There has been a significant drop in the decadal growth rate of agriculture in India. For the 2000 – 2010 period, it has dropped to 2.61%. The Green Revolution in India was based on the idea that nutrient loss can be overcome by the use of potash and nitrates as chemical fertilisers. Agricultural experts are claiming that unabated use of chemical fertilisers and chemical pesticides in different regions in the country is one of the reasons behind the dip in agricultural productivity.
They are advocating the use of organic fertilisers and biological pesticides. Many are of the opinion that a complete shift to organic farming will improve agricultural productivity as a further dip in agricultural productivity may expose the country and its economy to a host of problems.
Organic and inorganic fertilisers
The Indian fertiliser market was worth Rs. 4,675 billion in 2017. The market is expected to touch Rs. 9,987 billion by 2023, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of around 13% between 2018 and 2023. Currently, chemical fertilisers are enjoying the lion’s share of the market.
Chemical fertilisers can be divided into two categories. The first one is urea based whereas the second is a more complex variety. Urea carries only one primary plant nutrient which is nitrogen. Complex fertilisers carry two or all the three primary nutrients that is nitrogen, phosphorous and potash.
Farmers in India are not switching to organic farming in fear of less production and unavailability of adequate organic fertilisers. Fertilisers constitute only 8-10% of the total cost of cultivation, but it has the power to either enrich or damage the yield significantly. In India, the current consumption ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium is 6.7:2.4:1. But the prescribed ratio of this use is 4:2:1. The situation is worse in the major agricultural states like Punjab and Haryana where these ratios are as high like 31.4:8.0:1 and 27.7: 6.1:1 respectively.
Excessive use of inorganic fertilisers has resulted in contamination of ground water and decreased the productivity of soil. Around 25-30% of nitrogen is absorbed by plants and the rest gets mixed with the environment. Overuse of chemical fertilisers that contains nitrogen can contaminate the soil and water in form of nitrate. It is massively harmful for the health of the soil, for aquatic health and for the health of humans. It leads to global warming. Judicious and prescribed use of urea is required to ensure sustainability of agricultural practices.
Dr. Biswapati Mandal, Head of the Department, Department of Agricultural Chemistry & Soil Science, Faculty of Agriculture, Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya, informed BE, “If the whole crop production shifts to organic fertilisers, it will produce 30% lesser crops, so automatically this cannot be a choice. Also as our country is a tropical country we receive enough sunlight which oxidises nutrients in the soil. If the soil is rich in organic fertiliser, it gets oxidised very rapidly and this is not the case with chemical fertilisers. This is the reason we advocate a combined usage of organic and inorganic fertilisers under the integrated nutrient management system.”
Speaking about the impact of governmental subsidies on the usage of chemical fertilisers, Mandal told BE, “The central government gives `72,000 crore to as fertiliser subsidy. But even that amount is not enough.”
Farmers are already paying around 20% higher prices for fertilisers in the last year due to an increase in prices of potash and phosphate in the global market. He added, “Incessant rise in cost of living, unprofitable price of crops and vegetables and middleman issues are creating the situation where farmers cannot afford the fertilisers. And the situation is even more alarming because if they stop using chemical fertilisers, it will lead to high crop loss for our country.”
Chemical and biological pesticides
The Indian pesticides market was worth Rs. 181 billion in 2017. The market is further projected to reach Rs. 292.9 billion by 2023. The market is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 8.3% between 2018 and 2023. Chemical pesticides are currently dominating the market.
In India, farmers use around 7000 metric tonnes of chemical pesticides and around 6000 metric tonnes of biological products a year. The biological products are made of neem, garlic, onion, Persian lilac, turmeric, ginger, tobacco, papaya, leucas, pongam, tulsi, aloe, custard apple, vitex and calotropis extracts. 60% of these products are insecticides, 16% are herbicides and 18% are fungicides.
Dr. Ramen Kumar Kole, Head of the Department, Department of Agricultural Chemicals, Faculty of Agriculture, Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya, informed BE, “Chemical fertilisers are meant to be hazardous in any case. Even the trace of their existence in the environment can be dangerous. But we are not in a position to replace all these chemicals by biological products. In India, 291 registered source chemicals are used to formulate fertilisers and 577 registered products are sold as fertilisers which are harmful for the environment.”
India is in a relatively better position. 10% of the total products used as pesticides are biologically manufactured. Additionally, the usage of pesticides in India is quite low as compared to other developed countries. India is using around 0.6 kg pesticides per hector where other countries are using around 16-17 kg pesticides per hector.
To review and control the rate of contamination level due to chemical pesticides, India has a national level monitoring programme. Professor Kole added, “India follows the division of red (extremely toxic), yellow (highly toxic), blue (moderately toxic) and green (lesser toxic) to evaluate the contamination level of chemical pesticides. We are trying to rich the green level from the red level. India has already banned pesticides like Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) due to its high polluting effects.”
However, to decrease the contamination level in the environment, it is not yet possible for a country like India to completely stop using chemical pesticides or fertilisers.