One Nation, One Fertiliser: Concerns Arise Over Uniform Packaging Scheme
Delhi: The Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers issued a circular in August outlining the "One Nation, One Fertiliser" (ONOF) scheme, which mandates that all subsidised fertilisers are to be sold in uniform bags.
The Department of Fertilizers under the Ministry said it introduced this scheme to standardise the branding of fertilisers, however, there are concerns among stakeholders about the scheme.
According to the August 18 circular by the Ministry, the fertiliser bags will bear the scheme name Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janurvarak Pariyojna (PMBJP) and feature a message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging farmers to use fertilisers responsibly to protect the environment.
ONOF mandates that all fertiliser bags, regardless of content or manufacturer, bear the 'Bharat' brand name, such as 'Bharat Urea,' 'Bharat DAP'.
Initially, the notification was about designing new bags and logos for fertiliser companies. However, it was later decided that the bags should also carry a message from PM Modi to farmers.
The policy claims it would streamline fertiliser packaging, promote responsible fertiliser use, and align agricultural practices with environmental sustainability.
Rana Mitra, General Secretary of All India NABARD Employees Association, called the August 18 circular issued on the scheme to be “full of contradictions.” NABARD is India’s top development bank.
Mitra said, “Though one can generally welcome the GoI’s idea to reduce the use of chemical fertilisers and switch over to organic fertilisers to save Mother Earth, the way it is being trumpeted now smacks of a deeper attempt to facilitate corporate penetration into Indian Agriculture."
Speaking to NewsClick, Mitra noted that in the agricultural input market, including fertilisers, seeds, chemicals, marketing, and value addition, the presence of the corporate sector is significant at present. He said, “With Public Sector Fertiliser companies mostly facing closure due to biased Govt policy favouring Private corporate interest, the field of inputs including for fertilisers is now wide open for total take over by the Private Corporate Sector.”
The marketable surplus of agri production is now growing at a break-neck speed, and the flip side of it is increasing deprivation of the masses from access to food grains, growing hunger, and inequality. Amid this, the private corporations sector, including giant MNCs have already sensed an opportunity to control the linked sectors to agriculture, Mitra added.
”The whole political economy behind this slogan of ‘One Nation, One Fertilisers’ should be comprehended in this larger context of attempted corporate take over of Indian Agriculture. Thanks to the historic farmers agitation, backed up by the struggle of trade unions and progressive forces in the recent past, the full corporate penetration in the production sector of agriculture per se has not been possible till now. But we should not be oblivious of growing trends towards the corporatisation of agriculture across several linked sectors, which have significant portents for peasant economy in agriculture.”
He said the ‘One Country, One Fertilisers’ scheme could be termed as another attempt towards centralisation to make it easy for the eventual corporate takeover of agriculture. This would hamper local innovations and smart and eco-centric agriculture being practised by farmers. “We think, any such centralised attempt will not be in the interest of the vast multitude of peasants of our country, even though the policy is cloaked in people’s and eco-friendly language. Instead, the GoI should reorient its total policy towards strengthening public sector structures concerning Indian agriculture - be it commercial banking, development banking like NABARD, and the entire gamut of agri inputs production structures,” Mitra concluded.
Further, the ONOF scheme, as per a CRISIL Impact Note, has raised concerns among distributors and manufacturers alike. While distributors recognise the lack of brand loyalty in the fertiliser market, they fear the challenge of introducing the new scheme due to the trust some fertiliser brands have established within the farming community. Manufacturers, on the other hand, anticipate adverse effects on their margins. They'll need robust marketing strategies to maintain market share, leading to increased selling expenses and reduced margins.
Moreover, basic fertiliser brands have served as platforms for premium and speciality products. With ONOF, it will become harder to charge premiums, and launching new products will be costlier without established brand recognition.
Post-implementation, there are concerns that the market could see a dilution of brand value as all bags, regardless of the manufacturer, will carry the 'Bharat' brand name, potentially eroding brand loyalty.
Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister Mansukh Mandaviya told the media that he aims to reduce the cross-movement of fertilisers, lower logistics costs, and ensure year-round fertiliser availability. However, critics worry this could deter private investment and hinder India's fertiliser self-sufficiency goals, as manufacturers could be reluctant to invest in a brand they do not own.
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