issue no 17, 22-28 July 2023

 

Promoting Alternative Fertilizers, Empowering Indian Agriculture

EN Team

The Union Cabinet recently announced a comprehensive package worth Rs. 3,70,000 crore dedicated to the welfare of farmers. This landmark package comprises four key components that promise to empower farmers, strengthen the agricultural sector, and secure a prosperous future for all. In this interview with Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers, Dr. Mansukh Mandaviya following the announcement of the package on 28 June, EN team explores the implementation and implications of this initiative and the other steps taken by the central government to promote the usage of organic fertilizers, reduce the overdependence on chemical fertilizers, and mitigate their adverse effects on soil quality and the environment.

 

Q: Sir, how significant is the implementation of the recently unveiled Rs. 3,70,000 crore package for farmers in the advancement of food grain production in India, while concurrently safeguarding food security and augmenting the income of our farming community?

A: First and foremost, let me extend my heartfelt congratulations to the Hon'ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi for this welfare measure. The Rs. 3,70,000 crore package dedicated to the welfare of our farmers comprises four essential components that underscore the commitment towards uplifting the agricultural sector. The first component involves the provision of three years' guaranteed subsidy on urea - an essential fertilizer widely used by our farmers. This measure aims to ensure seamless access and utilization of urea without any confusion or uncertainty about subsidy. The second component is the ‘PM-PRANAM’ (Promotion of Alternative Nutrients for Agriculture Management) Scheme, which promotes the usage of alternative fertilizers to reduce reliance on chemical fertilizers. States that reduce their chemical fertilizer consumption will receive 50% of the saved subsidy, leading to financial benefits and the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices. The third component introduces the 'Market Development Assistance Scheme' and the establishment of bio-gas plants under the GOBARdhan scheme. These plants convert cow dung into Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and the residue, known as slurry, serves as an effective organic fertilizer. A subsidy of Rs. 1500 per metric tonne has been allocated to support the market availability of this organic fertilizer. For this purpose, a provision of Rs. 1,451 crore has been made to establish biogas plants in the country. The fourth component introduces the latest grade of urea called Urea Gold (Sulphur Coated Urea) which is more effective. The combination of these four components aims to enhance farmers' livelihoods, improve soil health, and boost production capacities. The provision of Rs. 3,70,000 crore package entails all these four components. It sets the stage for a brighter future, strengthening the agricultural sector and improving the lives of our farming community.

 

Q: The global prices of fertilizers, particularly urea, have witnessed a substantial increase in recent years. To alleviate the burden of these rising costs on farmers, what efforts is the government making to provide relief? Specifically, what steps have been taken or will be taken under the urea subsidy scheme to ensure that farmers have access to fertilizers at reasonable prices in the future?

A: It is noteworthy that the government led by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has not raised fertilizer prices in the past nine years. In contrast, international prices of Urea continued to rise. At one time, it reached as high as US$ 950 per metric tonne. At this rate, one bag (45 kg) of Urea came at the cost of at least Rs. 4000. Whereas, the government provided the farmers the same Urea at the price of Rs. 266 per bag with a subsidy of more than Rs. 3700. Similarly, the cost of DAP (Diammonium Phosphate) also shot up to Rs. 4000 per bag. But we provided the same to the farmers at Rs. 1350 per bag with a subsidy of more than Rs. 2500. We did not leave the farmers to bear the brunt of such price rise. Hence, we have adopted a two-pronged strategy of ensuring the farmers continue to get the conventional fertilizers at reasonable rates while simultaneously creating awareness among the farmers to use alternative fertilizers. As part of this effort, we introduced The Neem-Coated Urea, Nano Urea, And Sulphur-Coated Urea, which are all alternative fertilizers. PROM (Phosphorous Rich Organic Manure) was also introduced. PROM is derived by making the slurry (by-product of CNG) phosphorous rich. The Indian Agricultural Research Institute conducts studies on all of these alternative fertilizers and brings them to the market if found fit. Today, alternate fertilizers are sufficiently available in the market. We are also equally focusing on running a successful information campaign to encourage the farming community to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers.

 

Q: What efforts are being made to increase urea production in the country? Additionally, what is the target year of achieving selfsufficiency in urea production?

A: Under the leadership of our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, the country continues to advance towards Atmanirbharta (self-reliance). At present, India's annual urea requirement stands at an average of 350 lakh metric tonne per annum. Upon assuming office in 2014, our government inherited a scenario where the country produced a mere 235- 240 lakh metric tonne of urea, necessitating the import of almost 90 lakh metric tonne. To rectify this situation, we set a goal to eliminate urea imports by 2026. Now, the question was, how do we do this? We devised a strategy to reduce the farmers' dependence of Urea. Over the past seven years, we have successfully established/revived a total of six fertilizer plants (Chambal, Matix, Ramagundam, Gorakhpur, Sindri, and Barauni), with the seventh plant nearing completion. Each plant boasts a capacity of at least 13 lakh metric tonne per annum. Therefore, we have already created a production capacity of 70-80 lakh metric tonne of Urea. Simultaneously, we introduced alternative varieties of Urea like Nano, Sulphur Coated and Neem Coated Urea to gradually replaced conventional Urea, thus reducing the need for imports. At this pace, we hope to completely do away with Urea imports by 2026 end.

 

Q: How does the PM-PRANAM scheme contribute to reducing the excessive use of chemical fertilizers and mitigating the negative impact on soil quality?

A: The deteriorating health of our soil resonates with our concerns, and as the Health Minister, I draw an analogy between our personal well-being and the soil's vitality. In parallel to our own wellbeing, soil health has been compromised due to the excessive and imbalanced use of fertilizers, resulting in adverse reactions. Allow me to illustrate this with an example from Punjab, where crop yield witnessed a decline of 17% between 2017-18 and 2022-23. During the same period, the consumption of chemical fertilizers increased by 10% leading to excess use of fertilizers. Consequently, widespread crop failures ensued in the region and various other regions having similar trends in fertilizer consumption. To address such issues, we have launched the PM-PRANAM scheme under which the central government unequivocally emphasises the need to curtail the use of chemical fertilizers. However, it is not enough for only the centre to take such initiatives. Ultimately, it is the states that must undertake the necessary actions, for it is within their jurisdiction where farmers reside. Collaborative efforts between the central and state governments are essential to achieve a substantial reduction in chemical fertilizer usage. We have urged states to actively minimise their dependency on chemical fertilizers. For instance, Gujarat, which previously consumed 30 lakh metric tonne of chemical fertilizers, has embraced alternative fertilizers and encouraged natural farming practices. Consequently, they have effectively reduced chemical fertilizer consumption by 5 lakh metric tonne. Gujarat can save upto Rs. 4000 crore in fertilizers subsidy. Out of this, we will pass on 50% of the amount (Rs. 2000 crore) to the state government. The state can utilize the amount for promoting alternative fertilizers, agriculture extension programmes, as well as other developmental activities. Additionally, we have established 128,000 PM Kisan Samriddhi Kendras (PMKSK) which serve as hubs offering various kinds of services to the farmers including the supply of fertilizers, pesticides, and organic alternatives. Additionally, farmers can have their soil tested at these centres. Every government scheme for farmers is diligently implemented by the PMKSK while playing a crucial role in generating public awareness about such schemes. Moreover, we have linked these centers with Agricultural Universities and Agricultural Science Centers, where scientists and farmers interact and foster collaborations for positive changes. With the implementation of the PM-PRANAM scheme, we are confident in our ability to control the consumption of chemical fertilizers and safeguard soil health. Agriculture Ministers from state governments have expressed their appreciation for PM-PRANAM during meetings, pledging their support to reduce chemical fertilizer usage throughout the country.

 

Q: How does the recently announced Market Development Assistance Scheme contribute towards increasing farmers' income while encouraging alternative fertilizers?

A: The Market Assistance Development Scheme is mainly aimed at provided additional income to farmers. Other than cultivation of crops, the farming community also engages in livestock farming. The dung generated from their livestock can also fetch good price. However, to facilitate the farmers to sell dung and earn extra income, large-scale bio gas plants have to be set up in their locality. The biogas can be converted into Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and sold to gas companies. Moreover, the residue called "slurry," which acts as an organic fertilizer, can be converted into a product known as PROM (Phosphate Rich Organic Manures) and made available in the market as an alternative fertilizer. To facilitate the marketing of this product, we have introduced the Market Development Assistance Scheme that provides for a subsidy of Rs. 1500 per metric tonne of PROM. Secondly, this scheme will help in making the GOBARdhan plants more viable. While farmers will be able to earn extra income, they will also benefit from the availability of green fertilizer. Moreover, there will be more production of green gas. Therefore, the scheme has multiple benefits. Therefore, we encourage state governments to utilize this scheme for reaping such multiple benefits. We have already announced the establishments of 500 GOBARdhan plants in the recent budget and in making such plants viable and sustainable, the Market Development Assistance Scheme will play a major role.

 

Q: IFFCO (Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited) has recently made a deal with an American company for exporting Nano Liquid Urea. How will the future export of Nano Urea contribute to establishing India as a vital component in the global fertilizer supply chain?

A: This is an extremely significant subject. Nano Urea is an outcome of Indian research, and it is manufactured by Indian companies. Apart from IFFCO, another company has conducted research and commenced its manufacturing. Currently, the production capacity of these plants is 17 crore bottles per year. By the end of 2025, nine more plants will be established, raising the capacity to 44 crore bottles. The distinctive feature of Nano Urea lies in the fact that a bag of urea is converted into a 500 ml liquid bottle. The liquid form has to be simply sprayed on crops. Moreover, the liquid form is absorbed 80% by the crops as compared to 30% absorption rate of conventional Urea. The unabsorbed conventional Urea is released into the soil and air, polluting the environment. Therefore, the liquid Nano Urea is more efficient, environment friendly, easy to use and cost effective. This product is the pride of India as it has not only gained traction inside the country but also worldwide. Several countries, including the United States, have expressed interest in its import. As and when Nano Urea will be available in excess in the country, export permissions will be granted. This will not only benefit India but also enable the world to reap the advantages of green fertilizers.

 

(Interviewed by Employment News team)