June 14, 2022
KATHMANDU – The House of Representatives has ordered the government to procure chemical fertilisers by any means necessary even as countries around the globe are scrambling to avert a seemingly inevitable drop in crop yields due to a worldwide shortage of nutrients.
On Monday, lawmakers from the main opposition CPN-UML registered an emergency motion of public importance demanding that other regular programmes of Parliament be halted to discuss chemical fertiliser shortages across the country. UML chief whip Bishal Bhattarai filed the motion.
“Serious attention of this House has been drawn by the shortage of chemical fertiliser,” said Agni Prasad Sapkota, Speaker of the lower house of Parliament.
He said that 48 lawmakers had spoken on the subject on Monday. “Hence, the motion has been presented to Parliament for deliberation.”
Fertiliser shortages have gripped countries across the world, raising concern about a food crisis if production falls short of targets. Nepal has announced increasing food output, particularly cereal, by 30 percent in its recently issued budget statement.
During deliberations on Monday, lawmakers, even those from the ruling Nepali Congress, questioned how this would be possible without an adequate supply of chemical fertiliser.
A report of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development published on June 8 says the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine are extending human suffering far beyond its borders. The war has exacerbated a global cost-of-living crisis unseen in at least a generation, compromising lives, livelihoods, and our aspirations for a better world by 2030, the report said.
According to the report, higher energy costs, trade restrictions and a loss of fertiliser supply from the Russian Federation and Belarus have led to fertiliser prices rising even faster than food prices.
Many farmers, and especially smallholders, are thus squeezed to reduce production, as the fertilisers they need become more expensive than the grains they sell.
Critically, new fertiliser plants take at least two years to become operational, meaning that most of the current supply of fertilisers is limited, the report said.
“Because of this key fertiliser issue, global food production in 2023 may not be able to meet rising demand. Rice, a major staple which up to now has low prices because of good supplies, and is the most consumed staple in the world, could be significantly affected by this phenomenon of declining fertiliser affordability for the next season.”
Time is short to prevent a food crisis in 2023 in which we will have both a problem with food access and food availability, the report said.
“If the war continues and high prices of grain and fertilisers persist into the next planting season, food availability will be reduced at the worst possible time, and the present crisis in corn, wheat and vegetable oil could extend to other staples, affecting billions more people.”
Lawmaker Bhattarai told Parliament that the government should immediately initiate the process to import chemical fertiliser through a government-to-government arrangement.
Farmers across the country have been facing a shortage of chemical fertilisers as the paddy transplantation period has got underway in many districts.
“Plants can’t grow without fertiliser, we all know that,” UML lawmaker Ganesh Kumar Pahadi told Parliament. “The government knew about this issue for months, but no one took it seriously.”
Pahadi said the fertiliser crisis had intensified, and that it was no longer in the hands of the agriculture minister to resolve it. “The prime minister should take the lead and ask his Indian counterpart to bail out the country.”
Nepali farmers are starting to feel the pinch.
While farmers in the hills have started to transplant paddy, Tarai farmers are beginning to sow the seeds as monsoon clouds entered Nepal from the east on June 5, eight days before the revised expected onset date of June 13, according to weathermen.
According to the Agriculture Ministry, Nepal’s annual requirement of chemical fertiliser is 600,000 tonnes. One-third of this will be used during the paddy planting season, and farmers must have at least 150,000-170,000 tonnes to avoid a disaster.
The paddy transplantation season runs from early June to August.
The requirement of diammonium phosphate (DAP) for the paddy season is 60,000 tonnes. The Agriculture Ministry says there is no shortage of DAP this season.
But urea is another story. It does not have even a grain of the nutrient in stock.
Nepali Congress lawmaker Bharat Kumar Shah told the House that they had reminded the government to set aside Rs30 billion to import chemical fertiliser for the next fiscal year as prices have gone through the roof.
“But the government did not listen. One of the reasons why Sri Lanka has fallen into economic distress is bad farm policy. We should not repeat that mistake,” said Shah.
He added that it was not possible to import fertiliser from India because the southern neighbour too is struggling to manage it.
The government had allocated Rs15 billion to import fertiliser for this fiscal year. Initially, it was estimated that the amount would be enough to buy at least 500,000 tonnes. But due to the rise in prices, officials say it might be difficult to buy even 200,000 tonnes with the money.
According to the Department of Customs, Nepal had imported 172,000 tonnes of chemical fertilisers in the first 10 months of the current fiscal year ending mid-July.
Lawmakers said a shortage of chemical fertiliser always appears during the paddy transplantation season.
“In the next fiscal year, the coalition government has targeted to increase the production of cereals by 30 percent,” said Nepali Congress lawmaker Dila Sangraula Pant speaking in Parliament.
“Is this possible without applying chemical fertilisers to the plants? The motion filed by the opposition party is important. The government should be serious. Farmers should get chemical fertiliser on time,” said Pant.
The Agriculture Ministry had said that it was fast-tracking the import of chemical fertilisers from India through a government-to-government deal as the country faces one of its worst fertiliser crises ahead of the paddy growing season.
The cabinet had recently cleared a bunch of legal hurdles to facilitate a rush shipment of urgently needed crop nutrients, and allowed the Agriculture Inputs Company to make full advance payment to the Indian supplier designated by New Delhi.
The Cabinet has also permitted the state-owned company to accept certificates of quality and other paperwork issued by the Indian government at the port of discharge where the cargo will be unloaded.
Nepali officials are keenly hoping that the farm inputs will arrive by mid-July, forestalling a shortage with the paddy transplantation season already underway.
The shortage of chemical fertiliser, a political commodity, has become a headache for the government ahead of the general elections scheduled for later this year.
According to the Nepal Embassy in India, Agriculture Minister Mahendra Ray Yadav met with Mansukh Mandaviya, Minister of Chemical and Fertilisers of India, in New Delhi last Monday, and requested an early supply of fertilisers, highlighting its urgency in Nepal.
The Indian minister assured Yadav that the fertiliser shipment would be sent to Nepal as soon as possible.
On Monday, lawmakers said that the government should import chemical fertilisers even if it has to transport the shipments by air from third countries if India is reluctant to help Nepal.
The agriculture minister is confident of receiving chemical fertilisers from India, at least enough to mitigate the ongoing crisis.
“We have written to many countries asking whether they can support us. But no one replied,” Agriculture Minister Mahendra Raya Yadav told Parliament on Monday. “India has assured delivery. We are making arrangements to bring chemical fertilisers from our southern neighbour.”