Research on fertilizer use in Pakistan was initiated in 1909, with the establishment of the Punjab Agriculture College and Research Institute at Faisalabad (then Lyallpur), followed by the establishment of various research stations in the country. The response of various crops to nitrogen containing fertilizers was published in 1934. Phosphorus deficiency was reported for the first time in 1952. A Soil Fertility Research and Fertilizer Popularizing Organization was set up under FAO auspices in 1958, with the mandate to conduct applied fertilizer research and promote fertilizer use. Under this programme intensive experimentation was carried out on farmers fields to create awareness about the role of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in crop production. This led to the use of fertilizers at farm level and also to investment in the national fertilizer industry. The deficiency of zinc in rice was identified in 1969 and the deficiency of boron in cotton was reported in 1970. Horticultural crops, particularly deciduous fruits, showed a severe deficiency of iron. The importance of zinc for rice is known to rice growers. The Provincial Soil Fertility Institutes, the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council and other national institutes had generated a great deal of information over time.
With the identification of multiple nutrient deficiencies, the focus shifted to balanced fertilizer use, integration of mineral fertilizer with organic sources, quantification of residual nutrients, fertilizer recommendations in cropping systems and soil test crop response calibration for economic and optimum fertilizer use based on soil analysis.
As the fertilizer sector moved towards maturity, issues related to policy and economics emerged. Therefore, in 1978 the Government of Pakistan with the assistance of FAO established the National Fertilizer Development Centre (NFDC) with the mandate to study all issues of the fertilizer sector from source of supply to farmers fields, with a view to developing policy advice and to assist, where appropriate, in its implementation. Its scope covered policy planning, marketing and statistics, monitoring of supply and demand and fertilizer research, training, and extension activities. NFDC played a central role in the field of policy issues. It analyzed the role of the public and private fertilizer sector, reserve stocks, phasing out of subsidies and servicing of remote areas to facilitate privatization and deregulation. Short and long term fertilizer demand forecasts, pricing, fertilizer production, import and marketing were other areas under consistent review. Studies were conducted on fertilizer use at farm level, its impact on crop productivity, the quality of products and constraints in balanced and efficient use of fertilizers.
The data on crop response to fertilizers were collected, collated, analyzed and interpreted. Fertilizer research trials on farmers fields were harmonized and deficiencies were identified in soil testing laboratories. The topics of fertilizer use efficiency, economic optimum recommendations, and integrated plant nutrient management were also addressed. With support from IMPHOS and FAO, data were obtained on the balanced use of fertilizer and its contribution to crop production. NFDC maintains a comprehensive data base and issues monthly status reports on fertilizer production, imports, prices, use at farm level and the issues for policy action. NFDC also coordinates with federal and provincial research institutes, extension and fertilizer industry through providing a common platform to discuss and deliberate on contentious issues.
The objective of fertilizer research and development has shifted to the improvement of efficiency, increased crop productivity and minimization of the impact on the environment. The overall aim is that sustainability in agricultural growth should match the growing population for food security and the promotion of economic growth.