Biofertilizers: Are they here to stay?

Tom Miles

Biofertilizers: Are they here to stay?
Alok Adholeya & Deepak Pant, Biotechnology & Management of Bioresources, The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi
in Biotech News, Newsletter of Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, Vol II No. 1 February 2007

Fertilizers supply essential plant nutrients, mainly Nitrogen (N), Potash (K) and Phosphorous (P) as they are removed in large quantities from the soil by each successive harvest. Increasingly high inputs of chemical fertilizers for high yield agriculture during the last 150 years has not only left our soils degraded, polluted and less productive but also posed severe health hazards. For instance, in South-East Asia, decline in productivity of
major cereals, particularly rice, has been observed due to decrease in effective N-supply and adverse changes in
organic content in soils due to over dependence on nitrogenous chemical fertilizers. Attempts to increase Nsupply
by excessive application of fertilizers lead to poor utilization of the same by target crops resulting in passage of
the excess N to water bodies, nitrates to ground water and green house gases to the atmosphere. In soils with general nutrient deficiency such as red, laterite and mountain soils, the deficiencies of P, S & Zn is accelerated due to excessive Ninduced dry matter. This leads to further decline in crop yield.

Increasing awareness in this regard has gradually brought about a major shift in consumer preferences towards organic food grown without use of any chemicals whatsoever. This is particularly so in the developed countries but the trend is beginning to catch in other countries as well, including India. The global market for organic food and natural products is on the upswing and is expected to have touched USD 40 billion by 2006 (actual figures awaited). Demand for organic food has seen a steady increase both in developed and developing countries. Worldwide, over 130 countries are producing certified organic products in commercial quantities today. India is the third largest producer and consumer of fertilizers in the world (after China and USA) accounting for 12% of world production of N & P nutrients and 12.6% of world consumption of NPK nutrients.

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