A rapidly multiplying global population places heavy pressures on farmers to grow enough crops to satisfy increasing demand; in turn, farmers require more from their soils, stripping them of their natural fertility. As traditional techniques such as crop rotation and allowing for a fallow season are rejected, in favour of gaining the highest yields possible of a particular crop year on year, soil is leeched of its nutrient content, enhancing the problem.
Farmers have increasingly turned to agrochemicals and fertilizers to try to recover their soil’s fertility and, in turn, increase yields. Chemical fertilizers are industrially manipulated substances which can cause air and ground water pollution, and are damaging to both localised micro-organisms and friendly insects. As nutrients are leeched from the soil, crops become more susceptible to disease, and further chemicals are required to mitigate the effects: farmers then become stuck in a Catch-22 situation.
Bio fertilizers offer an organic solution to the problem, as well as preventing residual chemicals ending up in foods. They contain living microorganisms, promoting plant growth by increasing the supply of primary nutrients through natural processes and converting complex organic material into simple compounds, to improve take up by a plant’s roots. The microorganisms restore the soil’s natural nutrient cycle and build soil organic matter, ultimately improving yield by up to 35%, even in semi-arid conditions.
In 2014, around 185 million tons of fertilizers were used; according to a report released by Renmin University, the problem of overuse of fertilizers is particularly endemic in China, where farmers use 40% more fertilizers than necessary. Chinese waterways end up being polluted by 10 million tons of fertilizer every year.
The demand for fertilizers in South Asia is expected to increase by 3% annually by 2020, while this jumps to 6.3% year-on-year in Sub-Saharan Africa. Governments around the world are recognising the twin problems of requiring more food for a growing population and the finite resources with which to produce it. Policies, as well as the economic environment, are stimulating demand for bio fertilizers; they are more cost effective than chemical fertilizers, as manufacturing costs for nitrogen and phosphorous are comparatively high.
"The demand for fertilizers in South Asia is expected to increase by 3% annually by 2020, while this jumps to 6.3% year-on-year in Sub-Saharan Africa"
Governments are increasing incentives for adopting eco-friendly practices. India, which has 200 million hectares of agricultural land and the most supportive government in terms of bio fertilizer policy in South Asia, has implemented a centralised scheme involving the establishment of a National Bio Fertilizer Development Centre.
Indonesia has 60 million hectares of agricultural land available, and the government has implemented two main policies to reduce chemical pollution: an increase in farmer subsidies for using organic fertilizers, and an initiative to turn Bali into an entirely organic province. In Malaysia, which has eight million hectares of arable land, the government’s fertilizer subsidy scheme provides financial incentives to smallholder farmers for the purchase of fertilizers through farmers’ associations.
While governments are less focused on the issues surrounding agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa, activity to improve the fertility of the soil is already underway. In Zambia, the implementation of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program aims to create an encouraging environment for private sector investment. The Ethiopian government has committed to specific policy actions to improve the environment for private investment in agriculture, and private companies have subsequently signed letters of intent for investment. Kenya is part of the BrazilAfrica Dialogue to adapt Brazil’s policies on the matter, which includes the promotion of bio fertilizer alongside sustainable farming practices.