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Publication > Issue > Articles

India's challenge: improving food grains productivity

Summary

While 2003/04 has been dubbed the Indian Year of Agri Recovery, marked by increased food production and fertilizer consumption, significant challenges lie ahead: how can a forecast ­population of 1.2 billion people by 2011/12 be fed? To achieve this target, food grains productivity will have to increase drastically. Raza Soomar, President of RNZ International, describes what will be required if India is to enjoy a second Green Revolution.

Abstract

India has been one of the greatest beneficiaries of the Green Revolution, having transformed itself from a nation with chronic food deficits to self-sufficiency within just four decades. Today, India consistently produces over 200 million t/a of food grains and it currently enjoys a surplus stock of about 60 million tonnes. Agriculture provides employment for almost two-thirds of the rural population, contributing just under one quarter of India’s GDP. The transformation of its agricultural sector has provided the springboard for India’s burgeoning economic growth in industry and modern services, including IT, in which India is becoming a global leader. As an inevitable sign of a country’s economic advance, agriculture is now accounting for a diminishing share of the Indian GDP, having fallen from 28 % to 24 % in the past six years.

Indian agriculture is currently at a critical juncture. Having reaped the massive gains that the Green Revolution offered, limitations and less favourable side effects are now coming to the fore. The law of diminishing returns is also beginning to take effect. There is furthermore a growing concern about the potential environmental impact of the technological innovations applied in many regions. Nutrient mining – the insufficient replenishment of plant nutrients to offset their removal by crop plants – is likewise emerging as a problem, with adverse effects on soil fertility.

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Asia's changing impact on world ­fertilizer markets

Summary

For long the world's primary importers of fertilizers and associated raw materials, China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam are now increasingly self-sufficient and are even evolving into ­significant exporters. Who will gain and who stands to lose as these developments have an ­increasing impact in international trade and the global balance of supply and demand?

Abstract

The upsurge in imports of fertilizers and associated raw materials that the Green Revolution fuelled throughout developing Asia from the late 1970s onwards was a bonanza for producers in Western Europe and North America. It was timely too, as the home markets for these suppliers were reaching maturity and domestic demand for fertilizers began to level off. Two decades later, the situation throughout developing Asia began to change radically. China’s imports of urea, DAP and potash peaked in the mid- to late-1990s as priority was given to developing indigenous capacity, India likewise gyrated between a “make-or-buy” policy, subsequently developing significant domestic capacity for both urea and phosphate fertilizers, while Indonesia and Vietnam harnessed readily available supplies of natural gas to promote the rapid development of major domestic urea industries. The Indo­nesian industry was export-oriented from the outset; Vietnam was able to sell surplus production in neighbouring markets; now China, for so long the perennial importer of urea, has since 2000 established a presence in urea export markets too.

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Bio-ethanol: a viable biofuel?

Summary

The search continues for alternatives to fossil fuels for vehicles. Ethanol has enjoyed a long pedigree, and it can be produced from many sources, including sugars and starches derived from such crops as sugar cane, maize and wheat. Indeed, Brazil obtains a significant proportion of its fuel needs from ethanol sourced from agriculture. In this, the second of a series of reviews of biofuels and their implications for energy, agriculture and fertilizers, Ken Gilbert assesses the prospects for ethanol.

Abstract

It was long believed that the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula first brewed alcohol some 8,000 years ago. Now, there is evidence that the inhabitants of what is now China may have invented alcohol 1,000 years earlier. Analysis of 9,000 year-old pottery shards found in Henan Province showed the presence of alcohol precursors in the dried organic material in the base of the jars. Researchers have speculated that alcohol may have had cultural, medical and religious importance.

Since its discovery, vast amounts of ethanol have been made for human consumption, mostly in dilute solution in water. It has also been used for many centuries, along with animal and plant oils, as a fuel for cooking and heating, and as a lamp oil. The main milestones in its use as a vehicle fuel are:

  • Before gasoline came on the scene around 1900, ethanol was used in the first automobiles (horseless carriages) in Europe and the United States.
  • Henry Ford introduced the Model T in 1908. It could run on ethanol or gasoline.
  • By the early 1920s, gasoline-alcohol blends were widely used throughout the world. Some countries, including Brazil, France and Germany, mandated the use of ethanol in blends with gasoline in the mid-1920s.
  • Ethanol remained a serious competitor to gasoline in Europe up to the late 1930s.
  • The energy crisis of 1973 raised the price of gasoline above that of ethanol, and by the mid-1980s, billions of gallons per year of ethanol were being sold worldwide as automotive fuel.
  • Ethanol was added to automotive fuels specifically to reduce pollution for the first time in 1988.
  • In 2003, the widely-used oxygenate methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) began to be replaced by ethanol, firstly in California and then in other US states.

 

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Neelam Chemicals serves India's producers

Summary

Fertilizers are at serious risk of caking. In response, speciality chemicals companies around the world have developed products to counter this risk. One such company is Neelam Chemicals, which supplies the Indian industry with a series of tailor-made products.

Abstract

The ever-increasing popularity of urea and NPK fertilizers among Indian farmers is described elsewhere in this issue, as is the impressive progress in the development of a major indigenous industry to meet this demand. In India, as elsewhere in the world, the increasing use of mechanised bulk handling and spreading techniques as well as competition between suppliers require higher quality fertilizer products. One prerequisite is that the finished product, whether in prilled or granular form as a straight urea fertilizer or in the form of blended NPK fertilizer, will be able to withstand the rigours of handling, transportation and storage before final application on the crop. In India, this becomes a more acute issue, given the considerable vagaries of the climate throughout the country.

Despite the improvements made in the manufacture of fertilizers, they remain potentially vulnerable to several potential problems, at the plant, in transit, and at the warehouse. These problems are centred on caking, dusting and moisture pick-up. (Fertiliser Coatings, A. Ohlsson [2000]. International Fertiliser Society, Proceedings No. 453.)

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So you want to make granular NPKs

Summary

Do you then opt to build a granulation plant or a blending facility? It's a matter of horses for courses, explains Charles Formisani, Project Engineer and Manager of A. J. Sackett & Sons Co., as each type of technology has specific advantages – and potential disadvantages. This review is based on the paper that Charles Formisani presented at British Sulphur's recent Fertilizer Latin America Conference in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Abstract

There are several important points that are common throughout the world in terms of fertilizer usage, and these will become ever more important as the population grows, the land available for food production decreases, and the cost of labour increases:

  • The economics of fertilizer use are governed mainly by the value of the crop response per unit of nutrient provided by the fertilizer.
  • The methods for producing, distributing and applying fertilizers need to be optimised.
  • Fertilizers need to have as high a nutrient content as feasible in order to minimise the cost of distribution and application.
  • Fertilizers applied in a multinutrient form are the most economical method and generally offer the best farm management practice.

As farm practices become more sophisticated, the requirements for the incorporation of micronutrients will be increasingly important. Given these parameters, the questions that seem to be asked most frequently are:

  • What production and distribution methods are available and how can they best meet the needs of the region?
  • What are our choices and how do we evaluate them relative to our particular resources and requirements?

There is no one right answer or one best way. There are a multitude of variables that influence the final direction that is taken. These influences may be technical in nature, economic, political and – increasingly – environmental. The choices essentially narrow down to four major processes for producing multinutrient fertilizers, as follows:

  • Chemical granulation
  • Steam granulation
  • Compaction
  • Bulk blending.

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An onus on supply in India

Summary

India has built up a significant downstream phosphate sector, even though indigenous sources meet only a small share of the country's requirements for phosphate rock. Several projects to expand capacity in the fertilizer and industrial phosphates sectors will boost the demand for phosphate rock. In this analysis, Dr. S. M. Rege of Tradex India Corporation Pvt. Ltd. looks at the implications on a company-by-company basis.

Abstract

India’s requirement for phosphate rock has ranged between 4.5-5 million t/a over the past three years. This is set to increase, as two companies – Hindalco and Sterlite – are increasing their copper cathode capacity, as a result of which their requirement for phosphate rock will rise by around 150,000 t/a each from 2006. Meanwhile, Paradeep Phosphates Ltd. (PPL) is revamping its phosphoric acid plant, which will result in an additional requirement of about 500,000 t/a of phosphate rock when the work is completed in the last quarter of 2006. A further significant jump in Oswal Chemicals & Fertilizer Ltd.’s consumption of phosphate rock will depend on the capacity utilisation at the 1.92 million t/a DAP complex. Due to a general shortage of phosphoric acid in the world market, several Indian DAP producers may contemplate building new phosphoric acid plants.

India’s indigenous production of phosphate rock comprised 1.26 million tonnes in 2003/04, mainly from Rajasthan (1.18 million tonnes) and Madhya Pradesh (46,000 tonnes). In order to meet the requirements of the domestic fertilizer market, various plants import around 4.9 million t/a of phosphate rock for the production of single superphosphate (SSP) and phosphoric acid, which is in turn used for the production of NP and NPK fertilizers. Imported phosphate rock is also used for the production of STPP (Sodium Tri­PolyPhosphate), which is the main raw material for the production of detergents, and also for the production of technical and food grade phosphoric acid.

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Right place, right time

Summary

British Sulphur's debut Phosphates 2005 Conference and Exhibition at the Sofitel Rive Gauche, Paris was held between 3-5 April. Participants and organisers agreed that the event hit the mark. Look out for an announcement about next year's Phosphates 2006, which is being planned for Brussels, Belgium.

Abstract

Phosphates 2005 was British Sulphur’s first-ever international conference and exhibition that was dedicated specifically to this vital nutrient and ingredient in many industrial and consumer products. It proved to be singularly well timed, while all participants welcomed the choice of Paris as the venue. They took advantage of their opportunities to meet and conduct business at the Sofitel Rive Gauche. Under the theme of Phosphates – Adding Value, the meeting brought to­gether representatives from the entire spectrum of the global phosphate industry, including fertilizers, animal feeds and in­dustrial uses, as well as those involved in the mining, shipping, trading and agronomic research sectors.

The international phosphates industry is undergoing fundamental change, as fertilizer companies diversify into feed and industrial products, as the global shift towards protein diets results in increased demand for animal feeds, and as the phosphate industries of such major players as Russia, China and Brazil undergo restructuring and new thrusts in strategic direction.

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Copebrás celebrates its half centenary

Summary

On 6 May, the Brazilian phosphates producer, Copebrás, celebrated its 50th anniversary. Founded in 1955, the company, which is now 73% owned by the Anglo American group, today focuses its interests on adding value to phosphate rock. With an annual production of around 1.3 million tonnes of rock, it uses this raw material to produce a broad range of products, including phosphate fertilizers, sodium tripolyphosphate and dicalcium phosphate. Lynda Davies tells the full story...

Abstract

Founded in 1955 to start up Brazil’s first carbon black plant at Cubatão, in São Paulo state, Copebrás has subsequently diversified its operations in order to keep pace with the country’s economic development. Today, the company, whose annual sales now exceed R$750 million ($299 million), focuses its interests on phosphates. It produces and sells an extensive range of finished fertilizers, including SSP, TSP and MAP to the country’s agricultural sector. It also produces and sells sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP) to the detergent sector, and dicalcium phosphate (DCP) for the animal feed industry.

Copebrás today operates just under 1.1 million t/a of finished fertilizer capacity at two sites and holds an approximate 6% share of the Brazilian fertilizer market, which currently is around 23 million t/a. In terms of demand met by indigenously produced fertilizers, the company supplies around 12% of the total.

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Phosphate producers address the challenge of change

Summary

At Phosphates 2005, Dr. Nina Khangaldyan, Head of Market Research and Analysis at JSC PhosAgro, provided a comprehensive review of the issues facing the Russian phosphate fertilizer industry as it meets The Challenges of Change. We have great pleasure in publishing her paper in full.

Abstract

In the Russian fertilizer industry, the phosphate sector plays a particularly important role, being a leading supplier to the global market and generating valuable foreign exchange. The demise of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991 was marked by massive social and economic upheaval, and the resulting collapse in domestic agriculture led to the collapse overnight in the demand for all fertilizers. The USSR had a well-established phosphate industry, based on the exploitation of apatite rock in the Murmansk region in the north west Russia and the Kara Tau mines in southern Kazakhastan. In 1985, the USSR was the world’s largest producer of phosphate rock, producing an estimated 30.5 million tonnes, of which nearly 4 million tonnes were exported.

The 1990s were years of deep crisis for the Russian phosphate industry, but the most recent years have been marked by a significant recovery in output and sales, and we foresee a strong and stable recovery in the phosphate fertilizer industry. The main positive factors in the Russian phosphate fertilizer industry are a high in­dustrial and export potential, the further concentration of production, investment activities and promising developments in the internal market.

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