General Studies Paper 3

Context: The efforts of the government such as launching Nano Urea and coating all indigenously manufactured and imported urea with neem oil have not been successful in reducing the urea consumption.

What do the current statistics say about the use of urea?

  • Sales of urea crossed a record 35.7 million tons (mt) in the fiscal year 2022-23. 

After neem-coating was fully enforced from December 2015, consumption of the urea dipped in the initial two years. However, the trend reversed from 2018-19.

  • Urea sales in 2022-23 were about 5.1 mt higher than in 2015-16 and over 9 mt than in 2009-10.

All other fertilisers, except single super phosphate (SSP), have registered much lower increases or even declines.

What is nutrient-based subsidy (NBS) and why hasn’t it been successful?

  • The data reveals worsening of nutrient imbalance, with urea consumption rising by over a third since 2009-10. 
  • This has been due to a slower rise in the prices of urea. The price increased only by 16.5%, after the introduction of NBS.
  • The current government has also brought back price controls on DAP.Companies are not allowed to charge more than Rs 27,000 per tonne.
  • These reasons have led to an increase in the sales of fertilisers in the fiscal year 2022-23.

What are the harms of using excess fertilizers?

  • Fertilisers are essentially food for crops. They, like humans, need nutrients for growth and grain yield.
  • Initially, the crop yield on the use of fertilisers was good, especially during the Green Revolution. However, with the time, crop yield response to fertiliser use has more than halved.
  • For example,1 kg of NPK nutrients yielded 12.1 kg of cereal grains in India during the 1960s, but only 5 kg during the 2010s.
  • Further, as per recent research, the Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE) in India has fallen from 48.2% in 1962-63 to 34.7% in 2018. The 34.7% NUE was below the global average of 45.3% and 53.3% for North America in 2018.

Way forward:

  • First,the consumption of urea can be reduced by increasing its prices. However, it is not easy due to political reasons.
  • Second, instead of increasing prices, efforts may be put towards improving NUE. This will enable farmers to harvest the same or more grain yields with fewer bags.
  • Nano Urea is also primarily aimed at boosting NUE. For instance, a single 500-ml Nano Urea bottle containing just 4% N can effectively replace at least one 45-kg bag of regular 46% N urea.
  • Third,the government should also make incorporation of urease and nitrification inhibitors compulsory in urea. 
  • These are chemical compounds that inhibit the activity of urease (a soil enzyme that breaks down urea into ammonium and further to ammonia) and nitrifying bacteria(that convert ammonium to nitrate), making more N available to the crops.
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