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Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 01 April 2024

  1. Sustainable Agriculture with Nano-Fertilisers
  2. Empowering India’s Tribal Communities


Context:

Recently the Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers, has revealed that urea consumption in the current fiscal year is anticipated to decrease by 8 percent compared to FY 2022-23, attributed to the adoption of its liquid nano variant. This, coupled with increased domestic production, has resulted in a decline of over one-fifth in urea imports, a soil nutrient accounting for 70 percent of the fertiliser subsidy bill, in 2023 compared to the previous year.

Relevance:

GS3-

  • Biotechnology
  • Indigenization of Technology
  • Agricultural Resources

Mains Question:

Discuss the benefits of nano-fertilisers vis-à-vis conventional fertilisers. What are the challenges regarding the technical feasibility and logistical implications of transition? (15 Marks, 250 Words).

About Nano Urea:

  • Nano Urea represents a groundbreaking advancement in agricultural inputs, utilizing nanotechnology to deliver nitrogen to plants effectively.
  • Developed and patented by the Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited (IFFCO), IFFCO Nano Urea stands as the sole nano fertilizer sanctioned by the Government of India and incorporated into the Fertilizer Control Order (FCO).
  • Compared to traditional urea prills, Nano Urea boasts a finely-tuned particle size ranging from 20 to 50 nm, offering significantly enhanced surface area (exceeding 10,000 times that of a 1 mm urea prill) and a greater number of particles (with 55,000 nitrogen particles surpassing those found in a 1 mm urea prill).It contains a total nitrogen content of 4.0% (w/v).

Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited (IFFCO):

  • As India’s largest multi-state cooperative society, IFFCO operates under complete ownership of Indian cooperatives.
  • Primarily involved in the production and distribution of fertilizers, IFFCO plays a pivotal role in supporting agricultural practices nationwide.
  • Headquartered in New Delhi, India, IFFCO serves as a cornerstone in the agricultural sector, championing innovation and sustainability in fertilizer production and distribution.

More on the Recent Developments:

  • The further proliferation of nano urea consumption and the commencement of operations at a new large urea plant (Talcher in Odisha) by September 2023 are anticipated to eliminate imports within the next two to three years.
  • The Minister’s remarks underscore the unprecedented possibilities presented by nano-fertilisers (in addition to nano-urea, the industry has also introduced nano-DAP, with other fertiliser types in nano form such as nano-potash, nano-zinc, nano-boron, etc., currently under development).
  • These advancements promise not only a significant reduction in fertiliser subsidies but also aim to address the imbalance in fertiliser use, mitigate soil health degradation, and contribute to achieving environmental objectives.
  • Furthermore, there are additional benefits in terms of savings in foreign exchange expenditure, a reduction in the current account deficit (CAD), and decreased strain on the logistics chain, particularly in transport and storage infrastructure.

About Nano Urea and Nano DAP:

  • Nano-urea is characterized by urea particles at a nanoscale, ranging from 20 to 50 nanometres (nm) in size.
  • Nano-urea delivers nitrogen (‘N’) to plants in liquid form, offering an alternative to traditional urea, predominantly supplied in prill form (small spherical white solids).
  • Similarly, nano-DAP delivers both nitrogen (‘N’) and phosphate (‘P’) nutrients to plants in liquid form, providing an alternative to conventional DAP.
  • The remarkable aspect of nano-fertiliser lies in its extremely small size and large surface area, which are approximately 10,000 times greater than that of a 1 mm urea prill.
  • This characteristic facilitates easy absorption by plant leaves. These nanoparticles enter plants through cuticular pores or stomata and then penetrate cell membranes via endocytosis.
  • Once inside the cell, they release nutrients gradually, ensuring complete absorption and minimizing waste, unlike conventional methods.

Benefits of Nano Urea:

Efficiency:

The Nano Biotechnology Research Centre (NBRC) of the Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative (IFFCO), the innovator behind nano-fertilisers, claims that nano urea boasts an efficiency rate of over 80 percent in terms of nutrient absorption (‘N’) by plants, compared to around 40 percent for conventional urea. Moreover, nano urea has been shown to increase crop yields by 3-16 percent. Similarly, nano-DAP offers efficiency gains and yield increases.

Environmental Benefits:

  • In addition to its efficacy, nano-urea usage also addresses environmental concerns associated with conventional urea, such as nitrate leaching, global warming, ozone layer depletion, and groundwater pollution.
  • Research indicates that two foliar sprays of nano-urea reduced nitrogen load by 25 percent and decreased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 164.2 to 416.5 kg CO2-eq ha-1 across various crops.

Comparison with Conventional Urea:

Nano-form urea with just 20 grams can achieve what conventional urea does with 20 kg—a difference in efficiency of 1000 times.

Fiscal Benefits:

  • The significant disparity in efficiency allows IFFCO to offer a 500-ml bottle of nano-urea to farmers for Rs 240 without relying on any subsidy support.
  • In contrast, the cost of providing an equivalent amount of conventional urea in a 45 kg bag is over eleven times higher, standing at approximately Rs 2650.
  • To ensure the conventional urea is available to farmers at the same price of Rs 240, the government must provide a subsidy of Rs 2410.
  • Regarding DAP, IFFCO/NBRC contends that a 500-ml bottle of nano-DAP equals a 50-kg bag of conventional DAP.

Way Forward:

  • According to the Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers, India is projected to produce approximately 55 million bottles of nano-urea during FY 2023-24, replacing 2.5 million tons of conventional urea.
  • This replacement serves multiple purposes: it helps reduce excess urea consumption, thereby addressing the imbalance in fertilizer use and improving soil health. Additionally, it results in a significant reduction in subsidy expenditure.
  • Considering the subsidy of Rs 2410 per 45 kg bag, the subsidy on the import of one ton of conventional urea amounts to Rs 53,550 (2410 multiplied by 22.22, the number of bags in a ton).
  • With 2.5 million tons replaced by nano-urea, the total savings amount to approximately Rs 13,400 crore, as nano-urea does not require subsidy support. Similar savings in subsidy are anticipated with the replacement of conventional DAP by nano-DAP.
  • In the meantime, the government aims to ramp up the production of nano-urea to approximately 440 million bottles by 2024-25. This quantity is equivalent to 20 million tonnes of conventional urea, constituting around 60 percent of its total current consumption in 2023-24.
  • However, there are concerns about the feasibility of such a substantial substitution. Typically, urea is applied in two doses: basal application, which involves evenly spreading solid fertilizers across the entire field before or during sowing or planting, and top dressing, which entails applying fertilizer directly onto the leaves rather than into the soil. Nano-urea is designed to replace conventional urea only in top dressing, while basal application remains in solid form.
  • Scientists recommend that around 50 percent of the application, or roughly 16.5 million tonnes, be sourced from nano-urea. Even at this level, urea imports (currently estimated at 6.4 million tonnes in 2023-24) would be eradicated.
  • Moreover, for the remaining 10 million tonnes derived from nano-urea, the demand for natural gas (NG) – the raw material for urea production – would be significantly reduced.

Conclusion:

Among its many benefits, nano-urea would also lead to a significant reduction in the load on infrastructure. Consider the impact of handling, transporting, storing, and delivering a 500-ml bottle of nano-urea compared to a bag of conventional urea containing 45,000 grams of material. The same applies to transporting a 500-ml bottle of nano-DAP versus a bag of conventional DAP containing 50,000 grams of material.



Context:

In recent times, India has witnessed remarkable progress across various sectors, including space exploration and technological innovation. However, amidst these advancements, the indigenous tribal communities within the nation confront numerous obstacles hindering their development and overall well-being. This raises a pressing need for collective endeavors to address their requirements and diminish prevailing socio-economic disparities.

Relevance:

GS-2

  • Issues Related to SCs and STs
  • Government Policies and Interventions

Mains Question:

There is an urgent need to bridge the gap between national development agendas and the harsh realities experienced by marginalised tribal communities. Analyse. (10 Marks, 150 Words).

Tribal Population in India:

  • Following Africa, India hosts the second largest concentration of tribal population globally. According to the 2011 Census, tribal communities make up approximately 8.9% of India’s total population.
  • The Census also reveals that Scheduled Tribes constitute 8.6% of the nation’s overall population and 11.3% of the rural population.
  • Tribal communities comprise approximately 10 crore individuals distributed across different states.
  • Despite their rich diversity in cultures, languages, and traditions, these communities share common experiences of marginalization and socio-economic gaps.
  • Traditionally, they have maintained a harmonious relationship with nature, relying on age-old livelihood practices such as agriculture, hunting, and gathering.

Challenges Encountered:

  • Despite endeavors to enhance educational accessibility, tribal communities continue to confront hurdles in achieving educational parity.
  • The literacy rate among tribal populations stands at a concerning 59 percent, notably lower than the national average.
  • Factors such as inadequate infrastructure, shortages of educators, and cultural barriers contribute to this educational disparity, perpetuating cycles of poverty.
  • Tribal communities grapple with disproportionately high rates of malnutrition, affecting 39.5 percent of individuals, as reported by the National Family Health Survey.
  • Additionally, prevalent diseases like Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) and thalassemia underscore the inadequate healthcare infrastructure and limited access to medical facilities in tribal regions.
  • Long-standing land rights issues pose significant challenges for tribal communities, often leading to displacement due to development projects, natural disasters, and encroachment by the mainstream society. Violations of constitutional safeguards designed to protect tribal lands, such as the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), further compound their vulnerability.
  • The economic development of tribal communities is hindered by limited access to markets, credit facilities, and technology, perpetuating cycles of poverty and dependency.
  • Discrimination and exploitation are pervasive issues faced by tribal communities, both internally and in their interactions with mainstream society.
  • Challenges such as human trafficking, wrongful imprisonment, and forced displacement underscore the vulnerability of tribal populations and emphasize the urgent need for legal protections and social support mechanisms.

Initiatives and Interventions:

  • Efforts aimed at enhancing access to quality education and vocational training programs have the potential to elevate the employability and socio-economic status of tribal youth.
  • Measures like establishing residential schools, offering scholarships, and implementing skill development schemes are pivotal in narrowing the education gap and providing tribal communities with the requisite skills for sustainable livelihoods.
  • Investments directed towards healthcare infrastructure, mobile medical units, and deploying community health workers can enhance access to essential healthcare services in remote tribal areas.
  • Conducting awareness campaigns, initiating preventive healthcare measures, and conducting capacity-building programs for healthcare professionals are imperative steps in addressing prevalent health challenges among tribal populations.
  • Bolstering legal protections for tribal land rights, ensuring inclusive decision-making processes, and advocating for sustainable natural resource management practices are crucial for preserving the livelihoods and cultural heritage of tribal communities.
  • Initiatives such as land tilling programs, community forest rights initiatives, and promoting alternative livelihood options empower tribal communities to assert their rights and attain economic self-sufficiency.
  • Supporting tribal entrepreneurship and facilitating market connections can unlock the economic potential of tribal communities.
  • Measures like establishing tribal cooperatives, fostering marketing networks, and implementing entrepreneurship development programs enable tribal artisans and farmers to access markets and secure fair prices for their goods.

Case Studies:

  • The Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA) model, implemented in tribal-dominated regions of Andhra Pradesh, focuses on comprehensive development interventions encompassing education, healthcare, infrastructure, and livelihood enhancement.
  • Through targeted initiatives such as skill development programs, healthcare outreach, and infrastructure development projects, ITDAs have significantly improved the well-being and livelihoods of tribal communities.
  • The Tribal Entrepreneurship Development Programme in Odisha aims to foster entrepreneurship among tribal youth by offering training, mentorship, and financial assistance for business startups.
  • Through endeavors such as entrepreneurship awareness campaigns, skill enhancement workshops, and access to credit facilities, the program has empowered tribal entrepreneurs to establish thriving businesses and contribute to local economic growth.

Way Forward:

Enhancement of Healthcare Facilities:

  • The implementation of mobile medical camps aimed at extending healthcare services to remote tribal populations is pivotal. Ensuring emergency transportation for pregnant tribal women to access obstetric care facilities is essential to meet their urgent needs.
  • Additionally, employing health workers from tribal communities to serve as liaisons between healthcare facilities and tribal communities can facilitate patient guidance, interpretation of doctors’ instructions, utilization of welfare schemes, and provision of counseling on preventive health behaviors.

Enhancement of Food and Nutrition Facilities:

Implementing strategies such as the widespread establishment of Mini-Anganwadis with relaxed criteria and expanding Village Grain Banks in tribal areas are effective ways to reach underserved populations in tribal areas.

Promotion of Employment and Income Generation:

  • Ensuring employment and income opportunities for tribal communities, whether through wage labor or self-employment, is crucial for improving their economic status and breaking the cycle of poverty and indebtedness.
  • Facilitating access to micro-credit for self-employment ventures and implementing schemes akin to MNREGA in areas with limited work opportunities are key measures. Encouraging the collection and marketing of minor forest produce is also important for economic empowerment.

Management of Water Resources:

  • More effective implementation of the National Water Policy in tribal areas, with a focus on extending irrigation facilities and providing drinking water, is essential.
  • Initiatives such as watershed management, rainwater harvesting, and promoting water-saving practices are crucial. Public awareness campaigns targeting rural and tribal populations are necessary for effective water resource management and pollution prevention.

Empowerment of Tribal Women:

  • Adopting measures to empower tribal women, including promoting their leadership roles in Joint Forest Management and Panchayati Raj Institutions, is vital.
  • Legal and administrative measures must be implemented to combat the victimization of women accused of witchcraft, accompanied by extensive social awareness campaigns and the rehabilitation of affected women, preferably through women’s organizations.

Inclusion of Tribal Population:

  • Encouraging tribal involvement in the cultivation of medicinal plants for self-consumption and sale through collaboration with the government can enhance their economic prospects.
  • The establishment of the National Medicinal Plant Board reflects the government’s commitment to leveraging this trade.

Infrastructure Development:

Collaborating with tribal groups for infrastructure development in their local areas is beneficial. For instance, in Meghalaya, the Khasi and Jaintia tribes have mastered the art of growing living root bridges across streams in dense forests, showcasing the potential for indigenous infrastructure development.

Social Inclusion:

  • Encouraging social cohesion, preserving cultural diversity, and advancing gender equality within tribal communities are crucial steps in combating social discrimination and exploitation.
  • Community organizations, self-help groups, and advocacy initiatives play a pivotal role in amplifying the voices of tribal communities and advocating for their rights and dignity.

Conclusion:

Despite strides in broader national development initiatives, the unique needs and circumstances of these tribal groups persistently remain on the periphery of policy and implementation frameworks. There exists an urgent imperative to close the disparity between the overarching national development objectives and the stark, often overlooked, realities confronting marginalized tribal communities.


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