Thursday, July 3, 2008

When Fertilisers Run Short

What happens when farmers grew reliant on chemical fertilisers? Well, one can expect riots like what those that occurred in India recently this year when there is an acute shortage of fertilisers.

In North Karnataka in India, all 12 districts suffered from fertiliser scarcity in June this year. During sowing, farmers need DAP (Di-Ammonium Phosphate) and NPK (Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium) Complex but but neither government-managed APMCs (agriculture produce marketing committees) nor private traders have enough stock. This scarcity is caused by arrears in fertiliser subsidy that led to fertiliser-producing factories stopping government supply.

The fertiliser scarcity caused fury in Karnataka as farmers in Hubli-Dharwad, Haveri and Bailhongal districts went on rampage, torching vehicles. The police retaliated by using lathicharge (a lathi typically refers to a 6 to 8 foot long cane tipped with a metal blunt. It is used by swinging it back and forth like a sword) and tear gas and eventually opening fire, resulting in one death.

There are of course many alternatives to chemical fertilisers, such as using farmyard manure, biofertilisers or vermin (wild mammals and birds) compost. However, farmers are accustomed to using packed fertilisers as opposed to dirtying their hands in making their own fertilisers.

Using organic or natural fertilisers mean low risk and low cost for the farmers, but the yield is only moderate compared to crops planted with chemical fertilisers and GMOs (genetically modified organisms). This deters many farmers from switching to back-to-basic natural crop producing methods. However this seems to be the only way that farmers can be self-reliant and not susceptible to other factors beyond their control.