India marching towards a second farm revolution. But do farmers know that yet?

Mansukh Mandaviya, Union chemicals and fertilisers minister, says India will reduce consumption of conventional fertilisers by 2025. (PTI)
Mansukh Mandaviya, Union chemicals and fertilisers minister, says India will reduce consumption of conventional fertilisers by 2025. (PTI)

Summary

Fertilisers minister Mansukh Mandaviya, amid the ongoing massive farmers’ agitation, says India is ushering in a second green revolution with alternative fertilisers such as nano-urea, among other initiatives. And that the government is conducting awareness programmes to get farmers to adapt.

NEW DELHI : A few years ago the government decided India needed to be self-sufficient in urea, a key fertiliser, and came up with a new policy: to reduce consumption of urea.

The government instead began promoting nano urea and nano DAP. 

These alternative fertilisers—union chemicals and fertilisers minister Mansukh Mandaviya said in an interview with Mint amid the farmers’ agitation going on at the capital’s borders—are “cheaper, eco-friendly, preserve soil, reduce pollution, and replace conventional urea and DAP."

DAP, or diammonium phosphate, is the most commonly used phosphorus fertiliser in the world. India accounts for around 18% of the world’s DAP production, imports about 23.6% of DAP traded globally, and consumes around 30% of DAP worldwide.

“India is the first country to introduce nano urea and nano DAP," Mandaviya said. “The initiatives we have taken in the fertiliser sector could be considered as moving towards a second farm revolution."

Mandaviya also said India is scouring for steady suppliers of fertilisers, and that the government is willing to bear all costs to make fertilisers available to farmers at a reasonable rate. Edited excerpts:

 

The budgetary allocation for fertiliser subsidy has been reduced to 1.67 trillion for FY25 against FY24’s revised allocation of 1.88 trillion. Is the government willing to spend beyond that amount to ensure fertiliser security even if it puts pressure on the fiscal deficit? 

If the gas price goes up, the production cost (of urea) is bound to shoot up. Last year, gas prices went up significantly, putting upward pressure on production costs, and the government is bound to pay. Similarly, in DAP, if the international price of rock phosphate increases, the price will flare up, and vice versa. We spend more on urea subsidy. The subsidy on one bag of urea is around 1,700.

These are just estimates. For example, we ended up spending 2.24 trillion in FY23 against the budgeted 1.05 trillion. We will make fertilisers available to farmers permanently at a reasonable rate… Irrespective of any situation, the government will bear the burden. 

In 2022, you said India would become self-sufficient in urea and the ‘One Nation and One Fertiliser’ policy was introduced. How far have we come since then?

There are three types of fertilisers—urea, DAP, and NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium). Our urea consumption is now 32.5-35 million tonnes (mt) annually. Production of urea in 2014 was 24 mt and we used to import 8-9 mt. Consumption then was growing at 6-7% annually. 

In such a situation, we realised that we should not be dependent on the global market. So we decided to make the country self-sufficient in urea and came up with a new urea policy. Under this policy, if someone invests in it, they will get an assured procurement, price and fixed cost for 10 years. 

After that, three fertiliser plants—Chambal, Metrix, and Spic—were set up. The government tried to revive Hurl, which was not functional. Four plants out of five—in Gorakhpur, Sidhari, Barauni and Ramagundam—are now operational. The coal gasification-based Talchal fertiliser plant is a work in progress. 

Today, our production capacity has increased to 30 mt from 24 mt. Gradually, by 2025, we will reduce the consumption of urea. To reduce the consumption, we brought out PM-PRANAM and promoted the usage of nano urea. 

The country has accepted nano urea, and it is being implemented well. Production will go up to 31-31.5 mt… and consumption of conventional fertilisers will reduce by 2025. 

The 12% profit if manufactured and invested in fertilisers in the country will attract the industry to set up more plants, increasing production. Thus, we will gain self-sufficiency in urea. 

Our target is to boost urea production up to 32.5 mt and alternate consumption with 2.5 mt of alternative fertilisers.

Are we also trying to be self-sufficient in DAP and NPK fertilisers?

Consumption of DAP is also increasing. Total consumption of DAP and NPK fertilisers is 300,000 tonnes. These two fertilisers can be produced here by using urea plants. The point is India does not have rock phosphate, which we import in bulk. 

To meet domestic demand for rock phosphate fertiliser, in the past two years, we have entered into long-term contracts with several countries, including Morocco, Jordan, Oman, Russia and Saudi Arabia. With long-term agreements, supply is assured… there is no concern over supply during crises.

We are promoting alternative fertilisers. Earlier, companies brought fertilisers and the government gave subsidies. There was no research and innovation. We initiated nano-urea and nano-DAP. India is the first country to introduce nano urea and nano DAP. To promote its use through drones, we publicised it, and drones became popular. 

The initiatives we have taken in the fertiliser sector could be considered as moving towards a second farm revolution. In the first farm revolution in the 1960s, we switched to hybrid seeds, pesticides, and tractors, increasing productivity. Now in the second farm revolution, the country is switching to alternative fertilisers. This will ensure our self-sufficiency.

Nano urea and nano DAP are cheaper, eco-friendly, preserve soil, reduce pollution, and replace conventional urea and DAP. Alternative fertilisers will ensure India’s self-sufficiency by 2025.

One of the protesting farmers’ demands include improving seed quality by penalising companies that produce fake seeds, pesticides and fertilisers. What is your view on this?

The government is responsible for taking action when a complaint is filed. Both the Central and state governments work in tandem and take action from time to time. We have raided several mixture fertiliser plants and acted against them.

Over the past four years, the world has witnessed covid, the Russia-Ukraine war, and the Red Sea conflict. How did it burden the Indian government in terms of imports and subsidy bills, and what is the current situation?  

During covid, all ports and fertiliser plants were closed, creating supply tightness. We somehow managed to get fertilisers from the global market. 

During the Russia-Ukraine crisis, payment became an issue as there were sanctions on Russia. Now the sanctions have been lifted as America and other nations needed fertilisers, and we are now paying Russia in dollars. 

We overcame the unprecedented situation by following different routes and relying on other countries. Prices rose because of it, and the Indian government bore it.  

In the latest Red Sea crisis, we are facing problems getting fertilisers from countries such as Russia, Canada and Jordan, with which we have long-term contracts. 

We are bringing the shipments via the Cape of Good Hope route, encircling South Africa with the help of the Navy, [but these] are arriving with a delay of 20-30 days against the usual 10-12 days. Freight costs have shot up, which may increase the landing price. 

The situation hasn’t improved yet but there has been no disruption so far as the Indian Navy is escorting the consignments. There will be no supply disruption in the country. If prices go up, the government will bear it.

Is India exploring any other country to ensure fertiliser security to avoid any supply disruption that we witnessed earlier?

Fertilizer security in today’s time is one of the biggest issues. We want to sign a long-term contract of 3 years with Egypt and Mauritania—a West African country. We keep exploring new countries so there is no dependency on one country during crises. 

They have rock phosphate and phosphoric acid. Under the joint venture, both private and public players will do the mining, produce and bring the fertilisers to India.  

Long-term agreements offer a discount of 10-15%. 

Farmers claim they are being forced to purchase IFFCO’s nano-urea and urea gold despite concerns over their efficacy. What is your view on this? 

When there is an innovation in the farming sector, farmers need time to adapt to it. We are going through that phase. We need to guide them on how to use it. 

For example, when the plant is small, we need to apply (the fertiliser) to the root. After it grows a bit, we need to spray nano. Companies and the government have started conducting systematic programmes to create awareness, which will clear confusion among farmers.

Catch all the Industry News, Banking News and Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.
more

MINT SPECIALS

Switch to the Mint app for fast and personalized news - Get App