Bio-Agriculture (BIOAG) In India

Dhananjay Edakhe, CEO, PlantbiotiXHeadquartered in Mumbai, Plantbiotix is a Bio-Agri business division of Zytex, a pioneer in biotechnology which provides agri-inputs for improving soil health, plant growth and crop protection for farmers.

Achieving global food security is a big challenge, especially in a world with an ever growing population, accelerating consumption and deteriorating global environment. It is expected that by 2050, the world's population will reach 9.2 billion, 34 per-cent higher than today. To keep-up with rising population and income growth, global food production must increase by 70 percent to be able to feed the world. In the 20th century, crop yield has increased manifold by use of chemical pesticides, inorganic fertilizers and growth promoters. The answer to this challenge is sustainable agriculture.

Due to indiscriminate usage of chemical fertilizers & agrochemicals, a lot of damage has already been caused to our Indian soil under cultivation & water resources across the country. It also has direct impact on quality & quantity of our farm produce, and under such circumstances, advocating integration of biological inputs under integrated nutrition management (INM) and integrated crop disease & pest management (IPM) program is the need of the hour.

Ag solution by following Sustainable Agriculture?
Sustainable agriculture is `environmentally sound'. It preserves the quality of basic natural resources that the farms, businesses and the surrounding environment rely on, including soil, water, and air. Microbes and plants are intimate partners in virtually every life processes. Microbes helps plants by improving availability of crop nutrients, enhancing plant root growth and neutralizing toxic compounds in soil. It also helps plants in improving resistance against diseases, deterring pathogens and mitigates abiotic stress.

Bio-Ag Overview & Its Importance
Agricultural biological (Ag-biological) are microbial (Bacteria, Fungi, Virus) based solutions/Agriculture inputs that work to naturally produce healthier crops and improve yields.

• Provide farmers with effective and more sustainable `low-chemical' options for their agriculture practices to produce more with less in a sustainable way.

• Cost-effective tool for the farmers to safeguard high investment of seeds and other Ag chemicals.

• Ag-biological can help to increase plant yields in a variety of ways such as improving plant nutrient uptake, promoting plant growth and protecting plants from insects, weeds and diseases.

Concept of Ag-Biological
Biological Agriculture inputs include a wide range of products aimed at supporting soil fertility, biological activity, and plant growth. They include inocula (such as rhizobium) and biostimulants that promote favorable microbes and plant growth, composts, manures, and bio-chars. These inputs are often used with the broad aim of bringing-down the usage of traditional chemical fertilizers and agro-chemicals, but they may at the same time also form the back-bone of organic farming systems.

The term `Bio-fertilizer' refers to a formulation containing live microbes which helps in enhancing the soil fertility, either by fixing atmospheric nitrogen, solubilization of phosphorus, decomposing organic wastes or by augmenting plant growth by producing growth hormones with their biological activities.
Mechanisms of Growth Promotion/Bio-Control
• Phytohormones
• Solubilizing of P
• Nitrogen fixation
• Antagonistic effects
• Direct competition for `rhizosphere space'

Bio-insecticides are organic formulations recommended for the management of insects that feed on crops. They are different from chemical pesticides in several ways.

They contain live bacteria that produce toxins which cause stomach poison in the insects and kill them. Such as Beauveria spp., Trichoderma spp., and Bacillus spp.

Increasing IPM for long-term, sustainable agriculture that achieves adequate, safe and quality food production, improves farmer livelihoods and conserves non-renewable energy

Under Crop protection measures, biological control agents can also be defined as the utilization of natural enemies to reduce the damage caused by noxious organisms to tolerable levels. Natural enemies of insect pests, also known as biological control agents, include predators, parasitoids, and pathogens. Bio-logical control agents of plant diseases are most often referred to as antagonists such as Trichogramma and Nucleopolyhedrovirus (NPV).

"Encourage distribution channel partners to enhance awareness of Ag-biological by offering them decent product promotion incentive structure"

Factors contributed to the emergence of a market for Ag-Biological inputs:
• Higher demand for agriculture produce from ever growing population.

• An increase in the price of chemical insecticides and the resistance developed by insects/pests to existing crop protection inputs.

• Need to reduce residues of toxic chemicals in food stuffs, especially those for export markets

• Regulatory and consumer driven focus on sustainable agriculture.

• Promising trend of increase in the sales of organic food as consumers becoming more health conscious.

• Concern over their food habits coupled with higher buying power leading to increase in non-chemical crop protection and total crop care product usage.

Ag-biological inputs marketing challenges:
• Market is currently polluted by too many spurious products/psuedo-biologicals (non-registered, unauthorized and non-effective).

• Bio-fertilizers are live microorganisms which at times die in case of high temperature

• The short shelf life of bio-fertilizer is limited to 6-12 months in a liquid/powder form.

• Bio-fertilizers are used before sowing and at times if delay caused in dispatches from manufacturer, it leads to inventory carry-over and expiry of the product at distribution channel level.

• Some of the bio-fertilizers are crop specific as well as location specific.

• Soil characteristics like high nitrate, low organic matter, less available phosphate, high soil acidity or alkalinity, high temperature as well as presence of high agrochemicals or low micronutrients contribute to failure of inoculants or adversely affect its efficacy.

• The change in cropping pattern by farmers also adversely affects the sales.

• Slow in action compared to synthetics/agrochemicals.

Way forward to improve usage of
Ag-biological inputs:
• Products need be made available as per local market needs and should have potential to perform under different agro-climatic field conditions.

• Product should be easily adopted/can be integrated in existing farmer practices. Product must be environmentally more stable and must be compatible and can be easily integrated with chemical fertilizer/pesticides.

• Reach more number of farmers and create the product demand and trust by conducting regular field activities (product demos, crop show/field days, organized farmer meets) for creating mass awareness.

• Encourage distribution channel partners to enhance awareness of Ag-biological by offering them decent product promotion incentive structure.

Bio-Agriculture is for sure expected to create a prominence. IPM (Integrated Pest Management) & INM (Integrated Nutrition Management) will have an important role to play, and the use of biological control agents/bio-nutrition inputs is going to increase significantly in coming times. IPM is a big part of the solution. Increasing it for long-term, sustainable agriculture that achieves adequate, safe and quality food production improves farmer livelihoods and conserves non-renewable energy.