Alternative Ways of Fertilizer Production – Journal
Despite industry claims of record fertilizer production in 2021, Rabi’s urea harvesting season has been marked by a supply and price crisis putting national food security at stake.
While farmers blame smuggling and hoarding as the reasons for the urea shortage, the industry blames the disaster on panic buying and the disruption of the supply of natural gas, a major ingredient in making urea. urea. Other factors may be manageable, but gas supply may not be, as fossil fuel reserves are rapidly depleting in the country.
Many stakeholders believe it is time for leaders to start finding alternative methods of producing urea other than natural gas to meet future fertilizer needs.
“Lack of natural gas may be a big issue today, but it’s not the end of fertilizers. There needs to be a new vision that considers alternative ways to meet this need,” says Fouad Bajwa, an agriculture expert. There are modern innovative methods where Western countries lacking natural gas reserves have used solar powered electrolysers in which they split water into oxygen and hydrogen to combine with nitrogen to create ammonia, while that the United States is using corn on the cob to create an alternative fertilizer to counter the plummeting availability of natural gas.
Calling for the deregulation of the fertilizer industry to allow new players to experiment with alternative ways of producing fertilizer, he said a European company, Yara, is installing a 24-hour electrolyser pilot plant. megawatts at Porsgrunn in Norway with a production capacity of 20,500 tonnes of ammonia per year forming the basis for 60,000 to 80,000 tonnes of non-fossil mineral fertilizers.
Urea worth 232 billion rupees was used in 2021 in the country and of this sum, 30% – worth about 70 billion rupees – evaporated into the air as ammonia
“Yara could have its fertilizer in Pakistan like in other parts of the world by the end of this year,” he hopes, pointing out that this step will also help tackle climate challenges by preventing emissions from the use of fossil fuels.
There are options available with farmers to get rid of the urea manufacturing mafia only if the government supports finding solutions to the problem, says Dr Zubair Aslam from the Department of Agronomy, University of Agriculture in Faisalabad. Ammonium nitrate and ammonium sulfate can be used as alternative chemical sources of nitrogen, while many organic materials like composted manure, legume hay, and field hay also contain large amounts of nitrogen . Similarly, there are cheap alternatives to phosphorus fertilizers (diammonium phosphate or DAP), with fears that 50% of marketed DAP is fake or adulterated.
Professor Dr Muhammad Yaseen of the Institute of Soil and Environmental Sciences at Faisalabad Agricultural University agrees with the view that this is a turning point for scientists, farmers and the government because they can invent, adopt and promote new approaches to fertilizer use and find compost alternatives. But, he wonders, where will the investment come from to try alternative methods of urea production?
“The new technology will require investments of several billion rupees and a sufficient period. Meanwhile, when gas is also available as the cheapest source, there is a need to improve the efficiency of the fertilizer applied. »
He claims that about 30% of the urea applied by the popular practice in the agricultural community is lost immediately. This loss can be avoided by a week of training farmers in new fertilizer application techniques which cost no more than 100 rupees per bag of compost. Urea worth Rs 232 billion was used in 2021 in the country according to figures given by the industry. Of these 30 pc worth around 70 billion rupees, they evaporated into the air as ammonia, says Professor Yaseen. Similarly, DAP worth Rs 372 billion was consumed during the year and much of it remained in the soil and did not reach the plants due to improper application of compost. It also calls for a holistic approach by planning the availability of fertilizer throughout the year instead of taking it crop by crop.
The former head of the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC), Dr Kauser Abdullah Malik, disagrees that alternatives to urea will be more expensive. He says that PARC scientists had prepared bio-fertilizers and tested them successfully in the mid-1990s and they are still in use but in a limited area. He claims that cost-effective bio-fertilizers could not be popularized because neither public nor private actors in the agricultural sector adopted and promoted them for certain reasons.
The agricultural extension departments of the provinces should at least spread the knowledge among the farming community about bio-fertilizers so that the growers start thinking about alternatives to urea that are more beneficial to the soil and the environment and are not not a burden on the community. .
Dr. Shahid Mansoor, Director of the National Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (NIGBE), explains that his institute is trying to bring together the chemical and bio-fertilizer sectors for the benefit of all. He says the chemical fertilizer industry has an extensive marketing network that could also be used to promote bio-compost. He says both organic and chemical fertilizers can be applied in a field to get better results.
NIGBE, he says, has successfully tested bio-fertilizers for cotton fields in three districts of Punjab – Khanewal, Lodhran and Bahawalpur – and is currently working with local and foreign textile manufacturers for the production of organic cotton with the use of bio-fertilizers in Balochistan. At least 35,000 bales of organic cotton were harvested in Balochistan last season.
As with chemicals, he says, several bioproducts can also be developed to meet a variety of needs – some want purely organic agricultural products and others a mix of the two.
Posted in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, January 24, 2022