In an interaction Industry Outlook, Shanmugam Sambanthan, Commercial Head, Agriculture at Novozymes India, shares his views on addressing the technical challenges faced in developing Biosolutions, overcoming economic challenges involved in adopting Biosolutions in farming, how Biosolutions for farming revolutionize pest and disease management, and more.
What are the primary technical challenges faced in developing Biosolutions for revolutionizing farming practices? How can those challenges be addressed?
Biosolutions are a crucial component of sustainable agriculture, as they ensure food production for a growing population and help mitigate the impact of climate change. However, the development of Biosolutions is hampered by a number of technical obstacles.
Identification of the Right Solution and Ensuring Uniform Performance: Biosolutions consist of live microbes, their derivatives, or compounds extracted from natural sources. Identifying the right strains or molecules based on specific requirements (biofertilizer or biocontrol) and achieving consistent performance across diverse crops, soils, and climatic conditions is a formidable task.
Stability and Compatibility: Ensuring a longer shelf life and stability under various storage conditions is crucial for the effectiveness of any biological product in the Indian market. Additionally, these products must deliver the same efficacy when combined with other agricultural inputs, considering prevailing farmer practices.
Regulatory Framework: Each country has its own regulations tailored to protect local indigenous species and compounds. While this is essential to preserve native biodiversity, it can restrict farmers' access to proven solutions from other parts of the world. For instance, there is a lack of clarity on the import of certain strains of microbes for agricultural use in India.
Addressing these challenges require a strategic approach:
Conducting extensive laboratory research and multi-location field trials can help identify the right biosolution products that perform consistently across various crops and seasons.
In-depth stability and compatibility studies are essential to ensure that biosolution products remain effective under different storage and application conditions. For example: a few species of mycorrhiza are active only in a particular temperature range. The right blend of multiple species would ensure efficacy across seasons. Within regulatory guidelines, there have been a lot of initiatives to promote the use of biological products. Several farmer-friendly programs have played an important role in increasing the use of biosolutions. The current Bio stimulant guidelines demonstrate the government's commitment to provide farmers with high-quality products.
In what ways do Biosolutions for farming revolutionize pest and disease management, and what are the key challenges in achieving effective and sustainable results?
Biosolutions offer a promising replacement of chemicals in pest and disease management while ensuring the preservation of the natural ecosystem. They are safe for beneficial insects, like honeybees, and pose no health hazards to humans due to their lack of residual effects commonly seen in chemical molecules. Moreover, the low incidences of pest resistance to Biocontrol products compared to the resurgence phenomenon associated with chemical controls, when used improperly or in high dosages, further highlights their effectiveness.
Numerous scientific innovations and research support the equivalence of biocontrol products to chemical methods in managing pests and diseases. However, certain roadblocks hinder the widespread adoption of Biocontrol solutions, and addressing these is essential to reach more farmers.
The first challenge is the lack of awareness among farmers regarding the benefits of Biocontrol products. Currently, farming practices tend to focus more on control than integrated pest management, leading them to prefer chemicals with quick knock-down effects. Creating awareness and educating farmers about the advantages of Biocontrol can gradually shift this mindset. Another hurdle is that the majority of existing Biocontrol products are specific to particular pests or diseases, unlike chemical molecules that offer broad-spectrum coverage.
To make Biosolutions a more viable alternative to chemical methods, continuous innovation, creating awareness, addressing existing limitations are necessary to develop solutions that can target a wider range of pests and diseases.
What are the major barriers and limitations associated with scaling up Biosolutions technologies to be applicable on a large-scale in agricultural systems?
With the continuous advancement of science and technology, Biosolutions are indeed becoming more versatile, resistant to environmental conditions, and compatible with conventional chemicals. However, one of the significant challenges lies in replicating consistent results across diverse agro-climatic conditions and soil types. Soil characteristics, nutrient availability, and climate play pivotal roles in determining the efficacy of Biosolutions. Adapting these solutions to varying agricultural environments remains a complex task.
Lack of awareness among farmers and the public perception that Biologicals cannot be mixed with chemicals, lead to the misconception that using BioSolutions incurs additional costs and is considered to be expensive for adoption in regular cultivation schedules. Reaching smallholder farmers, in particular, can be difficult due to fragmented and scattered cropping patterns, making it difficult to introduce and promote Biosolutions effectively.
Regulatory frameworks have also posed hindrances for Biosolutions. The stringent data requirements and lack of clear distinction between biologicals and chemicals in regulatory processes create complexities for manufacturers. The time and costs involved in product registration are also significant limitations faced by many companies. Collaborative efforts between government regulatory bodies, ministries, industry stakeholders, and research institutions are crucial to streamline regulatory processes and provide support for the adoption of Biosolutions technologies on a larger scale.
Biosolutions contribute to enhancing crop yields and overall agricultural productivity. What are the key challenges in optimizing their effectiveness across diverse agricultural environments?
Achieving consistent effectiveness of Biosolutions across diverse agricultural environments requires a deep understanding of local soil and climate conditions. The efficacy of these solutions can vary depending on factors such as soil type, temperature, moisture levels, and nutrient availability. Additionally, changing weather patterns and the imbalanced use of chemical fertilizers deteriorate the soil health, making it unfavorable for natural biologicals to survive and contribute to enhancing crop yields.
What are the economic challenges involved in adopting Biosolutions in farming, including the initial investment costs, potential changes in farming practices, and long-term financial viability?
The adoption of Biosolutions in farming presents several economic challenges that need to be addressed for successful implementation.
Initial Investment Costs: Smallhold farmers and those who are trying farmers biosolutions for the first time may perceive the cost of acquiring BioSolutions products and associated expenses as a financial barrier.
Potential Changes in Farming Practices: Adopting Biosolutions often involves modifying traditional farming practices. Farmers may need to modify crop management strategies and include Biosolution applications into their existing routines. Embracing new practices can lead to uncertainty and resistance, as it may require additional labor, specialized training, or changes in crop management schedules.
Long-Term Financial Viability: Evaluating the long-term financial viability of adopting Biosolutions is a critical consideration for farmers. Farmers too need to be patient to reap the economic gains of Biosolutions.
Addressing these economic challenges requires the following approach:
Multiple farm demonstrations showcasing Biosolutions with and without farmers’ package of practice can boost confidence and enable adoption of Biosolutions. Farmers can witness the benefits firsthand, encouraging them to integrate Biosolutions into their farming practices.
Articulating Return-On-Investment (ROI ) calculation providing evidence of the long-term financial viability of Biosolutions through ROI calculations will help farmers make informed decisions. Clear and transparent information on potential economic gains can foster confidence in adopting Biosolutions.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) providing the Do’s and Don'ts of Biosolutions, application timings, and appropriate dosages in the form of FAQs will ensure farmers use Biosolutions products correctly and effectively. This will prevent misuse and maximize the benefits of the technology.
Social and behavioral challenges may arise when introducing Biosolutions to farmers, such as resistance to change, lack of awareness, and knowledge gaps. How can these challenges be addressed to ensure successful adoption?
Let us look at the microbial seed treatment as an example to explain the social and behavioral challenges when introducing Biosolutions to farmers.
The low adoption of microbial seed treatment practices in India can be attributed to numerous factors, including limited scientific knowledge, farmers’ negative experiences with spurious products, resistance to change due to potential risks, ease of application and familiarity with microbial seed treatments. Additionally, farmers often base their decisions on perceived cost-effectiveness, viewing the initial investment in microbial products as a barrier despite long-term benefits like improved crop yields and reduced reliance on chemical inputs. Ensuring access to high-quality microbial seed treatment products can also be challenging, particularly for smallholder farmers with limited resources.
To boost adoption, a multi-faceted approach is required. Scientific technical training and support are essential to help farmers understand the proper application and management of microbial products. Conducting awareness campaigns to educate farmers about the benefits of microbial seed treatments can address knowledge gaps and foster acceptance. Moreover, government intervention against spurious products will enhance the availability and credibility of genuine microbial seed treatment products.
In addition, working with progressive farmers who have successfully adopted Biosolutions, can serve as powerful advocates for wider adoption. Collaboration between the public and corporate sectors can result in awareness campaigns emphasizing the benefits of Biosolutions, such as increased yields, less environmental impact, and long-term sustainability. For instance, Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVKs) play a crucial role in transferring scientific knowledge, technologies, and information about Biosolutions to farmers. Substantially increasing the number of KVKs in the country (700+ KVKs cater to 90 million farmers) will effectively reach a greater number of farmers.
Empowering farmers with the necessary information and resources, such as explaining the science behind Biosolutions, their mode of action, and practical implementation techniques, will help them make informed decisions and confidently embrace Biosolutions as a valuable component of sustainable agriculture. By collectively addressing these social and behavioral challenges, the adoption of Biosolutions can be accelerated, leading to sustainable and improved farming practices across India.