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Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan’s exhortation to farmers to use compost along with application of urea is not without substance. But that message – delivered through the ‘Compost Banao, Compost Apnao’ ad campaign under the Urban Development Ministry’s Swachh Bharat Mission – is likely to fall on deaf years for a simple reason: The delivered cost of municipal solid waste-based compost to the farmer today, at Rs 5,000-5,600 per tonne, is almost the same as the Rs 5,630 per tonne maximum retail price for neem-coated urea. And the nitrogen content in compost is hardly 0.5 per cent, compared to 46 per cent in urea. The phosphorous and potash content, too, ranges between 0.5 to 1 per cent. This is as against 46 per cent phosphorous in di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) and 60 per cent potash in muriate of potash (MOP).
In other words, there is little incentive now for farmers to ‘apnao’ compost. The only USP of compost is its organic carbon (OC) content of 12-15 per cent. Indian soils have very low OC content due to their being farmed continuously and the depleted carbon not getting replenished through green manuring or putting back crop residues. Carbon is an essential food and energy source for microorganisms that help decompose fertiliser nutrients — be it nitrogen, phosphorous or potash — and make these available to plants. By adding compost, not only will the OC content in their soils go up, but farmers will also see an improvement in the nutrient use efficiency of the chemical fertilisers applied by them.
However, the problem — as G Ravi Prasad, president (corporate affairs and strategic projects) at Coromandel International Ltd, puts it — is that the benefits accrue only over time. “Ideally, if farmers apply two bags of urea per acre, they should also apply four bags of compost. But the economics at present does not permit that,” he says, while making a case for compost to be given free to farmers. The 2017-18 Union Budget has made a provision of Rs 70,000 crore for fertiliser subsidy, of which Rs 49,768 crore is for urea and a measly Rs 15 crore towards city compost. The current ‘market development assistance’ of Rs 1,500 per tonne given on compost is a fraction of the Rs 15,000 per tonne subsidy for urea and the corresponding levels of Rs 8,945 and Rs 9,282 on DAP and MOP, respectively.
The Centre has targeted production of 54 lakh tonnes of compost production by October 2, 2019, whereas actual output this fiscal is expected at only 1.2 lakh tonnes. Major producers include Coramandel International, Krishak Bharati Cooperative, Zuari Agro Chemicals, Ramky Enviro Engineers and IL&FS Environmental Infrastructure & Services Ltd.