Endless hurdles

  • 14/02/2002

Endless hurdles The dismal domestic market of biopesticides indicates that these products still have a long way to go. They are not popular because they have a slow action - they take time to show results. According to Anil Kakkaran official with Mumbai-based Excel Industriesfarmers are used to quick resultsthereforethey do not prefer biopesticides. "It is very difficult to convince farmers about the efficacy of these productssays Seema Wahab, director of biotechnology department, Union ministry of science and technology.The concept of pest managementas compared to the current concept of pest eradicationis yet to be understoodasserts R Manoj, an official with Mumbai-based Ultima Search, a prospective company of the biopesticide sector.

The unpopularity of biopesticides also stems from their lack of quality, admit industry leaders.Small companies do not invest money in quality productionsays Saurabh Singhal. Vendors misdirect farmers - biopesticides are marketed as a 'cure' rather than as a 'precautionary measure'. When this reporter enquired about the best biopesticide available in the market from a dealer, the answer was shocking: endosulfan - a known human carcinogenic. Such misformation often misleads farmers.

Problem areas
Industry-farmer interface is a must for convincing farmerssays O P Lal, head of entomology department, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), New Delhi.There is no dearth of natural plant protection materials. We just need to coax farmersagrees B P S Khambay from the Integrated Approach to Crop Research, a UK-based research organisation. At present, the companies hardly make any effort to get a feedback.Companies need to generate awareness about the benefits of biopesticidessays G P Gupta, principal scientist, division of entomology, ICAR.

This interface would also help overcome farmers' fear about the prohibitive cost. Biopesticides can be costly. For example, one litre of Bt-based biopesticide costs as much as Rs 1,000. This is where the government can step in.Biopesticides need to be subsidisedadds Gupta. Incentives in the form of tax rebates will encourage the growth of this sector. No such benefits are given to this sector.Officials equate biopesticides with chemical pesticides. They are not in a position to appreciate the differencesays S Ramarethinam, executive director of T Stanes and Company Limited, a Coimbatore-based company producing agricultural bioproducts.Any amount of repeated explanation falls on deaf ears andthereforewe end up with inadequate financial supporthe adds.

Groping in the dark
Research and development of biopesticides is also very poor.Lack of funds is a major constrain for tapping potential biopesticide sourcessays A K Dikshit, senior scientist at the New Delhi-based Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI). A number of agencies are said to be researching about biopesticides. But this is not reflected in the market. Moreover, research is mainly focussed on Bt and neem-based biopesticides.Research should be directed at commercialising new sources of biopesticidessays Ashok Kumar Dhawan, a professor at Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana. Experts opine that this trend is a result of the market crisis. Says Lal:Research done in this sector is very limited because of unpopularity of the existing products." He adds that a great deal of research is needed to develop good products.

No scientist is working in the real sense for promoting these products. Organisations like ICAR lack the environment for promotion,says A T Dudaniauthor of the first-ever status report of India's pesticide industry. Shortcomings in research is reflected in the few successful 'lab to field transfers' of biopesticides. Focussed screening and development process characterises agrochemical research and development. This ensures successful field transfer. Howeverit is not happening in the case with biopesticides. "The products do not perform in the fields with the same efficiency as they do in the laboratoriessays P K Ghosh, advisor of department of biotechnology, Union ministry of science and technology.

Researchers and government are not to be solely blamed either.Research is in nascent stage as it is very difficult to fight the industrywhich is predominantly chemicalsays Saurabh Singhal.

Calling the shots
According to experts, the control of oil industry over the renewable energy sector is precedent for what might hold true for the biopesticide industry.Many chemical industry entrepreneurs are on the biopesticide bandwagonsays Vivek Singhal. According to him, chemical industry entrepreneurs are stifling the growth of biopesticides by flooding the market with poor quality or spurious products. Even Govind Kutty Menon, chairperson of All India Biodynamic and Organic Farming Association, voices the same concerns.Chemical pesticide lobby is very strong and they are preventing the promotion of biopesticides to save their interestshe says.

The chemical industry, however, vehemently denies these allegations.The chemical industry has no vested interest. We are just exploring ways to become ecofriendlysays Salil Singhal, head of environment committee of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).

For such entrepreneurs there seems to be little difference between exploration and exploitation. Ironically, officials are aiding them in their 'endeavours', admits M C Diwakar, joint director of Union ministry's IPM programme.The state governments' machinery of IPM is a puppet in the hands of chemical pesticide companies. They work for protecting the industry not the environmenthe says. This 'protection' starts from product registration.Products can be registered by greasing a lot of palms. It just requires about Rs 30-40 lakhssays D Sengupta, director of the Faridabad-based Institute for Pesticide Formulation Technology (IPFT), which develops new pesticide formulations. Considering the fact that IPFT has the final say about product quality before registration is granted, Sengupta's confession just highlights the plight of biopesticides. Even for initial testing of the biopesticide products, our country lacks adequate laboratories, Diwakar admits.

The registration blues do not end there. According to Jasvir Singh, anybody seeking registration of biopesticides is apparently given preference even if their products are not supported by sufficient studies on toxicity levels. But Wahab is not impressed who finds procedures very cumbersome.The recent inclusion of biopesticides in the Insecticide Act is the biggest setback for their commercialisationshe says. Many experts feel that Wahab's demand is not justified considering the fact that India's registration procedure for biopesticides is said to be too lax, when compared to countries like the US.

Problems pertaining to registration is just the tip of the iceberg. Sengupta admits that IPFT is not equipped for providing technical know-how about biopesticides.We can furnish you with details about technology related to rhizobium-based biofertilisers. But for biopesticides we have to contact other sources." Even the government machinery seems geared up to prevent the promotion of biopesticides. "Biopesticide technology is very costly and there is no guarantee of the market. Thereforefirst go for a market survey and if you can invest Rs 1 crore we will provide you with the detailssaid Sengupta when this reporter posed as an entrepreneur.

Hope to harvest
It is clear that the promise of biological control discovered earlier in this century is still to be realised. However, officials like Diwakar are optimistic.Biopesticides are not being promoted and used due to lack of will and dedication. We can reach zero chemical pesticide level in just 10 years.Plant protection is not a problem if biopesticides are usedclaims Diwakar. But, at present, everybody seems to be confused as to how to make this dream come true. Industry, which is driven by profits, will never take initiatives to promote these products. High cost combined with slow effectiveness are reasons for farmers persistently shying away from using biopesticides. In this double whammy, it is the government that has to act as a bridge, experts opine.

Government must provide loans to biopesticide manufactures at lower rates of around 7-8 per centsuggests Ritu Kholsa, a New Delhi-based entrepreneur. The government must subsidise these products in order to cover the cost both for manufactures as well as consumers.Moreoverrules and regulations should be made stringent. There is a need to review the policy of plant protectionsays Diwakar. The industry has to change the nature of its business and start interacting with farmers. The farmers too have to give these products a chance to prove their worth. The future of these products would depend on such collective efforts.

The initiative has to be taken by all the sectorssays Jasvir Singh. Menon also supports these views and says:It will take time but surely people are going to realise that these products are safe to use." As of nowit seems that time is running out for these ecofriendly products. And that too at a fast pace.

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