“India to explore indigenous deposits of phosphatic rock, a step towards becoming AatmaNirbhar in fertilizer production,” informed Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers, Mansukh Mandaviya in the Parliament on Monday, July 26.
Phosphatic rocks are ones that have high phosphorus content in them. They are available in high, medium, and low grades. Some phosphate rocks are used for making calcium phosphate nutritional supplements for animals, while pure phosphorus is used to make chemicals for industrial use. However, the most important use of phosphorus is for the production of fertilizers for agriculture.
Phosphorus is important for plant’s growth and helps in retaining decaying soil fertility. Further, it also facilitates the storage and transfer of energy throughout the plant.
Importance of Phosphorus for agriculture
Phosphorus cannot be substituted by any other mineral, as it is vital for a number of reasons in agriculture. It plays a major role in photosynthesis and energy transfer in plants. Further, it is essential for the production of seed and root formation. It promotes early plant maturity and stalks strength. It is also resistant to plant root diseases.
What are phosphorus rocks?
Phosphorus rocks or phosphate rocks are unprocessed ores. Phosphate rock deposits can be sedimentary (formed from sediment deposited by water or air) or igneous (having solidified from lava or magma). However, the easiest way to obtain phosphorus is by way of mining and concentrating phosphate rock from the phosphate deposits.
Used in fertilizers
Worldwide, more than 85% of the phosphate rock mined is used to manufacture phosphate fertilizers. All common fertilizers have an “N-P-K” rating. Phosphorus is the “P” in fertilizers, which is essential for plants.
Where is it found?
Phosphate rock deposits can be sedimentary or igneous and are mined from sedimentary deposits formed by the deposition of phosphate-rich materials in marine environments.
Large sedimentary deposits are located in China, Middle East, Northern Africa, and the United States. Meanwhile, the igneous deposits are mined in Brazil, Canada, Finland, Russia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
Phosphorus in India
Phosphate rocks are majorly produced only from two States in India, namely Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Currently, there exists 30 lakh MT of phosphorite deposits in the country, for which important steps are being taken by the Government to ramp up its production. These deposits are available in Rajasthan, central part of peninsular India, Hirapur (Madhya Pradesh), Lalitpur (Uttar Pradesh), Mussoorie syncline, and Cuddapah basin (Andhra Pradesh).
Phosphorus reserves, if found, can be a game-changer
Boost to domestic industry: The exploration of indigenous deposits of phosphatic rocks is a major step towards a self-reliant India, as phosphate reserves, if found can help in reducing the import dependency India has at present. It will also boost the domestic fertilizer industry.
According to National Mineral Inventory (NMI) data, based on the United Nations Framework Classification (UNFC) system as on April 1, 2015, the total reserves/resources of rock phosphate have been placed at 312.67 million tonnes. Out of these, the reserves constitute only 45.80 million tonnes while 266.87 million tonnes are under the remaining resources category. Of the total reserves/resources, 34% are in Jharkhand, 31% in Rajasthan, 19% in Madhya Pradesh, 8% in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand each, respectively. Small quantities of resources are also located in Gujarat and Meghalaya.
To benefit farmers: Indigenous reserves of phosphatic rock and potash will not only be advantageous to the indigenous industries but will also cater to the needs of Indian farmers with the production of fertilizers like DAP, SSP, NPK, and MOP.
To reduce import dependency: Rock phosphate is the key raw material for DAP and NPK fertilizers. Currently, India is 90% dependent on imports for this raw material. The volatility in international prices also affects the domestic prices of fertilizers, which in turn, hinders the progress and development of the agriculture sector in the country and puts extra pressure on the farmers.
In 2016-17, imports of rock phosphate decreased slightly to 7.51 million tonnes from 8.03 million tonnes in the previous year. Imports were mainly from Jordan (37%), Egypt (29%) and Morocco (15%). The explored indigenous reserves can further reduce this dependency.
Promote employment: In addition to this, it will also give a positive kick to employment in the country.
Optimize consumption: China, USA, Morocco, Russia, and India are the leading consumers of phosphate rocks. In India, the consumption of apatite and in 2016-17 was about 1.99 million tonnes as against 4.44 million tonnes in 2015-16. India has been striving to achieve optimum consumption of phosphorus. The reserves would only help in achieving this mission and help in optimizing the consumption of rock phosphate.
The major advantage of exploring indigenous deposits of phosphoric rocks is that it will help save the country money that now goes out of the country in form of import. Further, studies suggest that the demand for phosphatic fertilizers is expected to increase gradually with the increase in population and the requirement of food. Phosphatic reserves mean India can reduce its dependency on other countries and become self-reliant in the fertilizer sector too.