Cutting back

Sub-standard fertilisers destroying farm land in Nepal

Published: Tuesday 29 February 2000

the decision of the Nepal government to do away with the subsidy on chemical fertiliser has attracted criticism from all quarters. This decision was taken by the previous regime in 1997 and is meant to end the monopoly on chemical fertilisers and to introduce competition in the fertiliser market. The government's decision was also influenced by the improper storage and use of chemical fertilisers, much of which contained a very high level of impurities and had destroyed the fertility of the soil.

"The subsidy was as high as 37 per cent per tonne of imported fertiliser which was benefitting not the small farmers but the importers," says Birendra Bahadur Basnet, chief of fertiliser unit in the ministry of agriculture.

According to Chirangibi Acharya, senior scientist at the Royal Nepal Academy of Science and Technology ( ronast ), "though it is not proper for the government to drop the subsidy so abruptly, the move is likely to have a positive impact on soil fertility as well as on the environment. However, for that the government should encourage farmers to grow more nitrogen fixing plants such as Sisbania rostrata , a plant which has needles on the leaves and branches. Experimental plantation of this green plant in the fields have proved very productive." Scientists feel that farmers should use organic fertilisers.

The lifting of subsidy and the high price of the fertiliser in the Nepali market has raised the demand for Indian fertilisers and blackmarketing along the porous 1,500-km border with India. A 50-kg sack of Indian urea costs Rs 320, whereas in Nepal the same sack costs Rs 550. Similarly, a 50-kg sack of Indian di-ammonium phosphate ( dap ) costs Rs 1,500 compared to Nepali dap which costs Rs 2,000.

One of the immediate benefits is that the cut has led to reduced use of chemical fertilisers but its effects are not yet apparent. Scientists believe that once the benefits trickle down then not only will the land be saved from sterility but even the rivers, aquatic life and the entire food chain will be spared.

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