Wednesday, July 09, 2008

What is the Fertilizer Scarcity issue all about?

Fertilizers: Siddalingappa Choori was barely 33 when he died after a bullet hit him in Haveri on Tuesday. The victim unfortunately got caught in the mob that tried to stone policemen who were stopping them from storming a fertilizer shop. The farmers were angry at the severe fertilizer scarcity.
The Haveri incident is symptomatic of a serious problem plaguing the state- the severe scarcity of fertilizers. And if the state does not act immediately, there is a danger of the discontent taking the shape of riots and spreading to all corners of the state.

What is the problem?
This is the first major problem facing B S Yeddyurappa who took oath in the name of farmers.
All the 12 pulses growing districts of north Karnataka are suffering from scarcity. Farmers don’t have enough DAP (Di Ammonium Phosphate) and Nitrogen – Phosphorous-Potassium (NPK) complex needed during sowing. Neither the government operated agriculture produce marketing committees (APMCs) nor the private traders have enough stocks.
Cash crops need nearly twice as much fertilizer as food crops and crops in irrigated areas need five times more than those in dry areas.
The problem has hit the state soon after the onset of the southwest monsoon that initiates sowing in the first fortnight of June.

How big is the scarcity?
The scarcity is huge. Officials say it is to the tune of 90 percent. Farmers need 1.1 lakh tonnes of DAP and 1.1 lakh tones of NPK Complex. But the state now has only 11,500 tonnes of DAP and 9,000 tonnes of NPK. Union fertilizer ministry secretary J S Sharma who held a meeting of state officials this week, admitted this. He has promised to release nearly 1.2 lakh tones of DAP and ``adequate quantity’’ of NPK every month.

What are the reasons behind the scarcity?
Scarcity is one of the unfavourable implications of the production subsidy regime introduced in the green revolution. This was to keep food prices low by reducing agriculture production costs.
As per this the union pays nearly 100 per cent subsidy to fertilizer makers. For every bag of 50 kg DAP purchased by a farmer at Rs 486, the union pays the same amount to the factory.
The subsidy bill has shot through the roof and the arrears are now at Rs 1 lakh crore. Delay in paying this has angered factories who have stopped government supply. They are now selling only to private traders.
Companies want early revision of fertilizer prices and the subsidy. In January, the companies petitioned to the Prime Minister seeking power to fix fertilizer prices.
Price rise of raw materials like Naptha and scarcity of Phosphoric acid has also led to reduced production.
Local reasons include hoarding by traders and panic buying by farmers. Officials in Bidar, Belgaum, Chikkamagalur and Davanagere have seized nearly 5000 bags of illegally stored fertilizers.
The Congress-JD(S) and JD(S)-BJP governments completed and inaugurated nearly 33 pending irrigation projects. This brought an additional 1.3 lakh acres under irrigation. This has contributed to increased fertilizer demand.
Farmers switching from food crops to cash crops have begun using larger amounts of fertilizer.
Yeddyurappa feels the state wide protests are politically motivated. Agriculture minister S A Ravindranath has faulted the governor Rameshwar Thakur for failing to procure enough fertilizer before monsoons. He has appealed to farmers not to use excess fertilizer.

How widespread is the problem?
Fertilizer scarcity is an all- India problem.
Farmers in Andhra have also protested against fertilizer scarcity on Monday. Tamil Nadu government has asked farmers not to go for panic buying. The government of Kerala has asked farmers to use fertilizers with restraint.
Northern states will soon be affected as sowing starts there with the monsoon winds begin blowing on them.
In Karnataka, protests have taken place in 12 districts. In Hassan, Dharwad, Haveri and Davangere, farmers have forcefully entered shops and taken away fertilizers.

What went wrong this year?
Each state places orders with the six major fertilizer -producing agencies, in January. Supplies are received by March-April. Stocks are declared in May.
This year, however, fertilizers were not procured in time. The Raj Bhavan wrote to the center asking for the release of its fertilizer quota in February. But lack of a political government ensured that there was nobody to lobby for fertilizers in New Delhi.

Is there no alternative?
There are many alternatives. But most farmers are accustomed to using DAP after sowing. One alternative is use of Nitrogen- Phosphorous –Sulphur. The others are farmyard manure, bio fertilizers or vermin compost. However, the modern day farmer is used to buying packed fertilizers. ``He does not want to dirty his hands making farmyard manure,‘’ says S A Patil, former VC of the university of agriculture sciences.

What has been done till now?
The state has written to the center to release its quota of fertilizers. It has also urged the union government to pay the subsidy arrears. The state invited senior union fertilizer ministry officials to study the situation. A team that arrived last week, has gone back after assuring faster supply.

What are the options before Yeddyurappa?
He can lobby with the centre to release subsidy to fertilizer producers and ensure supply. He can also ask the centre to release fertilizer from the state owned producers and cooperatives like IFFCO. Strategic stocks can be cleared to the state, considering the seriousness of the situation.
He can speak to BJP ruled states in the north and work out a barter arrangement. He can get stocked fertilizer from northern states now and return it when sowing starts in those areas in June end or July first week.
He can urge the center to allow crisis import of fertilizers.

Can farmers solve the problems themselves?
They can if they switch to organic or natural fertilizers. They can adopt the low cost- low risk – moderate yield method propagated by natural farming activists.
Farmers can also reduce fertilizer usage by going back to food crops.

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