Fertilizer, Opinions

Inefficient fertiliser use damaging soil fertility in Punjab

THE unsustainable management practices in Punjab have damaged soil fertility and health, leading to promotion of chemical fertilisers which too is inefficient to the desirable level, according to the Soil Fertility Atlas recently published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.
These scenarios warrant adoption of best management practices to enhance fertiliser use efficiency and improve soil fertility for sustaining agricultural productivity, according to the atlas, published in association with the US Department of Agriculture and United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The atlas reveals that the use of nutrients is skewed towards nitrogen and phosphorus while the proportional use of potassium is less than one per cent. The use of micronutrients and organic sources of nutrients is not common among most farmers.
The atlas observed five crops and found that 10pc of farmers use organic sources of nutrients, predominantly in wheat-occupied cropping systems, whereas 20pc of farmers across Punjab apply micronutrients regardless of the product quality.
The soil fertility atlas for Punjab is a comprehensive document that provides detailed information on cropping patterns, management practices, soil fertility status, and trends of fertiliser use, advisory services and facilities available to the farmers in the province.
An atlas launched by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation is expected to help the province adopt best management practices
It also suggests the strategies to maximise productivity while sustaining the soil health and environmental quality.
“The atlas will help understand the soil fertility management changes required for sustainable agricultural intensification in Punjab,” said Mina Dowlatchahi, the FAO’s representative in Pakistan.
Preserving soil fertility in production intensification is at the heart of any action that aims at protecting, restoring and promoting the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, and halting and reversing land degradation and biodiversity loss, she said.
Nevertheless, the burning of crop residues and a lack of scientific application of both inorganic and organic sources of nutrients still remained a concern. Indeed, the district-wise disaggregation of the National Fertiliser Development Centre’s (NFDC) off-take data did not reflect the actual usage of the fertilisers at farm-gate level.
This divergence, when compared with the rapid fertiliser use assessment (RFUA), was attributed to the storage of fertilisers at various locations in Punjab. Overall, the cumulative usage of fertilisers in all of the regions for five crops followed the same trend: rice-wheat, pulse-wheat and maize-wheat-oilseeds, except one crop production region, i.e. mixed cropping of cotton and wheat.
A nearly 70pc higher nutrient use was figured out from RFUA for all crop production regions except in the rice-wheat based cropping system than the processed NFDC off-take.
Since the increased use of nutrients presumably enhanced yields in case of wheat, further investigations are required in the specific crop production regions to determine suitable nutrient use scenarios for improved efficiency and yield.
The atlas observed that soil-related constraints weighted 40pc in the problem-matrix that could hamper productivity was reported by the farmers at provincial level. However, the degree of soil constraints varied from 43pc to 50pc in regional scenarios.
In Thal and rain-fed areas, canal water shortage and high inputs prices emerged as the principal components impacting productivity and farmers’ satisfaction.
The generation of soil maps for regional scenarios to identify the limiting soil constraints in the consistently poor performing areas may be helpful.
Although crop production in good quality soils is the priority, a simultaneous focus should be on agricultural constrained soils under the changing climate scenarios.
In a nutshell, the first 2Rs of the desirable 4R nutrient stewardship (i.e. right fertilisation at the right rate at the right time in the right place) are usually practised, but the latter 2Rs are rarely followed by the farming communities, which resulted in low nutrient use efficiency and economic returns.
This is the first step forward in the right direction and similar activities should be undertaken in other provinces of the country for achieving the food security and socio-economic uplift.
The atlas recommended that a network of soil, plant, water and fertiliser quality testing facilities for the benefit of the farming community should be established. The existing testing laboratories may not be enough to facilitate about four million farmers of Punjab.
Outreach linkages with the farmers should be strengthened for extensive surveys and assessments at farm-gate level and applying best management practices according to 4R soil constraint-based commodity specific packages. According to USAID’s Mission Director Jerry Bisson, the atlas will help in understanding the soil fertility management changes required for sustainable intensification of Punjab, which is the bread basket of Pakistan and accounts for 60pc of the country’s agricultural products.

Courtesy Dawn