ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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P for Phosphorus


This is with reference to the incisive article, “Addressing India’s Food Security: Is Phosphorus the Missing Link?” by Madhuri Nanda (EPW, 14 April 2018). Indeed, phosphorus (P) is as essential as water, carbon or oxygen. It is also a queer plant macronutrient because despite deficiency symptoms in plants such as retarded growth, stunted roots, pigmentation of leaves, etc, it is difficult to diagnose its deficiency. This apart, by the time the deficiency is recognised it may not recover even if P is applied later.

Chemically, P is a very stable element. Fertiliser P does not move from where it is applied because it quickly binds with iron and aluminium in the soil and becomes unavailable in plants particularly in acidic soil. As a result, crops can take only 5%–20% of the P applied to the soil. Of course, to ensure appropriate uptake of P by plants, soil testing is a must.

Scarcity of P is not because it is finite, but because of its fragmented mismanagement. Globally, only one-fifth of the P is mined especially for food production, the remaining four-fifths are lost or wasted during mining or processing, fertiliser production, distribution, and application on farm. Much of the lost P ends up in our lakes, rivers, and oceans where it can cause toxic algal blooms. What is needed is international policies for ensuring availability and accessibility of phosphorus for food security.

Jaydev Jana


Updated On : 11th May, 2018


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