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Nano nitrogen fertiliser is chemical: FUTA

  • Academics say recent stock from India not organic
  • Sajith says nano fertiliser doesn’t provide enough nitrogen and is useless
  • Aluthgamage defends nano nitrogen as head and shoulders above urea
  • President tells agrarian service officers to move forward despite challenge

BY Buddhika Samaraweera

Pointing out that the nano nitrogen fertiliser of Indian Farmers’ Fertiliser Co-operative Ltd. (IFFCO), which was imported to Sri Lanka, is a urea-based formulation, the Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) has stated that this fertiliser is a synthetic chemical fertiliser, and not an organic fertiliser.

In a media statement, prepared based on the findings of a group of academics attached to the agriculture and technology faculties of state universities in Sri Lanka, the FUTA has stated that the nano nitrogen fertiliser is a urea-based formulation where urea is coated with polymers to make nano-sized particles. “Therefore, this fertiliser is a synthetic chemical fertiliser, and not an organic fertiliser. Also, nano fertilisers are not accepted in organic agriculture in Sri Lanka as indicated in the standard of requirements for organic agriculture (Sri Lanka Standards [SLS] 1324:2018),” the FUTA statement read.

The Government imported liquid nano nitrogen fertiliser from the IFFCO and from an initial order of 3.1 million litres, 45,000 litres (90,000 bottles, each carrying 500 millilitres) were airlifted on 19 October.

Speaking to The Morning, FUTA Secretary Rohan Laksiri said that the aforesaid statement was prepared based on the findings of a group of professors from all state universities in the country.

The FUTA emphasised that any fertiliser imported to the country needs to be tested following the accepted protocols prior to giving approval for the importation, and also after the shipment has arrived in order to assure quality and to avoid any negative impacts. It added that Sri Lanka, however, does not have any developed SLS standards for nano fertilisers yet and that recommendations should not be made in an ad hoc manner without conducting field investigations.

“At the media briefings of the Agriculture Ministry, we learnt that three applications of 2.5 litres of this fertiliser at a time (i.e. 7.5 litres in total) are adequate to provide the required nutrients for the cultivation of one hectare of paddy crop. When applied at this rate, nano nitrogen fertilisers would provide only 300 grams of nitrogen per one hectare. In general, nearly 105 kilogrammes (kg) of nitrogen is taken up by the paddy crop yielding four to five tonnes of grains per hectare. Accordingly, nano nitrogen fertiliser should be applied at a rate of 1,250 litres per hectare if it is the only source of nitrogen added to the crop, which is an impossible task,” it added.

In the statement, the FUTA also quoted the IFFCO as having indicated that this nano nitrogen fertiliser should be applied only as a top dressing along with a reduced rate of urea, while phosphorus and potassium sources are to be supplied at full rate as per the recommendations.

“All research reports on this liquid fertiliser have recommended using this fertiliser to fulfil only partial requirements of nitrogen for crops and that it be often used with a 50% recommended dose of urea. Therefore, nano nitrogen is more appropriate to be viewed as a supplementary source of nitrogen than a major nutrient source. It is recommended to apply it as a foliar spray. It is said to contain 4% nitrogen. This is a rather new product, which has very recently (March 2021) received approval for large-scale production from the Agriculture Ministry of India.”
The FUTA has further elaborated certain practical issues that may arise during the use of this fertiliser.

It was mentioned in the statement that spraying liquid fertiliser may not be practical for some crops unless the farmers have access to drone technology. “This is because spraying large areas and taller crops such as maize and sugarcane is not practical with commonly used spray tanks. Moreover, the effectiveness of these foliar fertilisers depends on the ground cover by leaf area, weather conditions, and application technology.”

While pointing out that the use of nano nitrogen cannot be realised when the crop suffers from nutrient imbalances, the FUTA stated that there is a serious question as to what should be recommended to the farmers in Sri Lanka, as the sources of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium nutrients are limited in the market with the recent ban imposed on importing synthetic chemical fertilisers.

According to them, applying the nano nitrogen fertiliser at high concentrations, in the absence of the soil application of nitrogen fertiliser such as urea, could damage leaves, and therefore, the available option would be to have the repeated application of nano nitrogen fertiliser at a lower dosage. “However, nano fertilisers are more expensive than regular nitrogen fertilisers. Thus, considering the cost of the fertiliser and the labour cost for the application, the use of foliar fertilisers in a crop like paddy is expensive and will increase the cost of production,” the FUTA statement read.

Claiming that much attention is given to improve and regenerate soil fertility in the eco-friendly and green agriculture concept, the FUTA said that foliar application of fertilisers will not contribute to enhancing soil fertility. Therefore, the FUTA added: “While failing to achieve higher crop yields, it is highly unlikely that the expensive nano fertiliser we have imported will help in realising the objectives of green agriculture.”

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa questioned Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage in Parliament yesterday (21) regarding this nano nitrogen fertiliser, based on two research studies conducted by two local professors on the matter.

Premadasa said that according to a study conducted by Prof. Saman Dharmakeerthi of the University of Peradeniya, about 2.5 litres of the most expensive nano fertiliser provides only 100 grams of nitrogen. “In fact, a paddy plant requires at least 50 kg of nitrogen. Therefore, even if nano fertiliser is applied four times a day, it will not be able to meet the nitrogen requirement of a plant,” he said.

He further added: “Prof. Dharmakeerthi also said that the country has not done enough research on nano fertilisers and that drone technology has to be used to apply this fertiliser to tall crops such as maize. There is not much information about the potential harm to the environment from these new products, and there is also no SLS standard for nano products. The current standard for organic fertilisers in the country does not apply to this.”

Furthermore, Premadasa quoted University of Sri Jayewardenepur Professor of Chemistry S.D.M. Chinthaka who had pointed out that this nano fertiliser is not a fertiliser, but only a plant growth stimulant. “If these fertilisers do not provide enough nitrogen, then it is useless. The IFFCO itself recommends adding nitrogen to the soil as the basic fertiliser and then adding this nano fertiliser.”

Premadasa, who claimed that only a period less than two months has passed since the launch of these nano fertilisers in India as a commercial product, added that even the farmers in India are not aware of their quality.
Since President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was also present when he addressed the Parliament, the Opposition Leader requested the President to contact the above experts regarding nano fertiliser and provide a proper explanation to the farmers.

In response, Aluthgamage said: “Nano nitrogen is the latest technology in the world. What can be done with 50 kg of urea can be done with half a litre of nano nitrogen. Therefore, high-quality nano nitrogen fertiliser will be imported in the future,” he said.

However, Aluthgamage was not seen answering questions raised by Premadasa regarding the quality of nano nitrogen fertilisers.

Meanwhile, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in a teleconference with agrarian service officers yesterday, told them that despite the magnitude of the challenge presented by the switch to organic fertiliser, the desired goals could be achieved by moving forward together.

He had pointed out that the desired objectives could be achieved by resolving the difficulties faced by the farmers, and that it is important to meet the farmers to explain the facts. The main objective of the Government, he noted, is to create an environment where the farmers can earn a better income while protecting the environment and public health.