Managing Director, Coromandel International
Why, in your view, has the government of India (or Indian experts) taken the lead in various international fora to highlight the need for more effective nitrogen management?
Indian policy makers recognize that there has been an overuse of nitrogen-based nutrients and a few policy measures have already kicked in in the last 3-4 years.
Neem coating Urea for controlled nutrient release and ensuring its availability for a longer period
Reducing the bag size by 10% from 50kg to 45kg
DBT was introduced in 2018 with a view to promote balanced fertilization
There are ongoing discussions with the DoF to include Urea under NBS
Could you paint a picture of fertilizer use in India today (average application rate; N:P:K ratios; etc.)?
On an annualized basis, India consumes around 53 million tonnes of fertilizers, with Urea accounting for a 60% share. Apart from this there is ~4 million tonnes SSP consumption, mainly in the pulses and oilseeds segment.
On a per capita basis, average consumption of N+P2O5+K2O nutrients was 131 kg of nutrients per hectare. This was significantly lower that other major agrarian nations.
On a nutrient basis, the NPK ratio stands at 6.7:2.7:1. The ideal NPK ratio is 4:2:1. Before the implementation of NBS policy, this ratio was 4.7:2.3:1 in 2010.
What accounts for the disproportionately higher use of urea and how has the Indian government tried to promote more balanced plant nutrition?
This is largely to do with the subsidy policies, introduced during the last decade, which created an artificial price gap between Urea and P&K fertilizers. The Indian government introduced a Nutrient Based Subsidy (NBS) Policy w.e.f. April 2010. Under the NBS, MRP of P&K fertilizers was left open and manufacturers/importers/marketers were allowed to fix MRP of P&K fertilizers at reasonable levels. Urea was kept out of the scope of NBS and continues to operate at fixed MRP.
After the implementation of NBS in 2010, prices of P & K fertilizers were partially decontrolled, which resulted in steep increases in product MRPs. However, Urea prices remained at lower levels. This led to significant price distortion between Urea and Phosphatic fertilizers, impacting their consumption by farmers.
Presently, Urea MRP is less than USD 75/ tonne in India vis-à-vis international traded price of USD 230/ MT.
Despite the high usage of Urea, Indian soils are still deficient in nitrogen. High leaching losses results in low nutrient uptake by the plants. As per a research study, only 30-50% of the nutrients are available to the plants when they are applied to the soil in bulk form.
What kinds of additional reforms would make sense from an agronomic perspective and would these be politically feasible?
The following possible solutions could help address the nutrient imbalance:
Expanding the scope of the subsidy policy : DBT 3.0- The Government is piloting the next phase of DBT, linking the soil health on farms with nutrient purchases. Further, the industry expects the subsidy to be directly delivered to the farmer’s account for making an informed purchase decision. Once the farming community forms the core of the reform, the quantum gains through DBT can be realized.
Moderating nutrient consumption: Bringing Urea under NBS scope.
Smart Fertilizers as a driver for efficient nutrition: Promoting fertigation, customized, slow & controlled release fertilizers.
Technology as an Enabler: Differential Application.
Addressing small & marginal farming needs: Smaller sized bags & fertilizer dispensing machines.