What India needs to do to reduce its fertiliser bill

News: In 2021- 22, India’s import of fertilisers touched an all-time high of $12.77 billion in fiscal terms.

What are the factors that make India fit for agricultural activities?

India has no dearth of land, water and sunshine to sustain vibrant agriculture. India is abundant in all these resources. For example:

(1) India’s land under crop cultivation (at 169.3 million hectares) is far higher than any other country. For example, US (160.4mh), China (135.7mh), Russia (123.4mh) or Brazil (63.5mh).

(2) India is endowed with the perennial Himalayan rivers. It has average annual rainfall of nearly 1,200 mm, in contrast to other countries like Russia’s 475mm, China’s 650 mm and the US’s 750 mm

What are the challenges in the agricultural sector in India?

Fundamental Challenges

(A) India is short and heavily dependent on imports in the fertilizer sector. It can be illustrated by below mentioned fact:

India heavily imports mineral fertilisers like urea, DAP, complex fertilisers (containing nitrogen-N, phosphorus-P, potassium-K and sulphur-S in different ratios) and single super phosphate (SSP).

India also substantially imports the intermediates or raw materials required for the manufacture of these fertilisers. For example, for urea, the primary feedstock is imported natural gas. For DAP, domestic manufacturers import intermediate chemicals, namely phosphoric acid and ammonia. Some even produce phosphoric acid by importing rock phosphate and sulphuric acid.

(B) The foreign exchange outgo and the fiscal cost (subsidy part) are the two associated cost with the import of above said items.

(C) In addition to the above problems, the Indian farmers are well known to do over-application of the fertilizers.

Ongoing challenges

At present, the global prices of urea, DAP, MOP, phosphoric acid, ammonia and LNG have increased at lot

Way Forward

First of all, there is a need to cap or even reduce consumption of high-analysis fertilisers – particularly urea (46 per cent N content), DAP (18 per cent N and 46 per cent P) and MOP (60 per cent).

  • This can be done by incorporating urease and nitrification inhibition compounds in urea. In addition, products such as liquid “nano urea” can be used which is conducive to easier absorption by the plants

Second, promote sales of SSP (containing 16 per cent P and 11 per cent S) and complex fertilisers.

Third, DAP use should be restricted mainly to paddy and wheat because other crops don’t require fertilisers with 46% P content.


India can also import more rock phosphate to make SSP directly or it can be converted into “weak” phosphoric acid.

The agriculture departments and universities should revisit their existing crop-wise nutrient application recommendations, and create awareness amongst farmers about suitable substitutes for DAP. They should advise farmers to keep themselves away from all high-analysis fertilisers.

The government should popularise the use of high nutrient use-efficient water soluble fertilisers (potassium nitrate, potassium sulphate, calcium nitrate, etc) and alternative indigenous sources (for example, potash derived from molasses-based distillery spent-wash and from seaweed extract).

Farmers should know India imports a substantial part of the fertilizers used by them in their fields, and India is also a mineral resource poor country.

Source: The post is based on an article “What India needs to do to reduce its fertiliser bill” published in the Indian Express on 24th June 2022.

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