Keywords: Indian agriculture, self-sufficiency, fertiliser use in India.
This paper outlines the opportunities and challenges that a developing country like India had experienced in expanding food production from a chronic deficit to a comfortable surplus despite a continuously expanding population and the role the fertiliser played towards this crucial goal. This challenge was successfully faced within a period of less than two decades by emphasising on the opportunity of application of findings of science and technology, and adopted to the physical and cultural environment of the countryside. The understanding of soils, the use of high yielding varieties, the judicious use of fertilisers, and effective water management practices contributed to help increase the productivity of land. Appropriate economic policies provided the incentive of adequate financial return to the farmers to adopt the new farming technologies.
The 50-year period 1951 to 2000 on progress attained and planned projections is characterised by chronic foodgrains imports of 6.5-7.0 million tonnes each year between 1964-70, and, therefore, again a total of 10 million tonnes each year in 1981-84. Thereafter, not only do imports no longer exist but gradually a comfortable stock has been built up at 24 million tonnes by early 1987, with per capita availability going up by 15% between 1967-85 despite a population increase by 50% with net area of cultivation remaining more or less the same at 14,042 million hectares since 1970.
During the 20 years 1950-70, systematic efforts were put in to introduce the use of chemical fertilisers. However, introduction of high yielding varieties of seeds in 1966 led to rapid expansion in fertiliser use.
In consequence, nitrogen nutrient production in particular grew rapidly from 28,000 in 1951 to 4.3 million tonnes in 1986; the phosphatic production grew from 10,000 tonnes to 1.4 million tonnes (P2O5); the imports of fertiliser nutrients NPK went up from 52,000 to 3.3 million tonnes by 1985. Consumption of nutrients NPK grew from 65,000 tonnes to 8.7 million tonnes. However, application rates are still low at 50 kg per hectare of gross cropped area. The yields in the best areas of India average 3 tonnes per hectare in wheat and rice under irrigated conditions. These are low compared to 5-7 tonnes of wheat in Europe and 4 to 5 tonnes of rice in China, Japan, and Korea. Projections of consumption for 1990 indicate 14.0 million tonnes NPK of which more than 9 million tonnes are as nitrogen.
Government policies are directed towards support to agricultural research, transfer of technology to farmers, ensuing adequate profits to farmers and encouraging investment in production and distribution facilities by a system of price fixation which allows a good and a guaranteed profit to investors.
The paper describes the fertiliser production facilities, their capacities, feedstocks, technologies adopted and capacity utilisation attained over the years. India has had experience in the use of a wide spectrum of feedstocks – wood, lignite, bituminous coal, coke oven gas; fertiliser naphtha, fuel oil, refinery gas, and natural gas; and electrolysis. Capacities of ammonia units built varied between the very early ones of 5 tonnes per day to the present day ones of 1350 tonnes; products manufactured are ammonium sulphate, ammonium sulphate nitrate, calcium ammonium nitrate, ammonium chloride, urea; diammonium phosphate, single superphosphate, NP/NPK grades with urea and ammonium sulphate; nitrophosphates. Gypsum has been used for ammonium sulphate production. The phosphate fertiliser production has been largely on the basis of imported phosphoric acid and all the potassic fertilisers are imported. The paper suggests an approach to further expansion in capacity through decentralised medium capacity nitrogen plants, and the introduction of the use of fluid fertilisers during the nineties.
Dr Subodh Kumar Mukherjee, India.
30 Pages, 35 Tables, 17 References.