Potassium: You cannot overemphasize its importance in South Asian Agricuture
IPNI’s Vice President for Asia, Africa and Middle East, Dr, Kaushik Majumdar, shares his insights on South Asian Agriculture.
IFA: Why is it important to talk about potassium in South Asian agriculture? What is currently the trend in K fertilizer application in that region?
Dr. Majumdar: South Asian farmers apply inadequate amounts of potassium in crops and cropping systems, leading to yield and economic losses. The current trend shows significant negative balance (input - output) of potassium at local, regional and national scale, pointing towards large-scale mining of native potassium. At a broader perspective, depletion of native potassium in soils may adversely affect future food security and soil health in the region. This issue needs to be in the forefront of discussion to increase awareness of the farmers, scientists and the policy-makers.
IFA: What is holding back farmers from applying K fertilizer to their soils in South Asian countries? How can that be remedied?
Dr. Majumdar: Lack of awareness and last mile delivery of potassium fertilizers are two of the major issues that are holding back farmers from applying K fertilizers. There is a general perception at scientific and policy-making level that South Asian soils are rich in potassium and may not need external potassium application. This perception has percolated to the farmers through the extension specialists. This is a carry-over from the period when population was low, farmers used to grow one crop in a year, yields were low and adding a bit of nitrogen was enough to sustain the crop. Things have radically changed since then...farmers grow three crops in a year, using high yielding or hybrid varieties, producing yields that are three times or more than local varieties! Not applying potassium in such intensive systems is a very unsustainable practice. There is no dearth of field evidences showing large crop responses to potassium, and these needs to be highlighted to increase the awareness at all levels. Farmers often do not get potassic fertilizer at the nearest retailer shop during application time....so the last mile delivery and access to potassic fertilizer needs to be improved, along with awareness, to improve K consumption in the region.
IFA: What are the main takeaways from your presentation?
Dr. Majumdar:South Asia is one of the most highly populated region of the world. Access to affordable food for the large population in the region is a long-term challenge. To address that challenge, farmers of the region will need to produce more from shrinking land and water resources. That will happen only when crops receive balanced and adequate nutrition. Scientific evidences clearly show that declining factor productivity, low N use efficiency, and declining soil health in the region can be adequately addressed through balanced fertilization, and potassium will be the biggest plank for that. Contrary to general perception, potassium application in crops gives adequate return on investment in most locations. So balanced and adequate application of potassium in crops will benefit the farmers and the society now and in the future as well.
About Dr. Mujamdar
Dr. Kaushik Majumdar is the Vice President, Asia and Africa Programs, of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), located at Gurgaon, India.
Dr. Majumdar has a Master’s degree in Agricultural Chemistry and Soil Science from BCKV University, India, and received his Ph.D. in Soil Mineralogy/Soil Chemistry from Rutgers University, U.S.A.
Dr. Majumdar has earlier worked as a Soil Mineralogist at the Potash Research Institute of India (PRII), and later, as the Deputy Director of Eastern India & Bangladesh for the Potash & Phosphate Institute of Canada-India Programme, and as the Director, South Asia Program of International Plant Nutrition Institute before joining his current position in 2016.
Dr. Majumdar has developed several fertilizer decision support tools, technical bulletins & training aids, and has over 70 national and international scientific publications. He was the President of the Agriculture and Forestry Sciences Section for the 103rd Indian Science Congress, and also serves at the editorial board of the Journal of the Indian Society of Soil Science.