The Indian Nitrogen Challenge in a Global Perspective

M. A. Sutton*, J. Drewer, A. Moring, T. K. Adhya, A. Ahmed, A. Bhatia, W. Brownlie, U. Dragosits, S. D. Ghude, J. Hillier, S. Hooda, C. M. Howard, N. Jain, Dinesh Kumar, R. M. Kumar, D. R. Nayak, C. N. Neeraja, R. Prasanna, A. Price, B. RamakrishnanD. S. Reay, Renu Singh, U. Skiba, J. U. Smith, S. Sohi, D. Subrahmanyan, K. Surekha, H. J.M. van Grinsven, M. Vieno, S. R. Voleti, H. Pathak, N. Raghuram

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

5 Citations (Scopus)


Human activities have massively altered the global nitrogen (N) cycle, doubling annual production of reactive N (Nr) compounds from atmospheric dinitrogen (N2). The use of 120 Mt year-1 fertilizer N, with a global terrestrial/atmospheric N fixation of 285Mtyear-1, has provided huge benefits for global food production. However, nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) of the world food system is only -15%. The lost Nr creates a cascade of air and water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, until it is eventually denitrified back to N2.India clearly illustrates a dual N challenge for food and environment, consuming 17Mt of N fertilizer annually (14% of the global total), which has increased since 1970 at 6% year-1 approximately. Emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from combustion sources are also increasing rapidly at 6.5% year-1 currently. By comparison, population growth rate is lower (2% year-1), while ammonia (NH3) emission increase is even less (1%), pertaining to smaller changes in livestock numbers. At current rate, Indian NOx emissions will exceed NH3 emissions by 2055. India currently loses Nr worth US$10billionyear-1 as fertilizer value, while costs of Nr to health, ecosystems, and climate are estimated at US$75 (38-151) billion year-1.Only a small fraction of the Indian population consumes animal products, hence per capita Nr use and pollution is much less than in many developed countries. However, rates of meat consumption are increasing. While published projections from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization anticipate a doubling of South Asian fertilizer consumption from 2006 to 2050 (equivalent to 1.9% year-1 increase), these projections lack transparency and require reevaluation. In practice, the future nitrogen cycle for India will depend on scientific advances in agronomy, genetics and environment, and the extent to which government and society grasp the emerging opportunities for optimizing N management.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Indian Nitrogen Assessment
Subtitle of host publicationSources of Reactive Nitrogen, Environmental and Climate Effects, Management Options, and Policies
EditorsYash P. Abrol, Tapan K. Adhya, Viney P. Aneja, Nandula Raghuram, Himanshu Pathak, Umesh Kulshrestha, Chhemendra Sharma, Bijay Singh
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9780128119044
ISBN (Print)9780128118368
Publication statusPublished - 24 Aug 2017


  • Emission
  • Environment
  • Fertilizer policy
  • Human health
  • India
  • Nitrogen challenge
  • Nitrogen fixation
  • Nitrogen pollution
  • Nitrogen use efficiency


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