The government had made neem-coating for urea sold in India compulsory about two years ago, but the ingenuity of such neem is under question. One tonne of urea requires about 800 grams of neem oil coating. About 310 lakh tonnes of urea consumed in India annually would require 25,000 tonnes of neem oil. However, the fruit only produces about 3.25 lt after transportation and post-storage weight loss, the Indian Express reported. Since there is not enough to cover the demand, the question being raised is how the oil is being made available. The cultivation of neem trees and the fruit that is ripened is only available for two months, from May-end till mid-July. Apart from a few fertiliser companies, there is no other system for collecting, drying and processing the neem leaves. A senior government official talking about the 100 per cent neem coating rule for domestic and imported urea said, “It is a sensitive issue, more so when the decision came right from the top.”
The Department of Fertilisers issued a circular in April stating that “some neem oil suppliers are offering more quantity of neem oil to urea manufacturers/importers than their neem oil production capacity, which encourages malpractices and mixing of spurious oil in neem oil with azadirachtin powder”. Fertiliser firms have been ordered to ask the oil manufacturers while bidding for purchase tenders to inform about their production capacity and commitments already in place. Apart from this, the government is changing existing specifications of neem oil which can also be provided by cheaper oils like washed cottonseed, rice bran, karanja and palm at Rs 55-65, according to the Indian Express. Neem oil, on the other hand, costs Rs 111 per kg on average.
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“There are suppliers who are using a mix of 70-80 per cent vegetable oils (average cost of Rs 60 per kg) and 20-30 per cent solvent-extracted neem oil (Rs 80 per kg). To this, they add one gram or so of azadirachtin powder costing Rs 9-10. The resultant so-called neem oil would meet all the specifications required for urea-coating, including the minimum 150 ppm azadirachtin content. And it will cost less than Rs 75 per kg, while being supplied to urea manufacturers/importers at Rs 100 plus (the current quoted rates for neem oil in most tenders),” the government official told the Indian Express. He said that this could be changed by changing the specifications of neem oil for urea coating.
Urea, as a heavily subsidised product, was used as a binder by furniture makers, used for textile smoothening and adulterating milk. Neem-oil coating has reduced these non-agricultural illegal activities. Through coating nitrogen is passed much gradually than earlier, leading to lesser and efficient consumption of urea in farms, the official said.