Bangladesh: Ensuring ‘Fertilizer Security’ For Tackling Crisis – OpEd
There is an energy and food crisis worldwide. None of the global supply systems is in a normal state. Amid this, if we want to produce more food, we must maintain the supply of fertilizers because it is directly related to food production.
Fertilizers are essential for crop production systems in modern agriculture. Among the regulators affecting crop production, fertilizers play a very important role in increasing yield. In fact, the success of the Bangladesh agricultural production system is dependent on inorganic fertilizers. Because these fertilizers are responsible for 50 percent of the total production. However, the contribution of fertilizers to crop production also depends on crop, crop density, season, soil properties and management etc.
On the other hand, the government as well as the Ministry of Agriculture has increased the prices of all kinds of fertilizers. The price of various fertilizers has increased by Rs. 5 per kg. From now on, the farmer will have to pay the price of urea fertilizer, the most widely used in agriculture, at 26 Takas. In August last year, the price of urea fertilizer was increased by Rs.6. Also, DAP fertilizer should be bought at Tk 21 per kg, TSP at Tk 27 and MOP fertilizer at Tk 20 per kg. The agriculture minister admitted that the government had no option to increase the price considering the economic condition of the country, the price of the dollar, the price of fertilizer in the international market and huge subsidies.
It should be noted that the price of fertilizers has been increasing in the international market for the last three years. The agriculture minister also admitted that farmers have to sell their loans, wife’s jewellery, cows and assets to buy fertilizer. As a result, they will be under some pressure if the price of fertilizer increases. However, the government will cooperate in other ways such as cash incentives including seeds, diesel and electricity. It is also true that some farmers use more fertilizers than required, especially urea. It damages land and crops. In that case, if a moderate amount of urea fertilizer is used, the production cost of the farmer can come down. However, even after increasing the price of fertilizers, the government has to subsidize this sector with a huge amount of money every year.
In Surrey, the amount of subsidy in the financial year 2021-22 is Tk 28 thousand crores. In the current financial year, about 46 thousand crore takas will be required in subsidy. An increase in the price of fertilizers will have an impact on the overall cost of production of agricultural products and other sectors as well. In that situation, it is important to keep an eye on the market and price of agricultural products to remain stable.
The present government is not only people-friendly but also farmer-friendly. As part of this, the government has already reduced the price of Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) fertilizer. The government has gradually reduced the price of fertilizers. Note that the government is giving huge subsidies every year, including urea, TSP, MOP, DAP etc. Farmers in the country tend to use urea fertilizers, which are somewhat expensive. If DAP fertilizer is used instead, it is possible to supply urea and phosphate to the land simultaneously. As a result, the production cost of the farmer is reduced, at the same time money and labor are saved, food production increases.
Apart from fertilizers, the government has also given incentives to farmers in other ways. The provision of incentives worth about Tk 170 crore to 2.7 lakh farmers in the current Boro season is undoubtedly positive and hopeful. Under this, 6 lakh 86 thousand 700 small and marginal farmers of the country have been given free cash assistance for seeds, fertilizers and transportation expenses. This assistance is given to increase the production of wheat, maize, mustard, sunflower, groundnut, winter mung, onion, sesame, etc., especially during the Kharif season. In addition to this, in order to ensure balanced food rich in nutrients for the people of the country, adoption of advanced and modern machinery including diversification of crops, replacement of high-yielding and hybrid varieties, above all adaptation to climate change is also necessary.
Since assuming state power in 2009, Sheikh Hasina’s government has been playing an important role in achieving self-sufficiency in fertilizer production in Bangladesh. The government has adopted and implemented several policies and initiatives to address the fertilizer crisis, increase domestic production and reduce dependence on imports. One of the key initiatives was the privatization of the fertilizer industry whereby private companies were allowed to import and distribute fertilizers. This brings competition and improved efficiency in the fertilizer supply process. To make fertilizers more affordable and accessible, the government started providing large-scale subsidies and credit facilities to farmers.
Due to the increase in the price of fertilizer in the international market and Russia-Ukraine war, the government of Bangladesh has to buy fertilizer at least three times the price. On the other hand, the prices of fertilizers sold at subsidized prices in the local market are not able to increase. As a result, the amount of subsidy is increasing. The government of Bangladesh is describing it as ‘both crises.
Although Bangladesh is a major agricultural country, almost all of its fertilizer requirements are imported from abroad. But regardless of the import price, the government sells the fertilizer to the farmer at a nominal price, adding a subsidy. But in the last one year, the price of fertilizer in the international market has almost tripled. Bangladesh is taking several new steps in agriculture.
Most of the fertilizer we need in our country has to be brought from abroad. But due to the coronavirus, ongoing Russia-Ukraine war and the increase in oil prices, the prices of fertilizers have gone up a lot. Fertilizer factories in many countries have closed, they have stopped or reduced exports. As a result, the demand has increased compared to the supply, so the price has also increased.
Urea, TSP, DAP and MOP fertilizers are mainly used in agriculture in Bangladesh. But a year ago, one metric ton of urea was bought for 500 dollars from the international market, but now it has exceeded 800 dollars. The price of TSP fertilizer is 200/300 dollars but it is being sold at 600/700 dollars. As a result, the government is forced to buy fertilizers at higher prices.
With the increase in oil prices, the cost of transportation has also increased. That is also added to the price. According to media reports, Bangladesh requires 26.5 lakh tons of urea fertilizer every year. But the production in Bangladesh is about 10 lakh tons. The rest of the demand is imported from Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Seven and a half lakh metric tons of TSP fertilizer is required. But production in the country is one lakh metric tons. The rest is imported from Morocco, Tunisia. 1.6 lakhs of DAP fertilizer are required. Out of that, 1.5 million metric tons of fertilizer is imported from abroad. This fertilizer is mainly imported from China and Jordan. The demand for MOP fertilizer is 8 lakhs, all of which is imported from Belarus, Russia, Canada.
To increase domestic production, the government has invested heavily in expansion of fertilizer factories, including urea plants. The government undertook various activities to develop the Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC) as an effective institution to oversee the development of the fertilizer industry and promote domestic production. The government’s efforts have paid off and Bangladesh has achieved self-sufficiency in urea production. Production of other types of fertilizers has also increased in the country. For example, diammonium phosphate (DAP) and murate of potash (MOP) were imported earlier but are no longer imported. There has been a great improvement in ensuring availability of fertilizers among farmers and the market price of fertilizers is within the purchasing power of farmers. In addition, the government has focused on increasing the use of organic fertilizers to reduce dependence on chemical fertilizers. The use of organic fertilizers increases the productive capacity of the soil and reduces the negative environmental impact of chemical fertilizers.
Overall, the Sheikh Hasina government’s efforts to achieve self-sufficiency in fertilizer production in Bangladesh are very important for the growth and development of the country’s agricultural sector. Government policies and initiatives have ensured the availability and accessibility of fertilizers, reduced dependence on imports and improved sustainable agricultural practices.
Even two decades ago, the fertilizer crisis in Bangladesh not only reduced agricultural production but also had a devastating impact on the lives and livelihoods of farmers. In some cases, farmers agitating for fertilizer have had to sacrifice their lives. The families of the farmers who were killed at that time have not received justice for that murder. However, due to the implementation of farmer-friendly policies of the present government, the recurrence of those terrible incidents is no longer seen. Farmers now don’t have to agitate for fertilizer. Rather, the employees of various government departments and local government representatives deliver fertilizer cards to farmers’ homes.
The present government is playing a positive role in revolutionizing agricultural production by ensuring adequate supply of fertilizers to farmers at affordable prices. And this is why Bangladesh has achieved self-sufficiency in the production of agricultural products in almost all areas, so the negative impact of the ongoing covid-19 epidemic for the past two years has not affected the people of Bangladesh much. Due to the commendable initiatives of the present government in the agricultural sector as in other sectors, there have been no cases of farmers dying due to demand for fertilizers in Bangladesh in the last 15 years. Even farmers did not have to take to the streets to agitate for fertiliser.