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Turkmenistan seeks to triple fertiliser production
Turkmenistan views fertiliser as a way to help its economy in two ways – through higher crop yields and an increase in exports.
By Dzhumaguly Annayev
ASHGABAT – Within a few years, Turkmenistan could be producing triple the fertiliser it does now, the Turkmen Institute for Strategic Planning and Economic Development (TISPER) said.
If that forecast proves true, it could spell economic benefits for the country. First, it could help farmers boost their harvests; and second, it could open the door for the country to export fertiliser.
Currently, Turkmenistan relies on imports to help it meet its agricultural needs. The Turkmen government in November, for example, determined the country's mineral fertiliser needs for 2014 and needs to import ammonium nitrate to meets its domestic needs.
But as the country steps up production capabilities, "It looks like 2014 will be one of the last times we import [ammonium nitrate] from Uzbekistan," Aimyrat Atacharyyev, a chemical technologist at the Turkmenkhimiya state concern, told Central Asia Online.
New manufacturing plants ready to come online
The country has recently focused on increasing production capabilities.
Turkmenkhimiya, for example, is placing a long-term bet on the Garlyk potash deposit in Lebap Oblast. There, Belarus is helping build Central Asia's largest mining and enrichment (construction began in 2009) with a projected annual output of 1.4m tonnes of potash fertiliser.
"The plant will begin operating in 2015 and will be capable of raising annual domestic [potash fertiliser] production to 4.5m tonnes, which will both satisfy domestic demand and make Turkmenistan one of the largest potash exporters," Atacharyyev said.
Updates to a carbamide (urea) fertiliser plant are also in the works.
"Renovation of a carbamide plant in Mary Oblast with an annual capacity of 640,000 tonnes is nearing completion," Roman Kemerov, chief specialist at TISPER, said, adding that by 2016 the country should be producing 1m tonnes of carbamide annually, enough to allow Turkmenistan to export such products.
More fertiliser equals larger harvests
As the country expands its production efforts and fertiliser becomes more readily available, government agencies specialising in wheat and cotton and the Agriculture Ministry are expecting dramatically higher crop.
"The more fertiliser is used, the greater the yield," Agriculture Ministry agronomist Rejepnazar Khudaiberdiyev said. "Therefore, we need greater volumes of chemical inputs, seeing as how we use 1.41m hectares of arable land exclusively to grow cotton and wheat."
In some countries, farmers apply up to 800kg of mineral fertiliser per ha, he said, while Turkmen cropland typically receives less than 200kg per ha during a growing season.
Potentially harmful effects of fertiliser
Some people though are cautioning that fertiliser should not be the only option the country considers if it wants to improve its agricultural yields. Saturating fragile farmland with fertiliser could ultimately make the land unsuitable for food crops, some said.
The government can increase fertiliser production if it wants to make itself an exporter, but it must not pin its hopes for higher yields on intensive fertiliser use, Akhmed Jorayev, a cotton grower, said.
"Our lands have become as dependent as a drug addict: they need more and more fertiliser," he said, suggesting ancient, sometimes forgotten, practices like crop rotation and organic alternatives like manure and compost.
Environmentalists also worry about potential side effects of chemical fertilisers.
Chemical inputs degrade the land and pollute the environment, said Maral Annayeva, a biology teacher from Ashgabat. Nitrates make vegetables inedible, while chemical residues that wash out into streams and lakes during irrigation poison fish and other fauna.
"Agronomists must determine the fertilisation level for each district, while ... officials must monitor the situation to prevent abuse of chemical inputs," Annayeva said.
However, Khudaiberdiyev defended the country's farming practices, saying it uses the same non-hazardous substances that developed countries rely on.
"Not having them at all would make it difficult to cultivate large-scale crops, especially as much of our land is desert," he said.