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India spends almost twice as much on imported food than it did in 2002, the Wall Street Journal reports this morning. (The link is here, but it requires a subscription.)  The problem, according to reporter Geeta Anand, is that subsidies for a particular fertilizer, urea, have led to an overuse of the product, which has degraded the soil and led to a decline in yields. India’s rice yields now lag China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

India’s subsidy of urea has led to widespread overuse of the fertilizer, “throwing off the chemistry of the soil, according to multiple studies by Indian agriculture.” The government wants to raise prices for urea in the hope of reducing use, but fears reaction by farmers. The urea industry has a particularly strong lobby, certainly an unintended political consequence of India’s green revolution. While subsidies for other fertilizers were dropped, urea’s subsidy remained — and so Indian farmers began overusing it.

The overuse of urea is having all kinds of ecological and production consequences. For instance, fertilized fields need more water, and so water tables are dropping dramatically in some areas. “Farming is in shambles,” said Kamaljit Singh, a farmer. “If we have to support our growing families and our increasing population on this land, we must get higher yields. Otherwise our families and our nation will suffer.”

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