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Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers, Manuskh Mandaviya. File

Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers, Manuskh Mandaviya. File
| Photo Credit: PTI

The Union Cabinet recently approved a package of schemes for farmers with a total outlay of ₹3,70,128.7 crore and the bulk of it — ₹3,68,676.7 crore — will be used for assuring subsidy for urea for another three years. Talking to The Hinduthe Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers, Manuskh Mandaviya, said the Centre’s effort is to reduce import dependency on fertilizers, especially in view of the steep increase in prices after the Ukraine crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. Excerpts from the interview:

What are the major components of the package announced recently for farmers?

It is not a scheme, it is a special package worth ₹3,70,128.7 crore. There are four components in this package. One of them is for ensuring a subsidy for urea for the next three years. A sum ₹3,68,676.7 crore has been committed for urea subsidy from 2022-23 to 2024-25. Of course, the urea subsidy is being ensured at the moment. But there could be changes in its allocation considering international situations and the price of gas. This scheme is a promise that the next Budgets will have allocations for the urea subsidy.

The second component is the Prime Minister’s Programme for Restoration, Awareness Generation, Nourishment, and Amelioration of Mother Earth (PM-PRANAM) scheme, which is for the balanced use of chemical fertilizers. The Centre and the States should work together to increase the use of alternate and organic fertilizers and promote natural farming by reducing the consumption of chemical fertilizers. Whatever fertilizer subsidy States save by promoting bio-fertilizers, half of it will be passed on by the Centre to the States.

The third component is to provide Market Development Assistance (MDA) of ₹1,500 per metric tonne to support marketing of organic fertilizers, produced as a by-product from bio-gas plants/compressed bio-gas (CBG) plants set up under GOBARdhan scheme.

The fourth component is to introduce sulphur coated urea as Urea Gold. This will address sulphur deficiency for the soil in the country and improve our crop productivity.

What was the need and relevance for such a special package at this point? Do we have crisis in fertilizers availability?

The package had to be brought in as the use of fertilizers has become unbalanced in the country. The nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium ratio should have been 4:2:1. Instead, it is 8:3:1. The balance of the soil has been damaged and production has become saturated as a result. Soil health, human health, animal health, and environmental health are connected with each other. To promote one health package, we brought this scheme.

Overuse of fertilizers, according to a study, resulted in a 16% decrease in production in Punjab despite a 10% increase in the use of fertilizers in the State during the same period. This is leading to the deterioration of soil health over a period of time. It is clear that balanced use of fertilizers is needed for steady production, food security, and for helping farmers too.

Recently, the Food Minister warned of decrease in production and procurement due to the El Nino phenomenon. So will shifting to natural farming impact our food security?

The question is relevant, but it will not impact production. I am not talking about stopping the consumption of chemical fertilizers completely, but about adopting alternate fertilizers. For example, instead of urea, we have launched neem-coated urea, sulphur-coated urea, and nano urea, which will reduce the consumption of chemical fertilizers without impacting production. The country is moving towards natural farming and organic farming, step by step. We cannot go to organic farming suddenly, which could lead to a Sri Lanka-like situation. Our attempt is to end import dependency on urea by 2025 and replace it with nano urea and other alternate forms of urea.

There is a three-year extension in the urea subsidy. Does that mean farmers are reluctant to use nano urea?

Nano urea too will not fully replace conventional urea. Awareness has to be built among farmers about nano urea and they will start using it. Farmers had not accepted chemical fertilizers too very soon. It took some time. Nano urea was approved after all scientific studies by several governmental institutions and departments. It will not harm soil health. A 500 ml bottle of nano urea will replace one bag of 45 kilogrammes of urea. It will reduce the transportation costs too. Farmers will happily accept nano urea.

Also, what is is the role of public sector fertilizer companies in the quest for self dependency?

We cannot compromise on our country’s food security and farmers’ income should also not come down. To ensure self-sufficiency in urea, we started and revived six urea plants in seven years. We are importing about 80 Lakh Metric Tonnes (LMT) of urea; new plants will help reduce this number. Also, we have revived some of our public sector fertilizer units; for example, FACT in Kerala is now a profit-making company.

The lockdown and the Ukraine crisis resulted in a huge increase in the price of all fertilizers. In this situation, we entered into long-term contracts for imports with countries such as Saudi Arabia, Canada, Russia, Israel, Morocco, and Jordan. Russia tripled its fertilizer supplies to us.

Do we have sufficient stocks of fertilisers for this kharif season?

There is no deficit of fertilizers in the country. Farmers come in groups to buy fertilizers and it may create queues. We have 77 LMT urea, 30 LMT Di Ammonium Phosphate, and 45 LMT NPK in our stocks which is more than sufficient for this season. The availability and distribution of fertilizers is monitored at a weekly meeting with the States. We have a robust digital technology platform, the Integrated Fertilizer Management System, which provides all information. We are also taking stern action against the diversion and smuggling of fertilizers.

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