Low fertiliser use blamed for dismal productivity

- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu

Jul 20, 2015-

Nepali farmers are using more than twice as much chemical fertilisers as they were doing four years ago, but consumption is still very small compared to neighbouring countries. The low use of this critical agro input has been cited as the key reason behind Nepal’s having the lowest farm productivity in South Asia.

According to Economic Survey 2014-15, Nepal’s chemical fertiliser use jumped sharply to 75.11 kg per hectare in 2013-14, up from 57.25 kg in 2012-13. In 2010-11, consumption of chemical fertilisers was 35.59 kg per hectare, which jumped to 46.84 kg in 2012-13. 

Agro experts said that growing commercial vegetable farming and increasing government subsidies on vital farm inputs for the last few years had resulted in the jump in consumption. 

However, Nepal is far behind neighbours India, Bangladesh and China in the intensity of fertiliser use. According to agro expert Hari Dahal, chemical fertiliser consumption in China stands at more than 400 kg per hectare, while in Bangladesh it is 200 kg and in India 150 kg.  

The internationally recognized ceiling for safe chemical fertiliser use is 225 kg per hectare. China has been warned that it faces further environmental degradation from the overuse of chemical fertilisers. “Increased use of fertiliser has a key role to play in increasing crop productivity. And in the context of Nepal, farm productivity is very low due to low use of fertiliser,” Dahal said. 

Chemical fertilisers are mostly used for paddy and wheat cultivation. However, from the last few years, the intensity of fertiliser use has been increasing due to growing commercial vegetable farming. Nepal’s paddy productivity is at the lowest 3.17 tonnes per hectare due to the low intensity of chemical fertiliser use. In terms of paddy productivity in the South Asian region, Nepal stands ahead of Afghanistan with 2.49 tonnes per hectare and Pakistan with 2.43 tonnes per hectare. However, it trails behind Bangladesh (4.37 tonnes per hectare), Sri Lanka (3.88 tonnes per hectare), Bhutan (3.69 tonnes per hectare) and India (3.62 tonnes per hectare), according to the Food and Agriculture Organiz-ation of the United Nations.  

Dahal, however, said that a harmonious blend in the use of chemical fertilisers and farmyard manure is essential to increase productivity and keep soil health in good condition. The ecological recovery of a soil can be achieved through balanced application of organic matter and chemical fertilisers.

The Economic Survey showed that Nepal’s chemical fertiliser import has also been growing at a healthy rate. In 2013-14, Nepal bought 232,188 tonnes of chemical fertilisers, up 31.2 percent compared to 2012-13. Shipments stood 145,653 tonnes in 2011-12. In the first eight months last fiscal year, imports came to 188,122 tonnes. 

Last year’s budget earmarked Rs5.48 billion to subsidize chemical fertilisers, and the same amount has been allocated for this fiscal. The government reinstated subsidies on fertilisers in 2009 to boost agricultural production and ensure food security. Acting on conditions laid down by donors, the government started deregulating the fertiliser trade in 1997 with subsidies on DAP and potash being completely removed.

Since 2009, the government has been providing 40-45 percent subsidies on fertilisers. However, a gradual increase in prices over the years has brought down subsidies to 20-25 percent.

Government subsidized fertilisers fulfill just 25-30 percent of the total demand, and the rest is met by informal imports or contraband brought through the porous Nepal-India border.

In 2006, a study conducted by the Finance Ministry put the share of informal fertiliser imports at 71.6 percent. Nepal’s current annual requirement stands at 700,000 tonnes. The study showed that, of the total imported fertilisers, around 50 percent is used for paddy.

The Agriculture Ministry said that due to the high fertiliser subsidies provided by the Indian government to their farmers, massive amounts are estimated to be imported through illegal channels, particularly in the Tarai region.

Published: 21-07-2015 08:59

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