Saturday, July 25, 2009

Change in fertilizer subsidy policy can help India save crores, ensure food security - India Report

Change in fertilizer subsidy policy can help India save crores, ensure food security - India Report

New Delhi, India — Moving away from current Government subsidies on synthetic fertiliser that lead to poor soils and less food, and investing in ecological farming will have triple benefits: save public money, ensure food security under less rain and a changing climate, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, says ‘Subsidising Food Crisis’ – a scientific report released by Greenpeace today.

The fertiliser report, a joint effort by scientists from Institute of Agriculture Visva Bharathy University, West Bengal, offers a scientific analysis linking the increasing fertiliser subsidies to yield stagnation in agriculture. In 2008/09 the Government of India had set aside an amount of 119,772 crore Rupees for synthetic fertiliser subsidies.

Releasing the report, Greenpeace India’s Sustainable Agriculture campaigner Gopikrishna said, “The irrational subsidy doled out by the government provokes the excessive usage of synthetic fertilisers leading to soil degradation, a major cause for yield stagnation”. He further opined that “The potential for a shift from synthetic to organic nitrogen fertilisers is real: India can save a substantial amount of taxpayers’ money along the way”.

The report points out that in Punjab, the state with highest use of synthetic fertilisers in India, data on the relationship between food grain production and fertiliser consumption from 1960 to 2003 show that in spite of consistent increment in N-P-K fertiliser consumption, grain yield has not only stagnated but also showed a declining trend with fertiliser application during the later period, 1992 to 2003. The average crop response to fertiliser use was around 25 kg of grain per kg of fertiliser during 1960s, the said value has reduced drastically to 8 kg/kg only during late 1990s. High use of chemical fertilisers is mostly also associated with high level of water consumption and micro-nutrient deficiency in soil leading to decline in water table and further deterioration of the soil.

’Subsidising Food Crisis’ for the first time calculates the greenhouse gas emissions from the synthetic nitrogen fertiliser, both by its manufacture and use. Synthetic nitrogen fertilisers contribute 6 percent of the India’s total greenhouse gas emissions, comparable to the road transport sector. A shift from synthetic nitrogen fertilisers to efficient and ecological fertilisers will reduce this contribution from 6 to 2 percent. “At a time when it is extremely urgent that the whole world fights climate change, the Government of India could save significant emissions by shifting subsidies to ecological farming. The good news is that this is also a proven way to make agriculture more resilient to upcoming climate change conditions, like less water and more unpredictable rains’, said Reyes Tirado, one of the authors and senior research scientist at the Greenpeace Research Laboratories in the University of Exeter in the UK.

Based on the report released 5 days prior to the first full budget by the new UPA government on July 6th Greenpeace India demands that the Government needs to:

1. Look into an alternate subsidy system that promotes ecological farming and use of organic soil amendments.

2. Shift the irrational subsidy policy for synthetic fertilisers to sustainable ecological practices in agriculture.

3. Re-focus scientific research on ecological alternatives, to identify agro-ecological practices that ensure future food security under a changing climate.

Notes to Editor

The report is authored by Dr B.C Roy and Dr G N Chattopadhyay of Visva Bharathy University and Dr Reyes Tirado, from Greenpeace Research laboratories at the University of Exeter. While Dr Roy, an agricultural economist, has years of experience in agricultural growth and poverty and water-food security, Dr Chattopadhyay is a Soil Science specialist with extensive experience in vermicomposting. Dr. Tirado, an agricultural ecologist, currently leads projects on how ecological farming and biodiversity can help mitigate and adapt food systems to upcoming climate change conditions.

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