An acute shortage of fertilizer in rural India threatens to disrupt the winter planting season, fueling unrest among the country’s politically important farmers ahead of a series of important state elections next year.
Desperate farmers in central and northern India crowded state-owned shops selling subsidized fertilizer and clashed with police using force to control the crowds. In some states, officers handed out bags of fertilizer at police stations to maintain law and order.
Farmers, frustrated at having to sit in winding queues for days, staged protests to demand delivery of the fertilizer. They contain basic nutrients such as diammonium phosphate or DAP, which are essential for the cultivation of wheat, mustard and other crops sown in the rabies or winter season.
“Only one or two trucks arrive when there are thousands of people waiting to grab it,” said Yograj Singh, a farmer in Amritsar, Punjab state.
Singh had just returned home disappointed after trying to join the line for fertilizer at 04:30. “I need at least seven bags, but have only gotten three so far after trying for days,” he said. “We need it now.”
Fertilizer shortages threaten to incite voters ahead of state elections in the early months of 2022, including in opposition-controlled Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party is in power.
Farmers are a politically essential constituency in a country where the majority of the population is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture for their income.
The BJP has struggled for more than a year to resolve protests by thousands of farmers demands the withdrawal of a series of laws introducing market reforms in the highly regulated agricultural economy. The protesting farmers said the reforms threatened their livelihoods.
Modi’s government, however, denies there is any shortage of fertilizer, and blames the frustration on rumors that are accumulating. In November, the “availability will exceed the demands raised by the states”, said Mansukh Mandaviya, Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers.
He also warned against strict action against those “who turn to black marketing of fertilizers with rumors as a shield”.
Rising world fertilizer prices, declining raw material production during the pandemic and supply disruptions fueled the crisis. But critics have blamed Modi’s government for a delay in placing import orders. India imports up to a third of its fertilizer for domestic use.
“This is a management issue,” said Ajay Vir Jakhar, chairman of Bharat Krishak Samaj, an Indian farmers’ association. “I think the government messed up because the subsidy component increased and the government could not decide to release so much extra money.”
The government provides subsidies by compensating companies that sell fertilizer to farmers at lower than market rates. Last month, the government announced an additional subsidy of RS57.16 billion ($ 758 million) for DAP to ensure that prices remain under control.