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Editorial: Making our own fertilizer

Editorial: Making our own fertilizer

It’s a genuine fear. With nearly 70 percent of Nepali households still reliant on agriculture for their livelihood, an acute shortage of fertilizers in the plantation season spells trouble for those in the government as the country heads into national and provincial elections. Ensuring timely and adequate supply of fertilizers should be de rigueur for the government of an agriculture-dependent country. Yet the ruling parties seem to have sprung into action only when they realized that widespread anger among farmers, the traditional vote banks of political parties, could hurt them electorally.

The country is worryingly short of chemical fertilizers, urea especially, this plantation season. The government has been trying to import more chemical fertilizers from India, China, Indonesia and every other possible place. It isn’t easy. The war in Ukraine has resulted in food shortages and high inflation around the world, making countries limit the exports of vital commodities like medicines and fertilizers. Nepal is having a hard time importing enough fertilizers for its farmers in this global climate of shortages and supply bottlenecks.  

Yet things in Nepal should not have gotten so bad that many farmers now see no option to looting whatever little fertilizer there is, as happened in Dhading recently. Many pieces of the fertilizer shortage puzzle are askew. Our antiquated procurement laws unnecessarily lengthen the import process. Following much criticism, the Cabinet decided to sidestep these laws and import fertilizers from India on a government-to-government basis. But it is still unclear how imports from other countries will be dealt with. 

Inexplicably, even as the country’s need for fertilizers has soared and foreign goods have become costlier, the new budget allocated a paltry Rs 15bn for fertilizer import—less than half the needed amount. This was shortsighted. In the foreseeable future, the only durable way to meet domestic demand is to produce more chemical fertilizers inside the country. Relying on foreign governments and companies is no longer a safe bet as the country inches closer to a full-blown food crisis resulting from low volumes and high prices of food-related imports.