One way to substitute imported fertilisers is to push for anure-based fertilisers until we have a fertiliser plant of our own

While addressing a function organised by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development (MoALD) to declare the country self-reliant in dairy, meat and egg products in the capital on March 25, Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli vowed to set up a chemical fertiliser plant in the country under public private partnership (PPP). Encouraged at being self-reliant in dairy, meat and eggs, the PM declared the country would also be self-reliant in chemical fertilisers, which will help increase productivity in the agriculture sector and ensure food security. On the same day, a cabinet meeting also approved a proposal of the MoALD to set up a fertiliser plant, which will use electricity generated within the country. The PM even went on to say that one hydroelectric plant would be dedicated to the chemical fertiliser plant to find a long-term solution to the fertiliser crisis the country has been facing for long. The MoALD has decided to assign the responsibility of setting up the plant to Investment Board Nepal, chaired by the PM himself, to look into the procedures for its establishment under the PPP model.

Nepali farmers face a shortage of chemical fertilisers during the paddy and winter crops plantation seasons as the imported agro inputs do not arrive in the country in time for various factors. During this paddy plantation season, the farmers had to wait in long queues for their turn, only to return home empty-handed. This problem has been going on for decades, with no foreseeable solution in the near future. Even when the contracts for importing the fertilisers are awarded to government-owned Agriculture Input Company Ltd. (AICL) and Salt Trading Corporation or any private firm even six months in advance, they have not been able to bring them in time, causing a huge loss to agriculture productivity and leading the farmers to a vicious circle of poverty.

This time around, the AICL has been able to import 30,500 metric tons of fertilisers from Bangladesh, almost six months after PM Oli and his Bangladeshi counterpart, Shiekh Hasina, held a telephonic conversation on borrowing the fertilisers. But Nepal had to buy the fertilisers as Bangladeshi law prohibits lending fertilisers to any foreign country. Another lot of 19,500 tonnes of fertilisers will arrive here in the next two weeks. Nepal needs more than 700,000 tonnes of fertilisers annually. Earlier, Nepal had reached an agreement with India to purchase 100,000 tonnes of fertilisers annually at import parity price in 2009. But it ceased to exist after 2015-16 because of the protests in the Tarai region and Indian border blockade. India has now refused to renew the agreement, saying it cannot supply the fertilisers at import parity price. Importing chemical fertilisers through international bidding is a lengthy process and poses difficulty in procuring the goods in time.

So, the best option is to set up a chemical fertiliser plant in the country. But this is easier said than done.

Producing fertiliser using electricity is an expensive process, and this technology is being phased out. Another option is to encourage farmers to mass produce fertilisers from manure, which might help substitute imports.

Tiger by the tail

Nepal's commitment made at the international tiger conference held in Russia in 2010 to double its population by 2022 seems to be on track, but this has come at a cost – increased conflict between humans and wildlife. In recent years, there has been a surge in wildcat attacks on humans in Bardiya National Park (BNP), with at least 20 casualties reported in the last two years. As tigers turn man-eaters in increasing numbers, the authorities haven't a clue how this problem can be solved. On Tuesday, a 10-yearold tiger suspected of being a man-eater was transported to the Central Zoo at Jawalakhel from BNP.

But is this a solution, given that the zoo already has four tigers, and it just managed to create some space for the fifth member? Wildlife-human clashes in and around the national parks will only grow in the years to come as the populations of both swell. The government must, therefore, think of short and longterm strategies to mitigate this conflict so that both humans and wildlife can live in harmony. For now, electric fences and walls around the parks, as suggested by the Minister for Forests and Environment, might be helpful in separating the two and preventing human casualties.

A version of this article appears in the print on April 8, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.