Etching green revolution

Etching a green revolution

5:47 AM, 23rd October 2017
Etching a green revolution
Crop protection come in many forms and the Indian crop protection industry is dominated by insecticides which hold about 60 percent of the industry share. © DuPont

By Debarati Das

India has historically grown on the foundation of agriculture. And over the decades, even though the country has witnessed the rise of industrialization, information technology and various other sectors, agriculture still forms the very backbone and pillar of the country’s growth. And hence, it comes as no surprise that this sector accounts for about 15 percent of the country’s GDP.

The onus on agriculture has further intensified due to the rising population of the country which has led to the rising demand for food grains as against declining farmlands due to spreading urbanization. Thus, the need of the hour is to increase the farm yield from the available land and ensure reduction of crop losses due to pest attacks.

According to a report by Tata Strategic Management Group (TSMG) and FICCI, the agrochemicals market in India which was estimated at $4.4 billion in 2015, is expected to become $6.3 billion by 2020 with a 7.5 percent growth annually. But to sustain this growth, adequate crop protection is the need of the hour. The TSMG forecasted that the Indian crop protection industry is estimated to grow by 7.5 percent per annum to reach $6.3 billion by 2020.

Hence the growth of the agricultural sector has to be supported by the growth in the application of crop protection solutions.

“Only 25 to 30 percent of the cultivated area in India comes under crop protection umbrella. According to government estimates, annual crop losses due to pests and diseases in India over Rs 90,000 crores. While our population at present stands at 130 crores, it is expected to reach 150 crores by 2030. There is a dire need to pace our agricultural production, particularly in an era of climate change and ever reducing farmland due to urbanization and housing needs, which forces conversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural usages,” said Pradip Dave, president, Pesticides Manufacturers and Formulators Association of India (PMFAI) & chairman, Aimco Pesticides Limited.

Crop protection comes in many forms and the Indian crop protection industry is dominated by insecticides which hold about 60 percent of the industry share. This is followed by other segments like fungicides and herbicides which hold 18 percent and 16 percent share respectively.

Sprouting challenges

Even though the consumption of crop protection products in India is low as compared to other countries, this only serves as an opportunity for growth for the crop protection market in the country due to the rising awareness about these products, increasing farm labour wages and the desperate need for more yields to feed the growing population.

However, this industry still faces several hurdles in its growth path.

Ignorance isn’t always bliss: Majority of farmers in India still staunchly follow the traditional methods of farming. The lack of education and illiteracy in this sector had led to low awareness about agrochemical products, the requisite to use these products and the correct way to use them. Various government initiatives are making an attempt to educate the farmers on the need and process to use crop protection products. Several policy measures by the government aim to enable farmers to gain timely and adequate credit support. But a more collaborative approach to the industry, government & regulatory bodies would help change the scenario.

Manual or Technology driven approach: This sector still depends on manual labour for most of the farm work done, mostly because they are available at low cost while technological alternatives are much costlier. That is the reason why various crop protection products, like herbicides, still do not capture a huge market; because farm jobs like weed plucking etc. is done manually. There is a need to understand the return on investment that advanced crop protection solutions can offer.

Case of counterfeit: This market faces a huge challenge from the rising sale of dubious and fake products which does more harm to the farmland. This also jeopardises the credibility of genuine manufacturers and their products among farmers who are already in the realm of ignorance. The government and industry players need to work together to keep a tab on spurious products entering the market.

Managing supply chain: The agricultural sector in India is spread across the lengths and breaths of the country while being distinctly diverse across the geography. Seasonal demand from different parts of the country, the unpredictability of pest attacks and high dependence on monsoons are some factors that the industry players have to constantly address. Hence managing the inventory and tackling the distribution costs with effective supply chain management is a huge challenge for the companies.

Spending on R&D: There is a need to encourage R&D and strategic alliance between large MNCs and Indian counterparts. This way the country will have the same level of high-end technological solutions to boost agriculture as the world uses.  According to reports, agrochemicals worth $4.1 billion are expected to go off-patent by 2020 providing significant export for Indian companies to manufacture generic products.

“This will be good opportunity for Indian companies as Indian companies have greater expertise in generic segment.  Access to new off-patent products and innovations could help Indian companies provide new molecules to Indian farmers as well as export to international markets,” said Dave.

Trends in crop protection

Drastic reduction in arable land, decreasing farm size, increasing pest attacks, low per hectare yield, change in food consumption pattern, are the reasons which are giving rise to an imbalance in the demand and supply in the country’s food chain. But from challenges sprouts opportunities. Crop protection can play a major role in bringing back the balance.

Adopting global technology: To keep in tune with the changing food consumption habits and ensure sustainable yield, the Indian agro sector needs to change its stance and adopt modern methods, global practices and latest technologies of farming like agronomy, fertigation, seed treatment, biotechnology, etc. Making agrochemicals will not just ensure a better yield but have the most of the available land without any wastage.  

Going hi-tech: Various farms globally have begun using technology to its benefit for monitoring their farms against pests. Smart farming and implementing Internet of Things (IoT) are concepts which are catching up in the agricultural business. High-precision crop control, useful data collection, automated farming techniques and ability to innovate the landscape of current farming methods are some of the things that are coming up. IoT sensors across the farms are providing farmers with useful information about crop yields, rainfall, pest infestation, and soil nutrition. For instance, a farmer is immediately notified of a certain pest infestation which can be dealt immediately curbing the chances of widespread crop destruction.

BASF recently collaborated with Infosys for their digital offering, Maglis, which helps farmers manage fields and supports them in making better decisions on how to grow monitor and manage their crops. “The use of technology in agriculture has quickly become an effective way to improve crop yield and productivity. We have worked with BASF alongside farmers and the agricultural community to create digital solutions that help them manages their fields more effectively,” said Sandeep Dadlani, president and global head, manufacturing, retail, CPG and logistics, Infosys.

Although a distant dream, such technology for crop protection in India is not an impossible aim.

Biopesticides: This is a segment in crop protection which is slowly picking up. An amalgamation of traditional yet modern approach, farmers are increasingly accepting the use of bio-alternatives to various chemical laden crop protection solutions. According to TSMG, biopesticides currently represent only 4.2 percent of the overall pesticide market in India, but this segment is expected to have an annual growth rate of about 10 percent in the coming years. This is an area where players can concentrate and explore the potential of plant origin pesticides and other alternatives that will not just keep a farm pest free but also ensure an organic yield and reduce poisoning of the soil with chemical laden products.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM): This is a new method of crop protection which is trending in the agrochemicals market in India. The IPM is a sustainable and an eco-friendly approach to pest management that combines biological, mechanical, physical, and chemical methods to keep pest population at below economic threshold levels. This method is executed in three stages, namely prevention, observation, and intervention.

Bayer India’s Crop Science division recently undertook an IPM Project in Punjab and Haryana, to help cotton farmers effectively manage the havoc created by whitefly that resulted in heavy losses in these regions. Cotton growers in both states were guided by scouting techniques and methods of taking informed pest management decisions for whitefly-based on economic threshold level of the pest throughout the season. “In both Punjab and Haryana, whitefly was effectively managed and project cotton farmers achieved a good average yield of seed cotton of over 1000 kg of seed cotton/acre. This is a remarkable yield improvement from the previous two years when cotton farmers obtained very low yields due to severe attack of whitefly,” said Peter Mueller, head of Bayer Crop Science, South Asia.  

This is probably the best time for the Indian agriculture to thrive with new researches, new ideas and new experiments on farming.

© Chemical Today Magazine


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