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UPSC Sansad TV: Government’s Efforts to Empower Farmers Through Fertilizer Support

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Importance of the fertilizer sector:

  • The importance of the fertilizer sector in India need hardly be emphasized as it provides a very vital input for the growth of Indian agriculture and is an inevitable factor that has to be reckoned with in the attainment of the goal of self-sufficiency in food grains.
  • The fertilizer sector would cover not merely the fertilizer industry but also certain activities in the agricultural sector, which are very intimately linked with the production and distribution of fertilizers.
  • The fertilizer industry has to cater to the needs of the farmerswho are the most important consumers of the fertilizer industry.
  • With falling farm yields, exacerbated by climate effects, doubling farmers’ real income by FY23 will be difficult, which means continuing to subsidize fertilizer will work against the government’s stated goals for the agriculture sector. In this context, the fertilizer policy needs to be revisited.

Problems and Challenges:

  • However, the way Government is promoting farming, it is totally different from ecological farming. It has become agame of only three chemicals- NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium). Plants require at least 17 elements for their growth.
  • The ratio of NPK usage should be 4:2:1. In Punjab, this ratio is 61:19:1. Urea is cheap to purchase so farmers use it more that creates imbalance due to which the yield either goes down or is stagnant. The whole system of subsidy should also look into overall benefits to agriculture.
  • Government is selling compost at a particular price and same is the rate for urea so this would not push the farmers towards organic farming. It is very important that farmers should produce fertilizers in their fields.
  • A cropping pattern should be there which is being done now but on a small scale.
  • Instead of giving subsidies on chemicals, it is veryimportant to incentivise those farmers who are practicing organic farming and encourage them.
  • Ultimately, these subsidies will only help fertilizer companies to sustain their business but in the long run farmer’s business will be hampered because his input costs will continuously increase with inversely proportional output rates.

 Possible Steps to be taken:

  • The momentum for these changes has to be created through robust policies.
  • State Governments and Central Government need to work in tandem to encourage farmers for ecological farming.
  • Particularly in western UP and Punjab, the farmers need to move away from wheat and rice because the ground water has depleted.
  • Farmers have to be educated and taught to change their cropping pattern and move to multiple cropping.

Need to shift our focus to Bio-fertilizers:

  • Bio-fertilizers are cheap, renewable and eco-friendly, with great potential to supplement plant nutrients if applied properly.
  • However, they are not a substitute to chemical fertilizers. They improve health of the soil. Since it provides nutrients to soil in a small and steady manner, its immediate effects are not very visible.
  • Sales of bio fertilizers in the country has not picked up because of lack of knowledge and its slow impact on the productivity of the soil.
  • Use of bio fertilizers is necessary to maintain the soil healthas more and more use of chemical fertilizers kills all the microorganisms available in the soil, which are so essential for maintain the soil health.

The way forward:

  • India’s fertilizer subsidy regime needs to be reformed. The recently launched PM-PRANAM (PM Programme for Restoration, Awareness, Nourishment and Amelioration of Mother Earth) Scheme can help in this.
  • It is crucial for India to reform its ailing agriculture and such reforms will be possible only if there is a political will and a way to explain how changes will actually benefit farmers and not harm them.
  • India should pay attention to improving fertilizer efficiencythrough need-based use rather than broadcasting fertilizer in the field.
  • One, we need to be self-reliant and not depend on import of fertilizers. In this way, we can escape the vagaries of high volatility in international prices.
  • Two, we need to extend the NBS model to ureaand allow for price rationalisation of urea compared to non-nitrogenous fertilizers and prices of crops.
  • Discussions with farmers and consumers reveal a strong desire to shift towards the use of non-chemical fertilizers as well as a demand for bringing parity in prices and subsidy given to chemical fertilizers with organic and biofertilizers.

SANSAD TV 6-3-24