September 1, 2023

Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether nano urea will help India’s agriculture sector. We also look at the pharma investments in Gujarat, among other news.


Will nano urea help India’s agriculture sector?

India being an agrarian economy means the government and others are always looking for methods that primarily achieve two things – increased output and farmer incomes. Over the decades, successive governments have introduced plenty of policies to varying degrees of success. Some are more controversial than others. Some are cognizant of the science, while others focus on the economic gains.

Those two concepts are present in the government’s insistence on nano urea for farming. The government wants to reduce its dependence on importing urea, and the local nano urea project is the best way. However, scientists and others aren’t convinced nano urea has any material benefits for farmers.


For a while, India was known as a “subsidy raj”. Some early estimates from a few years ago stated India spends about 2% of its GDP on food, fuel, and fertiliser subsidies. Since 2014, fertiliser subsidies have been the largest after food.

Urea is a vital part of the farming process. The urea market in India is almost exclusively government-controlled. That means its price isn’t allowed to fluctuate all that much. Under the Fertilizer Movement Control Order, manufacturers and distributors are told where to sell. Concerning imports, only a handful of companies are allowed to, with specifications on how much and when.

Regular access to fertilisers is important for a country where agriculture is over 60% of the population’s income source. The government has classified fertilisers as an essential commodity.

Why did fertilisers become so common and vital? It goes back to the 1960s when India struggled on the farming front. India depended on countries like the United States for grains to feed its growing population. That strained the country’s foreign reserves and was a setback to India’s goal to become self-sufficient. The 1970s saw a turnaround. India’s cereal production increased by 45%, and could even afford to export to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Vietnam.

When the time came for economic reforms in 1991, the government wanted to decrease the size of subsidies on all fertilisers. Successful lobbying meant this didn’t happen at the scale intended. The main reason fertiliser subsidies persist is it’s seen as a means of social protection for marginalised farmers. There’s a lot of political resistance to removing subsidies or reducing them to a large extent.

Urea is a major component of the input cost. Any increase in its cost would result in increased food prices. That would not only affect domestic consumption but also exports. In FY2021, India was the top importer of urea. India consumes about 33 million tonnes of urea annually.

In 2021, news came in of nano urea. The Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative (IFFCO) claimed it began commercial production of a first-of-its-kind nano urea liquid after four years of testing and trials. It was produced with proprietary technology at IFFCO’s Biotechnology Research Centre (NBRC) in Kalol, Gujarat. It was sold as a win-win – cheaper than regular urea and better for the environment. However, has that been the case?

VIEW: It’s revolutionary

The liquid nano urea developed by IFFCO was priced at ₹240 for a 500 ml bottle. That would replace the 45 kgs of conventional granulated urea sold at ₹266 after being subsidised. From the government’s point of view, this is a relief since it reduces the cost of transportation, storage, and import. According to Union fertiliser secretary Arun Singhal, India could save ₹15,000-20,000 crore annually.

India has always aimed to be self-reliant in many aspects. This is a positive step in that direction. Instead of importing millions of tonnes of normal urea, 170 million bottles of locally-made nano urea should do the trick. The government has set 2025 as a target to cover 25% of farmers. There’s more good news. New products like organic manure and Di-ammonium Phosphate (DAP) as replacements to conventional fertilisers will also help bring the import bills down.

Nano urea is also better for the environment. Conventional urea emits nitrogen-based greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide. Nano urea is sprayed on the plant leaf. The particles are tiny, about 20 to 50 nanometres. They release nitrogen inside the plant. In initial trials in over 11,000 fields in more than 20 state agriculture universities, the increase in crop yield was about 7-8%.

COUNTERVIEW: Not all are convinced

For something this revolutionary, you would think there’s a lot of data and information about nano urea. That’s not the case. The process to make nano urea is patented, so that information isn’t public. We also don’t know the exact ingredients either. That’s worrying. There’s a sense that the government fast-tracked nano urea production for political purposes.

Concerning trials, the proof should be in the proverbial pudding, but it isn’t. On the ground, farmers didn’t see any meaningful increase in production. Some farmers even had to use conventional and nano-urea, which only increased their input costs. IP Abrol, formerly of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), questioned how nanoparticles can increase the effectiveness of nitrogen uptake by being smaller remains unclear. The increase in yields observed in trials was because nitrogen present in the soil and fertiliser was already sufficient. So, the contribution of nano urea was negligible.

A recent paper by Max Frank and Søren Husted from the University of Copenhagen stated that nano urea is “a poorly described product with no scientifically proven effects.” Their hypothesis is that the nitrogen content in the soil will deplete and yields will remain stable, irrespective of whether nano urea is added or not. As the years go by, nitrogen levels will further decrease as they get used up and become so low that yields will start to suffer – 21 kg of nitrogen from urea compared to 20 grams from nano urea.

Reference Links:

  • More and more urea – Down to Earth
  • Explained: How Indian Farmers Use Fertilisers And What Is The Patter On Consumption – India Times
  • What is nano urea? India’s ‘21st century’ product aiming to revolutionise world agriculture – The Print
  • Nano-urea can help farmers, country and climate, says inventor – Deccan Herald
  • Nano-urea will help India save ₹15-20k cr, claims govt – Livemint
  • Nano urea in field trials: Ingredients of fertiliser a mystery – Down to Earth
  • Scientists are unsure about how ‘Nano Urea’ benefits crops – The Hindu
  • The Union Government’s Nano Urea Dream Project Is at Best a Paper Tiger – The Wire

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) Nano urea will help the Indian agriculture sector.

b) Nano urea won’t help the Indian agriculture sector.


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