Control Excessive Use of Chemical Fertilisers : Daily Current Affairs

Relevance: GS-3: Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies, Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation.

Key phrases: chemical fertilisers, Urea, NPK, Neam coated urea, Organic farming, composting

Why in News?

  • Union Home Minister Amit Shah has said that the use of chemical fertilisers will increase the cancer cases by 50 percent, in next 15 years.

Consumptions of Chemical Fertilizer in India:

  • India is the second-largest user of fertilizer in the world, after China, thanks to a vast geographic area being cultivated by more than 150 million farmers. Subsidies on fertilizers were introduced more than 40 years ago to make them affordable to farmers – and ultimately, to ensure food security for the country.
  • The subsidy bill has grown exponentially over the years. From just $700 million in 1990-91, it went to nearly $11 billion in 2017-18.
  • On average, India consumed about 500 LMT of fertilizer per year in the last 10 years..
  • As per the data shared by the govt in Rajya Sabha urea is the most consumed fertilizer with around 300 Lakh Metric Tonnes (LMT) being consumed each year, accounting for 55 to 60% of the chemical fertilizer consumption in the country. Between 2016-17 and 2019-20, there has been a steady increase in the consumption of Urea, DAP, and NPKs. The data for 2020-21 is provisional and is available up to February 2021.
  • According to data, the average consumption of major chemical fertilizers at the national level was 135.76 kg/ha in 2015-16 which dropped to 123.41 kg/ha in 2016-17. However, since then, the consumption has gradually risen to 133.44 kg/ha in 2019-20 at the national level.
  • Bihar (245.25 kg) topped the list in 2019-20 with respect to the per hectare consumption of fertilizers, closely followed by Puducherry (244.77) in spite of its small size. Punjab, Haryana, and Telangana are among the top five states/UTs which have all reported consumption of more than 200 kg/ha in 2019-20. These five states/UTs have also consistently reported consumption of more than 200 kg/ha in the five-year period from 2015-16 to 2019-20.

Harmful Effects Of Chemical Fertilizers:

  • Their overuse has hardened the soil, decreased fertility, strengthened pesticides, polluted air and water, and released greenhouse gases, thereby bringing hazards to human health and environment as well.
  • The use of chemical fertilizers on crops can have adverse effects on waterways caused by chemical run off of the excess fertilizer. The over-abundance of nutrients in the water reduces the amount of oxygen. The result is oxygen depletion causing the fish to die.
  • Excess nitrogen used in crop fertilization can contribute to the release of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere.
  • The over-use of chemical fertilizers can lead to soil acidification because of a decrease in organic matter in the soil. Nitrogen applied to fields in large amounts over time damages topsoil, resulting in reduced crop yields.
  • Use of excessive quantity of synthetic fertilizers are harmful for human health.. High levels of nitrates and nitrites in chemical fertilizer may cause some disease like Cancer, haemoglobin disorders, Alzheimer's disease and diabetes mellitus.

Reason for Overuse fertilizer in India:

  • Currently, there are no restrictions on who can buy the subsidized fertilizer, or on how much they can buy. This has led to the overuse of fertilizers in cultivation, and also to the diversion of urea to other industries (like dairy, textile, paint, fisheries, etc.)
  • Biased in Nature: A bulk of the subsidy is given in the form of urea, which makes up 70% of all fertilizer used in India. There is rampant overuse of urea; imbalance in the consumption of fertilisers has led a worsening of soil quality that has resulted in falling crop response to fertilisers, which, in turn, has caused farm productivity and farmers’ profitability to be adversely.
  • Unawareness among the farmers about the effect of the overuse of the chemical fertilizer.

Government’s measures to reduce the overuse of chemical Fertilizer

  • Neem Coating of Urea: The Department of Fertilizers (DoF) has made it mandatory for all the domestic producers to produce 100% urea as Neem Coated Urea (NCU) from December 2015.
  • Nutrient Based Subsidy (NBS) Scheme: It has been implemented from April 2010 by the DoF. It aims at ensuring the balanced use of fertilizers, improving agricultural productivity, promoting the growth of the indigenous fertilizers industry and also reducing the burden of Subsidy.
  • Policy on Promotion of City Compost: The Government of India approved a policy on promotion of City Compost, notified by the DoF in 2016 for scaling up production and consumption of city compost.
  • Soil Health Card (SHC) is a GOI scheme promoted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare. A SHC is meant to give each farmer soil nutrient status of his/her holding and advice him/her on the dosage of fertilizers and also the needed soil amendments, that s/he should apply to maintain soil health in the long run.
  • The government is promoting the use of bio-pesticides through various schemes. The consumption of bio-pesticides at the national level stood at 8,847 MT in 2019-20 as against 6,148 MT in 2015-16.
  • Organic farming is being promoted under Parampragat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) and Mission Organic Value Chain Development for North East Region (MOVCD-NER) in the country.

Steps to reduce chemical fertilizers in India:

  • The first step would be to draw up a list of all farmers who are eligible for the fertilizer subsidy, and to set a limit on how much they can obtain. Such a list and limits don’t exist today.
  • Well-targeted subsidy payment would benefit farmers, by ensuring that they get what they optimally require for agriculture. It would also benefit the environment, since a cap on the availability of subsidized fertilizers would likely stop the excessive use of fertilizers which, after all, end up in the food we eat.
  • By successfully rationalizing its subsidy program, India can also set an example for other developing countries, like Sri Lanka and Indonesia, which also subsidize fertilizers.
  • Increase in Soil Testing Facility and Issuing Soil Health Cards: The focus should be on testing the soil testing facility and issuing soil health cards to promote soil test based balanced and judicious fertilizer application in the country
  • Digitization of Land Records: Without setting right the land records, it will be impossible to transfer the subsidy to beneficiaries or to issue soil health cards.

Way Forward:

  • The adverse effect of these synthetic chemicals on human health and environment can only be reduced or eliminated by adopting new agricultural technological practices such as shifting from chemical intensive agriculture which includes the use of organic inputs such as manure, biofertilizers, biopesticides, slow release fertilizer and nanofertilizers etc. which would improve the application efficiency as well as use efficiency of the fertilizers.
  • Opting organic farming will create a healthy natural environment and ecosystem for the present as well as future generation.
  • The government needs to get sensible, else the health of the soil, citizens (including farmers) and the industry will suffer greatly.

Source: News on Air 

Mains Question:

Q. Recently Union Home Minister Amit Shah has said that the use of chemical fertilisers will increase the cancer cases by 50 percent, in next 15 years, so discuss the harmful effects of chemical fertilizers. Also discuss steps taken by the government to reduce the overuse of chemical fertilizer in India. Illustrate.