Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech on Thursday called upon farmers to reduce the use of chemical fertilisers in a phased manner to help stop the exploitation of soil and other natural resources.
The prime minister’s appeal came amid the Centre’s focus on giving a fillip to organic and natural farming and lowering the use of chemicals in agriculture, something what the Budget and the Economic Survey also talked about.
However, fertiliser firms, experts and agriculture economists said a “doable” gradual reduction in the use of chemical fertilisers would be tough unless there was a roadmap. Also, the elimination of chemical fertilisers in farming could impact India’s long-term food security, unless suitable alternatives were readily available.
Modi said over a period, farmers should aim at reducing the use of chemical fertilisers by 10 per cent, 20 per cent and 25 per cent.
Data from various sources shows that contrary to the government’s aim, the use of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium fertilisers in farming has remained stagnant at around 24-26 million tonnes. Between 2007-08 and 2017-18, the fertiliser consumption in India grew almost 18 per cent, with urea being the most used.
Explaining the complexities of implementing the proposal, an analyst from a foreign brokerage house tracking fertiliser said that urea, which provides nitrogen, is cheap and hence its use has been rising.
The government should first decontrol fertiliser prices to let farmers pick and choose, the analyst said. Also, there is a practical difficulty for farmers to shift to non-chemical fertilisers and urea gives faster results than biofertilisers.
Besides, to boost domestic urea production and lower imports, the government is also augmenting capacity at various units. The Centre’s fertiliser subsidy, too, has remained consistent at around Rs65,000-70,000 crore. Between the Revised Estimate of 2018-19 and the Budget Estimate of 2019-20, the subsidy has gone up by 14.14 per cent.
In contrast, the government’s total spend on various schemes to promote organic and natural farming, and soil health management has been Rs1,000 crore-Rs1,500 crore per year.
“First, the myth that the use of non-chemical fertilisers leads to a drop in production needs to be broken because there are umpteen studies to prove to the contrary. Second, fertiliser subsidy needs to be phased out to encourage farmers to adopt sustainable methods of farming,” food policy expert Devendra Sharma told Business Standard.