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May 21, 2019

Targeted subsidy stimulates 50pc higher use of ignored farm nutrients


May 21, 2019

LAHORE: The targeted subsidy given by Punjab government on balanced fertiliser application, directly to small-scale farmers, has led to increase in the use of ‘ignored’ farm nutrient potash by 50 percent in the last couple of years, official data suggests.

The surge in demand of Phosphatic and Potassic fertilisers, whose application has otherwise been abysmally low, was seen notably by farmers having small-landholding following launch of a targeted subsidy scheme by the Punjab government in 2017. However, still a lot more needs to be done to achieve optimal level of its balanced application on sustainable basis.

Lower application of Phosphatic and Potassic fertilisers can be attributed as one of the main drivers for our low yield per hectare. According to a study, Pakistan can save up to Rs305 billion annually by ensuring balanced usage of fertiliser, as appropriate quantity of farm nutrients can truly be a key to bolster productivity. Some experts believe that with balanced fertiliser use, wheat productivity can be enhanced by 35 percent and maize by 40 percent.

The two main barriers in use of balanced fertilisers are old practices of farmer and cost of fertiliser application. To address these challenges and encourage farmers, Punjab government introduced direct financial support to farmers through subsidy scheme in 2017, targeting small-scale growers in order to enable them to opt for balanced use of nutrients.

According to official data, resultantly, the use of Potassic fertilisers increased from approximately 32,000 nutrient tons in 2016 to 48,000 nutrient tons in 2018. Similarly, Phosphatic fertilisers also saw significant increase.

Under the concluded subsidy scheme, the total amount directly disbursed for Potassic and Phosphatic fertilisers was Rs500 million and Rs800 million, respectively. Acknowledging the importance of this scheme for the farmers, the new PTI provincial government has decided to continue with this subsidy in 2019.

Keeping in view successful intervention, which led to balanced use of fertiliser, other provinces should replicate the success of Punjab government and introduce similar direct farmer subsidy schemes.

The subsidy has become even more critical as these fertilisers are imported and with rupee being devalued by 40 percent, the cost of these having gone up correspondingly.

Potash is considered an important nutrient for enhancing quality and yield by increasing plant vigour and activating enzymes in the plant body, which helps develops resistance against pests, diseases, and stresses.

Its application helps in increasing sugar or starch contents in plants. It has significant impact on quality and taste of vegetables and fruits, which will increase the export potential of Pakistani produce. Even after this subsidy scheme, use of potash is still very low as it is estimated at merely 10 percent of the potential.

With the increasing local demand of food products and the immense export potential that agriculture sector offers, promoting the use of balanced fertilisation should be one of the top priorities for the government, both at the federal and provincial level.

It may be noted that the imbalanced use of fertilisers results in low economic returns, besides creating environmental issues. The farming community in the country applies nitrogen fertilisers significantly more than Potash.

Potash usage is very low and hardly in double figures at many places. According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), following identification of multiple nutrient deficiencies, the focus has been shifted to balanced fertiliser use based on soil analysis. The use of fertiliser remains profitable provided it is balanced in composition. However, the present application rates are low.

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