By Ajoy K. Das

India has started laying down a roadmap to make a maiden foray into potash mining, marking a small step in reducing its 100% import dependency on this critical fertilizer mineral.

Strangely, the desert state of Rajasthan has estimated potash reserves of 2.4 billion ton or about 90% of total domestic estimated reserves but the country has no mining project for extraction of the fertilizer mineral and is completely dependent on imports of the input for domestic production of potassic fertilizers.

However, this is slated to change with a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Rajasthan State Mineral and Mining Ltd. (RSMML) and government-owned Mineral Exploration Corp. Ltd. (MECL) to undertake a feasibility report of mining potash at the Satipura block with estimated reserves of 133 million tons.

While the state government has not yet made a final decision, the option to put the block up for auction after completion of the feasibility report followed by the technoeconomic viability report, was on the table, according to a government official.

Satipura was a deep-seated block with extractable potash at depths ranging 450-700 meters and mineral content of around 4%-5%. But the low mineral content could be offset in terms of viability through simultaneous extraction of other embedded minerals like industrial salt and polyvinyl chloride.

The significance of the country’s foray into potash mining can be gauged against it importing its entire requirement for potassic fertilizer production of 4 million tons of potash annually. But India’s imports in the global trade of the mineral is around 7% compared to China accounting for 20% of total global share. China sets the benchmark international price, which Indian importers have to pay, thereby increasing the domestic price of the fertilizer.

A major source of Indian potash imports is from ICL Group, Israel, the sixth largest potash producer in the world with a supply contract for 410,000 mt signed in May 2020 for shipment between June-December 2020.

In the same month, India also concluded a supply contract with world’s largest producer, Urakali for inward shipment of undisclosed tonnage at around $230 per ton CFR, and about $10 per ton higher than import contracts concluded by China.