Innovative Nanofertilizers for Eco-Friendly Green Agriculture
Fertilizer remains one of the critical inputs for increasing food production for providing sustenance to 1.4 billion population of our country. In the last 9 years, our efforts have resulted in enhanced production capacity of urea, a major fertilizer for nitrogen source, which has gone up to 283.74 LMT/ year, a quantum jump from 207.54 LMT/ year in 2013-14. Similarly, the fertilizer industry (including Public, cooperative and private players) has been also actively promoting other major nutrients of phosphate and potash based fertilizers. Balanced use of NPK fertilizers is must for sustainable agriculture. However, in the quest for enhancing crop productivity and to feed increasing population on continuum basis, the vital aspect of soil fertility, soil and water conservation are getting compromised due to excess and imbalanced use of fertilizers. As a result soils have become hungry for nutrients and thirsty for water which is exhibited in their fertility status. This led to requirement of an innovative technology for increasing Fertilizer Use Efficiency (FUE) and to save soil and environment. The new age nano technology has come as an answer to solve this problem and for producing more from less i.e. to increase input use efficiency with less environment footprints.
Taking inspiration from clarion call of our Hon’ble Prime Minister on Make in India, Indian scientists and engineers have developed Nano urea (liquid), the first indigenously developed nano fertilizer. Nano urea is notified under Fertilizer Control Order (FCO) in 2021 after vigorous field trials and passing strict bioefficacy and biosafety testing protocols as per Department of Bio technology’s “Guidelines on nano agri-inputs”. It is a perfect example of initiative undertaken under the ‘AATMANIRBHAR KRISHI’ and ‘AATMANIRBHAR BHARAT’ during the AMRIT KAAL for ensuring food and nutritional security of the nation in perpetuity. As of now, nano urea plants at Kalol in Gujarat, Phulpur and Aonla in Uttar Pradesh with capacity of 17 crore bottles have been set up. By 2025, other nano plants at Nangal, Trombay, Bangaluru, Deogarh, Guwahati and several other places would be ready that will increase nano urea production capacity to more than 44 Crore Bottles / Year which will be equal to more than 195 LMT of conventional urea.
Nano Urea cost’s 16% lower than a bag of urea and can be carried easily by farmers to their fields, a fact appreciated by majority of young farmers that has translated into increased sale of nano urea bottles. Nano urea has benefit in term of logistics and storage cost too. A conventional fertilizer rake (BCNHL) carries 69,600 bags of conventional urea, while it can carry 29 lakh bottles of nano urea bottles correspondingly. Similarly, one 24 MT truck carrying 533 bags of urea can carry 30,000 bottles of nano urea. A nano urea plant has advantage over a conventional urea plant in terms of capex, energy consumption and less carbon dioxide emission. Nano Urea – NU (liquid) exhibits high nutrient use efficiency (NUE) and its adoption results in enhanced agricultural productivity, quality of produce, farmers profitability and reduction in soil, water and air pollution, logistics and warehousing cost. The field experiments of ICAR in Kharif 2021 with nano urea at 20 locations on Rice, Maize, Finger Millet, Pearl millet, Ginger indicated Yield advantage of 3 – 8% and savings of 25-50% for the farmers.
In the last 3 seasons, 6.5 crore bottles (500 ml each) of Nano Urea Liquid have been consumed by 192 lakh farmers as a possible alternate for foliar dose of urea covering an area of 150 lakh hectares. There are very encouraging results at farmers’ field level too with nano urea usage. In comparison to 2021-22 during 2022-23, Nano Urea Sales increased by 55% whereas conventional urea registered marginal growth of 4%. In 2022-23, decrease in consumption of conventional urea is observed in states of Punjab, Kerela, Tamil Nadu, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, and Assam whereas correspondingly, there has been increase in the consumption of Nano Urea in these states, for instance, consumption of nano urea has increased by 27% in Punjab, 20% in Kerala, 67% in Uttarakhand, 49.6% in Jammu & Kashmir in 2022-23 compared to 2021-22. Similarly, sales of Nano Urea increased in Kharif 2023 over last Kharif, 2022 whereas NCU sale reduced in the States of Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir. A total of 189 districts showed reduction in conventional urea consumption during the year 2022-23 compared to 2021-22; out of these, 130 districts in 16 states, registered average 12% reduction in Conventional Urea consumption, as well as 76% increase in Nano Urea consumption. In Kharif 2023, reduction in conventional Urea Sales due to use of Nano Urea was observed in 113 districts in comparison to Kharif 2022.
Nano DAP, the recently included nano fertilizer, is another feather in the cap of crop nutrition that can reduce the consumption of conventional DAP which eventually will lead to decreased imports. Further research happening in fertilizer sector towards development of Nano NPK, Nano Zinc, Nano Copper, Nano Boron, Nano Sulphur etc. will surely lead to eco-friendly sustainable agriculture in future. The use of nano fertilizers will also help in furthering the objective of PM Programme for Restoration, Awareness, Nourishment and Amelioration of Mother Earth (PMPRANAM) launched to promote alternate fertilizers and balanced use of chemical fertilizers. Accrued benefits in terms of reduction in Green House Gas (GHGs) emission, saving of people’s subsidy, transportation and other sundry costs would be manifold that would ultimately contribute in the nation building.
Further, massive awareness campaigns and farmer connect programmes have been taken up leveraging the advantage of existing institutional structures like Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR)- Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA), Self Help Groups under National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), Farmer Field Schools (FFS) etc. With increase in awareness, well developed drone spraying ecosystem and other sprayers along crop based niche applications, nanofertilizers is expected to grow over time with concomitant reduction and rationalisation in bulk chemical fertilizers consumption.
Widespread adoption of Nano Urea and other Nano fertilizers will lead to farmers’ profitability and in addressing UN-Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is time that holistic impact of indigenously developed nanofertilizers are understood and encouraged by all stakeholders in unison. The incorporation of nanofertilizers in crop production strategies by the farmers will help in harnessing the benefits of attaining eco-friendly green agriculture as well as food and nutritional security for “HEALTHY & FIT BHARAT”.
(Dr. Mansukh Mandaviya, Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers, and Health and Family Welfare)