Sustainable Nitrogen Management
TerraGreen|June 2021
Desideratum of the Decade and Afar. In this article, Dr Anil Pratap Singh highligths that there is an urgent need for sustainable nitrogen management as nitrogen pollution threatens to become a major environmental challenge in the years to come.
Dr Anil Pratap Singh

Nitrogen and its compounds lavishly present in the nature are vital for sustenance of life at the threshold, but their disproportionate amounts threaten human health, biodiversity, livelihoods, and overall well-being. In the recent past, the amount of nitrogen in chemically reactive forms has almost doubled. Due to relevance to most of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), scientists are now harmonizing and hastening with the United Nations (UN) towards the goal to halve nitrogen waste by 2030. There is an urgent need of global action diversely— as nitrogen pollution is before us to pose problems as a major environmental challenge.

The United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) gravely highlighted intensification of the levels of reactive nitrogen in its fourth session that was held in Nairobi (Kenya) during March 11–15, 2019. Here, the first-ever ‘UN Resolution on Sustainable Nitrogen Management’ was adopted and created provisions for smooth progress of coordination of policies across the global nitrogen cycle at the national, regional, and global levels. In this assembly, the Government of India played a momentous role and led the resolution on nitrogen pollution towards global accord which entails a down-to-earth programme of action.

Ineluctability of Nitrogen for Lives on Earth

Humanity’s very existence depends on nitrogen. Despite the fact that nitrogen (N2 ) is present abundantly, that is—around 78 per cent in the Earth’s atmosphere—it is metabolically unusable by living organisms except some microbes such as Rhizobium. To make nitrogen usable, it requires to be transformed into its other forms or reactive nitrogen. Nitrogen essential for all living organisms, is part of DNA, amino acids, proteins, chlorophylls, vitamins, and many other organic compounds. The betide of Green Revolution was principally attributable to the use of nitrogen fertilizers.

Intricacies of Extravagant Use of Nitrogen Fertilizers in Agriculture

Wasteful use of nitrogen fertilizers in agriculture is polluting the land, air, and water. This defying inefficient use of nitrogen is measured in terms of nitrogen use efficiency (NUE). Large amounts of nitrogen used as fertilizers gets wasted and leaks into rivers, lakes, and seas— feeding algal blooms that diminish oxygen and annihilate life.

The world uses more than 100 million metric tonnes of nitrogen fertilizers on yearly basis. However, data sources indicate that India consumes 17 million tonnes of nitrogen fertilizers per annum, of which over 60 per cent is missed in being utilized by crops in the form of nitrates. The remaining stays either in the soil or seeps into the contiguous environment, thereby dipping down the NUE. Globally, 50 per cent of nitrogen fertilizers added to farm field wind up as pollution or is shattered by denitrification back to N2.

Consequence of Greater Applications of Nitrogen Fertilizers

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