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Arun Singhal: ‘India will keep importing fertilizers from Russia as long as possible’

Today, we have only one operational [nano urea] plant, which manufactures 5 crore bottles a year. By April 2023, we will have three plants and they will have a capacity of 17 crore bottles per year, said Arun Singhal.

The total requirement of the DAP for the season was 55.36 lakh metric tonnes.

ARUN SINGHAL, Secretary at the Department of Fertilizers, speaks to HARIKISHAN SHARMA about the availability of fertilizers, their imports from Russia and the proposed scheme to promote their balanced use in states. Excerpts:

There are reports of a fertilizer shortage, particularly DAP [Di-ammonium Phosphate]. Which are the areas facing a serious crunch?

I wouldn’t say there is a serious DAP crunch anywhere in the country. We have sufficient DAP. Last year, yes, there was a problem. We move around 650 lakh metric tonnes of fertilizers every year. That would come to 2 lakh metric tonnes a day. If you look at the peak times during rabi and kharif, then it would be around 3-4 lakh metric tonnes per day… So, every day, you need around 100 rakes, 300-400 trains and thousands of trucks moving around. It’s a huge operation. Even if you have sufficient availability, it is quite possible that there is a shortage of rakes… Overall availability of fertilizers is very good. But yes, there were some reports of shortages of DAP in Uttar Pradesh. There were some reports of shortage of urea in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Remedial action is taken whenever we receive a report of shortage anywhere. But the overall position and availability of fertilizers in the country is extremely healthy. We have much more than the required quantity of the MOP [Muriate of Potash] and urea, and sufficient quantity of DAP.

Against the requirement of 55 lakh tonnes DAP for the current rabi season, how much has been sold so far?

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The total requirement of the DAP for the season was 55.36 lakh metric tonnes. The proportionate requirement from October 1 to November 25 was 29.66 lakh metric tonnes. Against this, we have supplied 39.10 lakh metric tonnes this season and the sale during this period was 27.69 lakh metric tonnes… As far as DAP is concerned, the peak [demand] has almost passed. In December, the demand for DAP comes usually from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. By that time, all the other states utilised the DAP. So, the bulk of demand is over right now. What remains now is the reducing demand.

The government is promoting the use of nano urea. How much traditional Urea is expected to be replaced by using this new fertilizer?

Today, we have only one operational [nano urea] plant, which manufactures 5 crore bottles a year. By April 2023, we will have three plants and they will have a capacity of 17 crore bottles per year. By 2025, we will go up to 44 crore bottles in 10 plants. This will be equivalent to 200 lakh metric tonnes of urea and my consumption today is 350 lakh metric tonnes. So, we will have the potential to replace 200 lakh metric tonnes out of 350 lakh metric tonnes. But, even if it does not happen because farmers will gradually change their practices, we do expect that at least half of that should happen. So, that does mean that by 2025, we should have to completely stop importing urea. There would be no need to import urea… The nano urea is extremely beneficial for the environment. It is beneficial for the taxpayers because it is his money given as a subsidy. It’s good for farmers because it is much more convenient… Currently, we are manufacturing 5 crore bottles in a year. It is not much right now but we are planning to launch a campaign to popularise nano urea.

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But there are questions about the efficacy of nano urea

Whenever we include any fertilizer in the Fertilizer Control Order, it requires two kinds of studies: one is bio efficacy, and the other is bio safety. Bio-efficacy study is required to be established by doing supervised field trials. So, 20 agricultural universities collaborated to conduct trials of urea and the field trial reports are available on the nano urea website. That is the data which has been evaluated by the ICAR and it is effective. Yield goes up and there are a lot of savings. The second question is bio-safety because there are guidelines of DBT (Department of Biotechnology). So, those studies have also been carried out. So, it is scientifically established and tried and certified by the ICAR and included in the Fertilizer Control Order. It is completely safe.

Your ministry has proposed a new scheme, PM-PRANAM (PM Promotion of Alternate Nutrients for Agriculture Management Yojana), to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers. What is the progress on that?

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We are still discussing that. We will come out with the scheme. The question is that the state governments really have no stake or interest in reducing the [consumption of] chemical fertilizers…. All the stakeholders, whether it is fertilizer companies or farmers, state governments or central government, they all have to come together and to achieve it. If there is no stake at all, then the interest shown by the stakeholders becomes limited. As of today, state governments have no stake in ensuring balanced use [of fertilizers]. Is it a moral responsibility? Yes, they have agriculture departments. They have agricultural scientists. But there is no fiscal incentive for state governments to promote the balanced use of fertilizers. That was the basic premise of the PM-PRANAM scheme that we should involve state governments as stakeholders in this endeavour of going for balanced use of fertilizers. That concept is extremely valid. We are working on that concept… It is something which was tried in kerosene oil also; state governments were incentivized.

Can you share details on the long-term agreements signed for fertilizer supply?

That is a very important part of our activities: diversifying our portfolio. If we depend on one country, then of course there would be problems if there is any problem in that country. So, we have been trying to diversify. Signing long-term agreements gives us a lot of confidence because the long-term partner is bound to supply us. If you look at potassium fertilizers, the total requirement is around 40 lakh metric tonnes. Although we have never spent 40 lakh metric tonnes… Our maximum consumption goes to 30-31 lakh metric tonnes. Now we have an MoU with Canpotex [Canadian Potash Exporters, a Canadian potash exporting firm] for 15 lakh metric tonnes every year. We have one MoU with Israel for 7 lakh metric tonnes… Now, we have a long-term agreement for 32 lakh metric tonnes. So, now if Belarus supply is not available, then I don’t have any problem. So, that is the advantage of broadbasing your sources. We have signed similar MoUs for phosphorus and urea… In the long term, agreement rates can be negotiated every year but the quantities are assured. But if you ask me about the next five to 10 years, the most significant development I see is the nano urea and nano DAP. Nano DAP has also been tested in trials. There is an application in the Agriculture Ministry to approve it.

When is it (Nano DAP) going to happen?

It should happen within 2-3 months… Coromandel and IFFCO have filed this. The Fertilizer Department is hopeful that by the next kharif season we will have Nano DAP also. Nano DAP would be a wonderful thing… I suppose, whenever we have it, it should catch up much faster than nano urea.

This year, India’s imports of fertilizers from Russia have gone up. Can you share details of the fertilizer imports from Russia?

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In the normal course, we used to import NPK from Russia. We produce about 100 lakh metric tonnes of NPK every year and we only import 10-15 lakh metric tonnes of NPK. So, the imports of the NPK are very small as compared to the indigenous manufacturing… Of the 10-15 lakh metric tonnes of NPK we import, Russia always had a major share. So, 60-70 per cent of the NPK imports would come from Russia. However, the import itself was not very large… That was the traditional system. Our import of urea was more from China at one point of time. Our imports of phosphatic fertilizers are from Oman, Egypt, Morocco, and many places. This came as an opportunity when the Prime Minister met President (Vladimir) Putin and they decided to focus on fertilizers also as one of the areas for trade. Russia has phosphorus, potash and produces lots of urea as well. Since there were other complications, we were getting much more expensive gas because of this war [Russia-Ukraine] because of geopolitical conditions. We thought of trying to offset it by importing more from Russia. We have been successfully importing urea, this time from Russia. We are getting phosphatic fertilizers from Russia and some DAP also. As long as it is possible, we will keep doing that because we want to broadbase our sources.

First published on: 01-12-2022 at 04:13 IST
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