Significance of fertiliser business using tech under Japan-India-Australia tri-lateral supply chain resilience initiative

India along with some ASEAN members like Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, is basically an agrarian country which is now a leading producer of food grains & contributes significantly in feeding a large global starved population in large parts of Asia, & Africa. Even amidst Covid19 lockdown crisis, agriculture was the only sector that looked up in India.
Significance of fertiliser business using tech under Japan-India-Australia tri-lateral supply chain resilience

At a time when all the democracies of the world have started pulling out of the China-centric world order and have set the ball rolling for a new stable resilient and sustainable supply chain, it was felt by some democracies that such a supply chain in Indo Pacific region would serve as anchors buffeted by changing winds & shifting currents. Apart from a host of key industries and exploitation of critical mineral resources and territorial security issues, it would be prudent to keep in mind agriculture within the ambit of the very recently launched Japan- India- Australia tri-lateral Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI). Such initiatives can be synergized with other international platforms or bi-lateral or multilateral initiatives like BIMSTEC, Act East etc and also domestic platforms involving the North Eastern Region of India.

fertilisers are one of the key vehicles in boosting crop yield & thus ensure Food Security in the world. In this article I would touch upon in brief, how Japan-India-Australia, SCRI can be instrumental in strengthening the agriculture sector through enhanced crop production achieved by greater production & application of Nitrogen, Phosphate and Potash fertiliser products through the use of new critical technologies, improved connectivity, regional cooperation. In the present initiative, it assumes some significance as all three nations viz India, Australia, Japan under SCRI and some ASEAN nations like Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam are both agrarian & fertiliser importing countries. From regional cooperation connectivity, agriculture market infrastructure point of view inclusion of Bangladesh would be in the larger interest.

The agriculture sector is one of the most important sectors for Myanmar’s economy & agricultural goods is its second-largest export commodity. The agriculture sector contributes 38 percent of GDP, accounts for 20 to 30 percent of total export earnings and employs more than 70 percent of the workforce. The government is focused on strengthening the farm sector

Till recent years Organic farming was strongly encouraged by the Government in Myanmar but the productivity rate was slow. So the local farmers started preferring Chemical or Mineral fertilisers. As of now, the country has a very competitive fertiliser market, compared to other ASEAN members. It imports 80% of Chemical fertiliser from China & Thailand, mostly Urea and Phosphate fertiliser. So any new multi-lateral supply International order has to keep also the immense agricultural potential of Myanmar in mind, as it is the Rice basket of SE Asia, with an the potential to become a larger farming economy than Vietnam and Thailand. Besides rice, the top agricultural export includes maize, pulse, green gram, sesame, onion, raw rubber, vegetables, fruits. Hence significant growth opportunities for N, P, & K fertiliser in Myanmar will continue to rise.

A greater contribution of Agriculture in the National GDP does not imply the country to be economically strong. But in the present scenario, developed countries like Australia & Japan with the lower contribution of agriculture in GDP can share their technology of fertilising manufacture for enhancing agriculture, connectivity, employment, PPP and income.

The type of fertilisers to be used depends on numerous factors – the agro-climatic region being one of the principal. The Nitrogenous fertiliser is being produced in Myanmar from its Hydrocarbon resources but the inputs of Phosphatic fertilisers & Potassic fertilisers can be achieved through India-Japan-Australia newly developed initiative ( SCRI) where these member countries can intertwine the technology ( available with Australia ) & the mineral resource ( Rock Phosphate) drawn from India/ Australia. In case of Phosphatic fertiliser, it would very pertinent to state here that the availability of high grade Rock Phosphate globally, is diminishing while the demand is projected to go upward. So the manufacturers are increasingly evaluating projects in which lower grade Phosphate ores could be mined, beneficiated through suitable processes and produced for crop use.

Normally Rock Phosphate used for fertiliser manufacture contains +30% P2O5 while anything below 15% is rejected. But lately new process of beneficiation has come in vogue where P2O5 as low as 9-11% can be the raw material for the manufacture for Phosphatic fertiliser. Majority of India’s RP reserves are in low or medium category and hence suitable for up gradation through the new technology. The sharing of technology and the raw material will be beneficial for all the stake holders in this initiative. This will be a step in breaking the dependency on China and also contribute in enhancing the 2Cs viz Commerce & Connectivity.

Through this article I wish to stress the manufacture of Potash fertiliser from non-conventional source &/or lesser used sources under the umbrella of newly developed India- Australia-Japan trilateral supply chain initiative. Bulk of the global Potash mineral ores are mined from deep seated Evaporite sequence spread over 13 countries.

These countries have formed a sort of Cartel which mines Potash minerals and sells to 160 nations across the globe. But Australia is becoming a hot bed of Potash mining & production, particularly when it comes to high value SOP which is more ecofriendly as compared to MOP.SEVERAL PROJECTS ARE IN CONSTRUCTION OR EVALUATION STAGES. Potash mineral ores are to be extracted from the Saline Brines rich in Potassium salts spread over Western Australia. But an Australian Company worked on the extraction of Potash salts from Glauconite mineral in Glauconitic shale and sand stones also known as Green Sand since early 2000 .

Glauconite is a phyllosilicate mineral rich in Potassium. First attempt to extract Potash was made in India in 1980s and the process got U.S Patent at Lab scale. But the industry in India was not keen to take the technology forward. However , R&D efforts in some countries continued and finally in 2018 an Australian company did develop a US patented process which could extract K2O from Glauconitic sediments and upgrade it to the desired level for application in the manufacture of MOP(Muriate of Potash) and SOP (Sulphate of Potash) at commercial scale.

The then M.D of the said Australian Company informed me that that Process Development based on the Patent for commercial scale production could not take off due to lack of investors’ interest. THE SAID PATENTED PROCESS FOR EXTRACTION OF POTASH FROM GLAUCONITIC SEDIMENTS IS STILL AVAILABLE. I think it would be in India’s & other agrarian members interest to look into this Australian Process under the ambit of the said tri-lateral SCRI, because India hosts large stretches under Glauconitic sediments. Simultaneously, it could look for projects for Potash from Saline Brines in Western Australia where the government has recognized the opportunity at hand & lowered the land rental in an effort to encourage development of industry.

I would then make a brief comparison between Australian & Indian Potassic & Phosphatic fertiliser business. India is one of the biggest importer of fertilisers while Australia is a small player in global fertiliser market .Australia’s import are less than 2% of the total global imports while export is 0.5% of that total. India on the other hand imports 90% of its Phosphatic fertiliser requirements and produces 10% indigenously and imports 100% of its Potash fertiliser needs. Australia on the other hand manufactures nearly 50% of its consumption of fertilisers.

Australia too, has substantial requirement of potash and hence there would be a domestic market. But the real breakthrough in fertiliser industry would come in India , ASEAN countries & Bangladesh which are largest consumer of Potash Fertilize Japan is also an agrarian country but the agriculture sector there is beset with its own problems like unfavorable terrain, smaller holdings etc and imports fertilisers mostly Phosphatic from South Africa & China and Potassic fertiliser from Russia. Japan would also be benefitting in this sector by the inclusion of fertiliser in the trilateral SCRI, as stated above. But Japan is a developed economy and hence the contribution of agriculture to the GDP of the country may be low.

Some experts have recently said Cold War era-2 has just begun with the U.S at one end and the Dragon at the other. As a result, a new International Order in the Indo Pacific region looks to have set in: that would play the game of trade, commerce, technology , connectivity, in a transparent , non-discriminatory , fair manner under the frame work of rule of law, pursuit of economic prosperity, commitment for peace & stability.

(Ravi Sinha, Consultant Geologist, & Ex-Director, G.S.I)

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Story first published: Friday, May 28, 2021, 9:02 [IST]

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