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Tested for biosafety and toxicity, critics' stand on nano urea 'not logical, acceptable'

By NS Venkataraman* 
Nano urea, a fertilizer patented and sold by the Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited (IFFCO), has been approved by the Government of India for commercial use because of its various benefits.
Unfortunately, a counter-productive media campaign has been levelled against nano urea, ignoring its merits.
When extensive field trials have been carried out on more than 94 crops across 11,000 farmer fields in different parts of the country by several organisations , research institutions putting their efforts together and results have been proved as per the claims , it is counter productive that some controversial views appear in the media, which cause only sensation and nothing more than that.Product details:Nano urea is about a billionth of a metre in surface area and contains nitrogen particles of 20 -50 nanometres.
The average thickness of conventional urea particle is 2.8 mm, which is equal to around 55,000 nano urea particles in size.
Chemically, conventional urea has 45% nitrogen content ,which means a 45 kg urea bag contains about 20 kg of nitrogen. In contrast, nano urea sold in 500 ml bottles has 4% nitrogen (or around 20 gm).
The process for nano urea uses organic polymers that keeps the nano particles of nitrogen stable and in a form that can be sprayed onto plants.
Liquid nano urea is sprayed directly on the leaves and gets absorbed by the plant.
Urea in nano form provide a targeted supply of nutrients to crops, as they are absorbed by the pores found on the epidermis of leaves.
IFFCO advises that 2-4 ml of nano urea should be mixed in a litre of water and sprayed on crop leaves at active growth stages.
Due to the ultra-small size and surface properties, the nano urea liquid gets absorbed by plants more effectively when sprayed on their leaves.
With 40,000 milligram per litre. of nitrogen in a 500 ml nano urea bottle can be sufficient for providing nitrogen to one acre of the field with crops compared to 2.5 bags of urea.
One bottle of 500 ml costs Rs 240 whereas the conventional subsidized urea is sold at Rs.266.5 per 45 kg bag.
Over 3.6 crore bottles of this urea have been produced by IFFCO, of which 2.5 crore have been sold.

The question:

The critics have raised the following questions about the wisdom of introducing nano urea as substitute for conventional area in agricultural operations.
Chemically, conventional urea has 45% nitrogen content , which means a 45 kg urea bag contains about 20 kg of nitrogen. On the other hand, nano urea sold in 500 ml bottles has only 4% nitrogen (or around 20 gm). How can this compensate for the kilogrammes of nitrogen normally?
Urea is highly water soluble and already reaches the lowest form of concentration when absorbed. How nanoparticles can increase the effectiveness of nitrogen uptake by being still small in size?
Not all the nano urea sprayed on leaves can be utilised by the plant.
Merits of nano urea:Because nano particles are so small and numerous, they have a lot more surface area relative to their volume, compared with the millimetre-size grains of urea that plants are exposed to.
Unlike the conventional urea which are coarse particles that farmers normally throw onto the soil during sowing, the nano particle form of nano urea, when applied on to the leaves, stimulates a range of enzymes, like nitrase and nitrite reductase, which helps plants metabolise nitrogen.
Upon penetration, these nanoparticles reach plant parts where nitrogen is required and release nutrients in a controlled manner, thereby reducing usage while also reducing wastage into the environment.
Small size (20-50 nm) of nano urea increases its availability to crop by more than 80%.
Liquid nano urea has a shelf life of a year, and farmers need not be worried about “caking” when it comes in contact with moisture.

Field trials and results:

IFFCO says the product has been tested on more than 94 crops across 11,000 farmer fields in collaboration with Krishi Vigyan Kendras of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR-KVKs), research institutes, state agriculture universities, and progressive farmers. “The trials began in November 2019
According to a release from IFFCO, field trials have shown that a 500 ml bottle of nano urea can replace one bag of conventional urea, as it has 40,000 ppm of nitrogen, which is equivalent nitrogen nutrient provided by one bag of conventional urea.
Nano urea has also been tested for biosafety and toxicity according to norms followed in India and the international guidelines developed by OECD, which are adopted and accepted globally.

Comparison of conventional urea and nano urea:

As of now, just 30-50 per cent of nitrogen from conventional urea is utilised by plants in farms , while the rest goes waste due to quick chemical transformation because of leaching, which contaminates soil and water bodies, and volatilisation that causes emissions of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere — leading to air pollution and global warming along with low nutritional efficiency for the crop.
While conventional urea is effective just for 30-50 per cent in delivering nitrogen to plants, the effectiveness of the nano urea liquid is over 80 per cent.
A major reason for this increase in efficiency of nano urea is because of the fact that nanotechnology, which is the base of this new form of urea, enables designing ultra-small particles that offer higher surface-mass ratios, and help in the controlled delivery of plant nutrients.

Approval:

According to critics, nano urea is yet to be fully tested despite having been fast tracked for commercial application.
According to the critics, normally, three seasons of independent assessment by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is required for approving a new fertiliser, but in the case of nano urea this was reduced to two.
The above stand of the critics is not logical and acceptable, since nano urea is not different from urea in chemical constituent and the difference is only in the form and particle size.
Therefore, there is no need to consider conventional urea and nano urea as separate products for approval by the authorities, particularly since extensive field trials have been carried out with nano urea and the results have been announced which are positive and are proven to be beneficial.
---
*Trustee, Nandini Voice For The Deprived, Chennai

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