As per the United Nations, the number of undernourished people has dropped by almost half in the past two decades because of rapid economic growth and increased agricultural productivity. However, in many developing countries, extreme hunger and malnutrition still remains a huge barrier to development. There are 821 million people estimated to be chronically undernourished as of 2017, often as a direct consequence of environmental degradation, drought and biodiversity loss. Nearly 151 million children under the age of five, being 22 percent of World population, were still stunted in 2017. Asia accounted for nearly two-thirds or 63 percent, of the world’s hungry population. Undernourishment and severe food insecurity appears to be increasing in almost all developing regions of Africa, as well as in South America too.
Following UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number two titled ‘Zero Hunger’, an end to all forms of hunger and malnutrition is aimed by 2030, making sure that all people – especially children – have sufficient and nutritious food all year. This involves promoting sustainable agriculture, supporting small-scale farmers and equal access to land, technology and markets. It also requires international cooperation to ensure investment in infrastructure and technology to improve agricultural productivity.
In order to achieve sustainability, economic growth is necessary and is directly linked to achieving food security, improving nutrition and sustainable agriculture. To achieve the goals of food security and sustainability in agricultural sector, emphasis has to be put on amalgamating traditionnel farming methods with innovations in biotechnology and bio-engineering, so as to increase agriculture output in a sustainable way.
Agricultural sustainability can be achieved by utilizing and implementing new techniques of farming, which would increase production of crops to meet demands of growing population. At the same time it would conserve and protect environment and its natural sources. Farming practices need to upgrade towards the use of biological agents in order to maintain sustainability of agriculture and hence the environment. In this context, soil microbial diversity can be an important tool which acts as an indicator for soil health and plant growth. Therefore, harnessing the role of beneficial soil microbes in perspective of agriculture can provide a measure towards achieving sustainability in the farming sector.
Fertilizer industry plays a key role in ensuring global food security and is pivotal to the agricultural growth and economic development of a country. Boosting crop yields and closing the gap between actual and attainable yield can be achieved by the implementation and advancement of numerous practices and technologies, including nutrient management practices and fertilizer technologies.
Pakistan is an agrarian country and, hence, agricultural development is a prerequisite for achieving food security. According to Pakistan Economic Survey 2016-17, agriculture contributes 19.5% to Pakistan’s GDP, employs 42% of the labour force, constitutes 65% of export earnings, and provides livelihoods to 62% population of the country. The harmonization of non-agricultural activities, such as those related to nutrition, trade, natural resource management, non-farm income opportunities, targeted income support, and other innovative options, with the agriculture sector are also recognized as important steps in achieving food security.
Pakistan enjoys enormous potential to enhance per acre yield by increasing usage of Nitrate based fertilizers, ensuring food security and significant increase in GDP. For closing the yield gap of crops as well as export of high value added vegetables and fruits to other countries, especially Middle East, it makes a strong business case to invest in the manufacturing of nitrate-based fertilizers. Pakistan consumes Urea and Di-Ammonium Phosphate (DAP) as the most widely used sources of nitrogen and phosphorus for crops in Pakistan. However, a high value added alternative to this pairing, Calcium Ammonium Nitrate (CAN) and Nitrophos (NP) are quickly becoming the preferred choice of farmers in Pakistan.
The Pakistani soil is deficient in nitrogen and phosphorous – major plant nutrients primarily responsible for increasing plant growth, biomass, and yield. Research has proven that plants directly absorb nitrate form of nitrogen (as available in CAN and NP) whereas conversion of ammonical form of nitrogen to nitrate (as in the case of urea) results in volatilization losses of 30-40% of nitrogen. The soluble calcium in CAN regulates release of nitrogen according to the metabolic needs of the crops, therefore its nitrogen use efficiency is much higher than Urea. NP being acidic (pH 3.5-4.0) in nature, is formulated in balanced proportions (1:1) of ammonical and nitrate form of nitrogen which is more suitable for the alkaline soils of Pakistan (pH 8.2-8.7). Whereas DAP is alkaline in nature and lacks nitrate form of nitrogen.
NP and CAN are not just substitutes of Urea and DAP combination but are also high value return products. The developed world (USA, Central and Western Europe and Brazil) has already undergone the transition of converting from Ammonical to Nitrate based fertilizers.
Fatima Group is the only manufacturer of nitrate based fertilizers in Pakistan. Fatima Fertilizer was incorporated in December 2003 under the 2001 Fertilizer Policy of the Government of Pakistan. The complex is spread over an area of 950 acres and is situated at Mukhtar Ghar, near Sadiqabad, District Rahim Yar Khan. Foundation stone was laid on April 26, 2006 by the then Prime Minister of Pakistan. The construction of the complex commenced in March 2007. Fatima Fertilizer is engaged in production of formulated and specialized nitrogen and phosphate based fertilizer. It also has a 56MW captive power plant to meet the internal power requirements. The company successfully completed the development phase in year 2009 and the plants became operational under trial phase in year 2010. Ammonia, urea, nitric acid and CAN plants started trial production the end of March 2010. Nitro phosphate plant was commissioned in the second quarter of 2011. Commercial production of the complex was started on 1st of July 2011.
Pakarab Fertilizers was established as a result of protocol concluded and signed on November 15, 1972 by the Government of Pakistan to further strengthen and develop fraternal ties between Islamic Republic of Pakistan and State of Abu Dhabi. Manufacturing facilities were commissioned in 1979 situated on the outskirts of Multan and housed over 302 acres. Under the privatization policy of Government of Pakistan, Pakarab Fertilizer was acquired by Fatima Group and Arif Habib Group in July 2005. Both Pakarab Fertilizer and Fatima Fertilizer are designed to manufacture 2.1 million metric tons per annum of fertilizers. Production of both plants is marketed under the brand name of ‘Sarsabz’.
FatimaFert, located in Sheikhupura is another fertilizer plant owned by Fatima Group that produces Urea and markets DAP fertilizer under the brand name, ‘Babber Sher’.
Fatima Group is an internationally certified manufacturer of fertilizer by International Fertilizer Association (IFA). It has recently signed a MoU with CMEC (China Machinery Engineering Corporation) under CPEC to introduce precision farming in Pakistan through high tech machinery for farms. Fatima Group is also partnering with CABI (Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International) under the Punjab Govt’s project, ‘Establishment of Model Farms’ to build capacity of our farmers to export to international markets.
Furthermore, in the research field it has partnerships with all research institutes in Pakistan and has published researches on latest crop production technology for wheat, rice and potato. Fatima Group has recently entered in to a joint venture with Sapphire and Nishat, two leading textile companies under the name SANIFA, to introduce high yield hybrid cotton seed in Pakistan. Furthermore, it is working with Rice Research Institute to save 20% water consumption in rice by introducing the latest dry sowing methodology to farmers of Punjab; this saving in water will help the tail end cotton farmers of Sindh who find it difficult to meet their crop’s water requirements.
What the group fully acknowledges is that without the empowerment and prosperity of our farmers, the country’s economy shall never progress. It has taken up the farmer’s cause and remains very active in bridging the gap between policy makers and farmers. However, for the past two years the group’s major manufacturing facility in Multan, Pak Arab has been lying closed due to gas curtailment. Given that the Rabi season is upon us, it is imperative that the government prioritizes gas supply to the fertilizer sector and safeguard not only the livelihood of millions but also the food security of Pakistan.