Updated: October 18, 2021 9:05:18 am
The next couple of weeks will be closely watched for cases of paddy stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana, that have mercifully been lower in number so far. But they will also matter for the availability of fertilisers to farmers across India. As reported by this newspaper, stocks of all nutrients, particularly di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) and muriate of potash (MOP), are at precariously low levels. Viral videos of farmers even looting fertiliser bags from trucks, including in the Union Agriculture Minister’s constituency, mirror the desperation. Plantings of wheat, mustard, chana, masoor, potato, onion and other rabi crops are about to commence, if they haven’t already. Soil moisture conditions are also most conducive, thanks to the surplus rains since September. Shortages of fertiliser — more so DAP, required right at the time of sowing — can be a dampener in such a situation. And with state elections ahead in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand, they can prove politically costly too.
The Narendra Modi government will have its work cut out in the coming days managing supplies and, possibly, farmer anger. It should have raised the subsidy on non-urea fertilisers in time for the industry to plan imports. Given spiraling global prices — of fertilisers as well as inputs such as phosphoric acid, ammonia and sulphur — imports were viable only if companies could pass these on to farmers here. The government acted when they did; retail prices went up from Rs 24,000 to Rs 34,000 per tonne for some complex fertilisers. On October 12, it approved a substantial hike in the subsidy on DAP and three popular complexes. This decision ideally should have come much earlier to enable building of sufficient opening stocks for the rabi season. But now that imports can happen, the government must ensure that the material is moved quickly from the ports to the consumption centres. Once farmers are assured of enough stock in transit, the panic buying will stop and they may not mind even delaying sowing by a week.
The government should also use the current supply crisis to wean away farmers from applying too much high-analysis fertilisers. Urea and DAP contain 46 per cent nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P), respectively, while MOP has 60 per cent potassium (K). Why not replace them with NPK complexes such as 12:32:16 and 10:26:26, or single super phosphate having 16 per cent P and 11 per cent sulphur? Farmers need to know that India imports much of its fertiliser raw materials. These can be used for products delivering the same nutrients in just the required quantities, including in water-soluble form or even foliar application like IFFCO’s Nano Urea. This crisis shouldn’t be wasted: Bring urea under nutrient-based subsidy and let farmers think beyond DAP and MOP.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on October 18, 2021 under the title ‘Opening the field’.
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