Santosh Nair says future agriculture depends microbes

Santosh Nair says future of agriculture depends on microbes

10:54 AM, 8th June 2016
Santosh Nair says future of agriculture depends on microbes
Santosh Nair, CEO of Camson Bio Technologies Ltd.

In an interview Santosh Nair, CEO, Camson Bio Technologies Ltd with Shivani Mody, Editor, Chemical Today magazine, discusses the urgent need to promote natural fertilizers to save soil across the globe.

How does your company differ from other fertilizer companies? 

Camson has been a part of the Indian agriculture technology for the last two decades and we have been doing extensive research in this area. One of our prime focuses is to develop technology wherein agriculture can be largely driven by microbes and microbial extracts. Our unique proposition in terms of products is that we use extracts of different microbes. For decades, we have been working on identifying such microbes, isolating them and finally building products best suited for various types of agriculture landscape.

Can you elaborate on the latest market trends emerging in this sector?

Year 2015 was declared as the ‘International Year Of Soil’ by the United Nations and the Food and Agriculture Organization. With this initiative, many countries including the developed nations and the upcoming countries have taken up several measures to ensure that the quality of soil is taken care of. A lot is happening in the agriculture department and most importantly in the fertilizers industry. If you consider the overall numbers, fertilizer globally is a $260 billion dollar industry.

Over the years, the use of synthetic fertilizers across the world has gone up so high that farmers are now realizing the problems associated with it. Farmers are battling with issues such as fallow land due to excess chemical levels in the soil and drastic drop in crop yield. To add to it, according to the statistics, the world population is expected to grow by 30 percent over the next 10 to 20 years, which will amount to 70 percent increase in food consumption. Moreover, increase in fertilizer usage is more or less 2 percent world over, while Asia Pacific and especially in countries such as India, the increase in fertilizer usage is up to 6 to 7 percent. The future looks grim if the situation is not tackled immediately and soil is not taken care of. Farmers are now trying to find solutions to improve productivity and yield of their farmland.

What are the steps taken to tackle these issues in the fertilizer industry?

The three main components in fertilizers are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Nitrogen is available through naphtha, phosphorus from phosphatic salts and potash, which are extracted from mines in synthetic ways. Today, while synthetic fertilizers dominate the fertilizer industry, another segment, called the bio-fertilizers segment, is growing. There is major scope for this segment as currently world over it is $2 to 2.5 billion in size.

Many countries, especially the developed countries, are moving towards using bio fertilizers because by using them, the soil tends to get more potent for agriculture. Bio fertilizers use live microbes, which is better compared to synthetic fertilizers. But the live microbes have a shelf-life of 10 to 12 months after which the efficacy of the microbes tends to vary. Hence, bio fertilizers have not been able to gain confidence among farmers. In India, bio fertilizers are largely taken up by the government, which is in turn given to farmers through subsidies.

The third kind, which we offer, is the natural fertilizer, which is an extract of a microbe. This extract is not just of one microbe but a consortium of microbes, which gives nitrogen directly to the plant. This is different from bio fertilizer, which uses fixating bacteria, where the bacteria fixes the nitrogen from the soil or it solubilizes the potassium phosphorus from the soil. It fixes the nitrogen from the atmosphere. In case of natural fertilizer, the microbe itself gives nitrogen, phosphorous and potash as per the plant’s requirements. And I can surely say that Camson Bio Technologies is the only company in the world to provide this technology. We have been working on this product over the last six to seven years and have applied for two patents - a process patent and a product patent. After trials across the world, we received the acceptance of patents in August 2015.

What are the benefits of natural fertilizers?

Fertilizer as a subject cannot be restricted to a particular country or region. The whole world needs fertilizers. Today, people are becoming aware about health hazards, depleting eco system and the need for organic food. The solution to this is to eradicate something that is synthetic in nature and adopt something natural. And hence natural fertilizer comes as a remedy where a plant is nourished without any additional stress to it.

Over decades, excessive use of chemical or synthetic fertilizers in many countries, including India, has left the land fallow. If natural fertilizer is put into use, the fallow soil, over a period of time, will get healed and the soil will become fertile again.

What are the future expansion plans of Camson Bio Technologies?

We are currently focusing on India since we have just launched our product and would conduct our first trials in the domestic market. The Indian fertilizer market is broadly divided in two parts: the granular segment and the water soluble segment. Currently, we are not focusing on the granular segment because as of now it is highly subsidized as far as India is concerned. The second segment is the water soluble fertilizer which only goes through fertigation. If you look at India, 45 percent of the agriculture land is irrigated, while the other 65 percent land depends on the rains; hence every bad monsoon has its own problems when it comes to rain.

At present, we are looking into the water soluble segment. Last year, the consumption of water soluble fertilizers in India alone was a lakh and 50,000 metric tonne which was completely imported and was inorganic, chemical and synthetic. We are a replacement to such imported, synthetic and expensive fertilizers. At the same time, we are currently into many discussions in the international markets.

Once we start to witness business growth in India, we will look at penetrating the international markets. Globally, people understand the importance of organic fertilizers and are willing to appreciate it. But for the first 2 to 3 seasons we will work in the Indian market and see how it evolves.

How do you gauge the global competition for your product, the natural fertilizer Internationally, there is nobody who is making natural fertilizers.

Bio fertilizers, which is available internationally, is growing by 3 to 4 percent, but they are driven by Azotobacteraceae, Rhizobia  to name a few, which are all fixating bacteria and are different from natural fertilizers. While the shelf life of bio fertilizers is not more than 12 months, natural fertilizers offer a shelf life of about 3-5 years. It is available both in the liquid and in the powdered form, making the application process easy for the farmers.

Hence, as far as global competition is concerned, we are pioneers in the field.

Brief us about the R&D activities taken up by the company.

Camson Bio Technology is an IPR driven company and we take a lot of pride to say that we are more of a research and development company than a commercial company. The commercial aspects of the company started only about 3 to 4 years ago, prior to which we were more into research.

 It took us two decades to identify over 32 thousand microbial strains, of which, we shortlisted about 4,500 microbials and come up with 40 products. We will continue to focus and invest in research because that is the DNA around which the company has grown.

What would be your message for SMEs and researchers?

Be it agriculture, pharmaceuticals, paints or any other industry, we need to realize that microbe is the future. There is a huge talent base in India and there is a need to channelize the talent towards research. Out of the few biotechnology companies in India, 95% of them are focused on pharmaceutical segment. There is barely any company focusing on agriculture despite being an agricultural country. On the other hand, countries like US and Australia have galloped in the field of agricultural research and biotechnology. I think, even the government needs to take interest and promote research in this field and stop the dependence on import. SMEs can definitely play a major role in this area. They need to promote using green technology in agriculture. We need to realize that if we don’t take the correct steps today, we’ll probably be glaring at a bigger problem over a period of time.

© Chemical Today Magazine 

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