In the 1970s, India dramatically increased food production, finally allowing this giant country to feed itself. But government efforts to continue that miracle by encouraging farmers to use fertilizers have backfired, forcing the country to expand its reliance on imported food.
India has been providing farmers with heavily subsidized fertilizer for more than three decades. The overuse of one type—urea—is so degrading the soil that yields on some crops are falling and import levels are rising. So are food prices, which jumped 19% last year. The country now produces less rice per hectare than its far poorer neighbors: Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
“The soil health is deteriorating, but we don’t know how to make it better,” he says. “As the fertility of the soil is declining, more fertilizer is required.”
Increased demand and the soaring price of hydrocarbons, the main ingredient of many fertilizers, have taken India’s annual subsidy bill to more than $20 billion last year, from about $640 million in 1976.
“Hubris” is pretty much the dominant theme of the last 50 years, isn’t it? No wonder the Greeks considered it to be the gravest crime there could be.