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Fertility Treatment: Nepal

Fertiliser Shortages risk harvests for the most fundament of foodstuffs.

According to the Ministry of Finance, the Nepalese economy is dominated by agriculture, which drives approximately 27% of national GDP. Rice, unsurprisingly, is the predominant crop totalling nearly 20% of agricultural output. More importantly, rice is responsible for nearly 50% of the total calorific requirements of the Nepalese.

Nepal is a major producer of Paddy, turning out nearly 4.8 million tonnes per annum, of which the majority is required for domestic consumption. Nepal is blessed with abundant freshwater sources, as most of the arable land is still to be irrigated formerly. Canal irrigation addresses only 7% of paddy producing areareas, and the sector is highly reliant on its flat terrains being nourished by rainfall.

Without irrigation, farmers are restricted in their abilities to double crop, or to produce two rice cycles aand it remains the monsoon season which cultivates paddy predominantly. Paddy cultivation unfortunately is not restorative to the extent that it degrades soil fertility, given the anaerobic conditions.
  • Agriculture

    27% of GDP

  • Rice

    20% of output

  • Paddy p.a.

    4.8mn tonnes paddy p.a.

  • Paddy irrigated

    Only 7% of producing areas

In order to support soil nutrient content, paddy fields are heavily reliant on fertilisers for increasing yields and maintaining outputs. Historically, the government has taken the lead in overseeing the nearly 450,000 tonnes of fertilizer imported annually, yet the demand for chemical fertilizers is nearly double that. Traditional cultivation practices requires nitrogen phosporus and potassium are required in significant quantities – and hence urea is promoted practically exclusively as the source of nitrogen for the soil. More advanced agro-economies would look to other inputs, however, urea application is successful in increasing yields. Perhaps most importantly, the demand for urea is further encouraged by the govnerment practice of subsiding urea and DAP’s in certain percentages. Unfortunately, this has led to farmers applying fertilizers. In quantities, consistent with the subsidies, rather than those, which should be used to maximize crop yields. 2020 has brought with it many unwelcome surprises. However, some comfort can be drawn from the fac that the monsoon season did arrive on schedule, and brought ample rainfall during the transplanting period. That doesn’t though alleviate Nepal’s reliance on the imports of inputs. Nepal imports its fertilizers from China to Egypt and India and other Gulf countries, such as Qatar, typically via Indian ports before being transported across land to its borders. Kolkata being an Indian government owned port has continued to operate, although, with reduced staffing. That inevitably impacted the logistics and reduced the supply of these critical fertilisers. In fact two ttenders were delayed from March, until being late Summer before being met. We were active in providing those fertilisers, and just in time for the transplanting season. At the time of writing any 340,000 tonnes have managed to meet reach the farmers.

Tilling and Toiling

The cultivation process requires fertilizers to be applied in two separate applications, the first by late July. Late summer is the early tillering period, which aids which growth and protects against diseases, then during September, a further top dressing is required. If the second application is delayed for any reason, beyond 40 days after the initial application, it’s highly likely to lead to crop damage. Simply if the fertilisers are not applied in a timely matter, is sufficient to impact the size and quality of the grains produced. Some measures point to crop yields reduced by half is the optimal timetable is not followed. Unfortunately, six months after the pandemic began, fertiliser shortages remain, even though the Government has allocated a 10% increase in the budge. Once the government has allocated nearly 10 billion rupees. The purchase of fertilizers, a 10% increase over last year's budget allocation. However, the tender process whilst a prudent approach in ensuring good pricing, does take some weeks, if not months to complete before supplies are ultimately rendered. Building national inventories, or stores, as many countries are in the process of doing with other goods such as grains is one means of managing these shortages, whilst being able to take advantage of natural fluctuations in input prices. Reserves could be released in times like this. The supply chain under normal circumstances functions well enough; Krishi samagra Company Limited, and the sole Trading Corporation Limited are the public entities primarily responsible for fertilizer input procurement for the country. Unfortunately, when shortages do occur, it incentivizes the illegal smuggling of subsidized chemical fertilizers from India. Whilst the Government has sought to crack down on such activities, it is understandable, when farmers remain in dire need of additional supplies fertiliser shortages. Lower production yields ultimately have inflationary consequences, where low production lower yields lead to higher import bills. Food inflation hit those with lower incomes disproportionately harder than those that would be considered more affluent. We have been active in supplying fertilisers to countries which are heavily reliant on domestic agriculture for domestic consumption. This is just another example of why food security is such a hot button topicglobally, and the consequences of COVID-19 have brought them into sharp focus. Nepal and its heavy reliance on rice production is acutely sensitive to supply chain difficulties, specifically those which prevent vital agri-inputs from reaching farmers. The monsoon didn’t disappoint this year, nor did the return of the migrant labour which typically returns to support the transplanting season, however access to basic inputs did.