Imbalanced use of fertilisers

Post Source: Dawn Economic and Business Review

03

For the last many years, the official effort is largely riveted on supply and price management of urea alone. Occasionally, the government has spared some thoughts and money for phosphorous fertiliser (DAP), but potash fertiliser has not received the due attention, resulting in imbalanced use of fertiliser, and huge production loss. The overall fertiliser picture for the just-ended Kharif (April-September) season also shows a lopsided fertiliser usage.

During this period, the farmers used 3.1 million tons of urea, 800,000 tons of DAP–, iInterestingly, it was 247 per cent improvement over the previous Kharif season – and only 7,000 tons of potash.

Agronomists believe that the ratio should be 2x1x1 – two bags of urea, one bag of phosphorous fertiliser and one bag of potash. It means, the country should use six million tons of urea, 3.5 million tons of DAP and 3.5 million tons of potash fertiliser.

Agronomists also say that the government prefers working on urea more due to political exigencies. It is cheaper and its use is wide-spread – three times more than DAP, even in the best of times, though it had a ratio of one-tenth in some years. Since urea is meant for vegetative growth, making crops lush green, it is visually more appealing to the majority of farmers. That is what precisely moves the government more on the urea front. It has allocated Rs34 billion for urea subsidies.

All its efforts on urea are now bearing fruit, and the country is close to self-sufficiency if it can check smuggling. This Rabi, its stocks and supplies (3.2 million tons) are enough not only for the season but also for carrying over till the end of it.

Two more urea plants of around one million tons a year will start production this season. Once these plants come online, the urea crisis would hopefully be solved on permanent basis. Increased domestic production would also reduce chances of hoarding. Thus, smuggling of urea remains the only potent threat. With urea needs almost taken care of, the government should now focus on other varieties of fertiliser, especially potash.

The current weather changes, where water and temperature stresses have become frequent, have only multiplied the importance of potash fertiliser. Its benefits are tailor-made for the new weather changes. According to agronomists, it improves plant’s drought resistance and reduce water loss and wilting. It helps in photosynthesis, regulates production of high energy plant growth compounds, and creates synergy and increases pest resistance. Had it been applied to crops in required quantity this Kharif, the negative impacts of water and temperature stress could have been contained.

Despite all the benefits, its usage and supplies have been allowed to decrease dangerously. Its consumption was recorded at 31,318 tons in 2006-o7, 20,415 tons in 2007-08 and 17,752 tons in 2008-09, and the country has zero stocks this Rabi as potash fertiliser was not imported in the beginning of this year.

If one keeps in mind the recommended yearly usage of 3.5 million tons, it is not hard to explain seven to eight per cent yield drop in almost all crops this Kharif.

In early 2009, potash fertiliser was not imported because of higher international price (around Rs2,400 per bag) and the government’s refusal to give any subsidy on it. The Economic Co-ordination Committee (ECC) refused subsidy despite advocacy by Federal Minister for Food and Agriculture (Minfa) Nazar Muhammad Gondal and the Punjab government.

The ECC’s argument was that potash is used by rich farmers, and they do not deserve subsidy. It ignored the fact that potash fertiliser is a requirement of the soil, not of rich farmers. The proposed subsidy bill on potash that was refused was Rs0.75 billion. Compare it with Rs22 billion subsidies on urea last year and around Rs12 billion this year.

The government has to understand that it would have to plan a new kind of agriculture factoring in new weather realities (salt, drought and temperature stresses). It now has to undertake varietal improvement – assessing which variety of crop can absorb those stresses better.

Agronomists insist that the government has to get out of urea-fixation and take a holistic view of the soil requirements under changed circumstances. National fertiliser picture, which currently is urea-specific, must change – phosphorus and potash must be given their due role to play. — Ahmad Fraz Khan

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