Green revolution was the product of use of hybrid seeds, irrigation and most important chemical fertilizers. All these increased the yields wonderfully and transformed India from a ship to mouth economy to a country self-sufficient in food. Year after year the yields increased until they started plateauing after 1980’s. The reason was primarily attributed to loss of organic matter, reduction in micro-flora, soil compaction, salinity and reduction in water holding capacity.
The ground water was obsessively removed by providing cheap or free electricity leading to depletion of ground water bodies. The soils could not absorb and retain moisture and carried with them precious top soil increasing silt and nitrates in ground water leading to mounting health hazards. This was compounded by reduction in profits due to reduction of input use efficiencies – fertilizers, pesticides and water. This was further aggravated by straw burning [rice/ sugarcane] and reduction of use of organic matter to soils.
Soils have a wonderful capacity to store carbon which not only improves its fertility but also is food and home to millions of microbes. They run the nutrient fertility cycles and also help keep absorb air pollutants. Soil Carbon acts like a bio-sponge for purifying and retaining water thereby increasing the ground water table.
There is a micro-ecosystem consisting of many agriculturally important microbes for Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Zinc supplementation etc [N fixers, P solubalizers, Zn, K mobilizers] Efficient strains can be formulated into useful products called bio-fertilizers.
Field bio-efficacy show that bio-fertilizers help to improve the nutrient use efficiency of chemical fertilizers too adding to a favourable cost benefit ratio for the farmer. Nutrient management microbes also exhibit plant growth promoting properties. These products are registered at the Fertilizer Control Order [FCO] and can be used for seed dressing, soil broadcasting and foliar sprays. Next Gen bio-fertilizers are available as liquid bio-inoculants or in conventional carrier based form.
World-wide market for bio-fertilizer is around 1.68 billion dollars which is less than 155 billion dollar worldwide chemical fertilizer market. The CAGR of bio-fertilizers is around 13% as against chemical fertilizers which is just around 3.8%. Recent developments in genomics, fermentation and formulation technology is proving boost to develop novel formulations of bio-fertilizers. The driver for the bio-fertilizer markets are food safety and improving the efficiency of chemical fertilizers which stands at less than 30% in conventional agriculture.
Government is taking special steps to provide extension support for creating awareness amongst farmers. However, the success will be more pronounced when it modifies the seed act by allowing various seed companies to factory seed microbes on seed as well as by allowing dry-coating on chemical fertilizers
The rest 70% are either washed away causing algal blooms in rivers or fixed in unusable form in soils like phosphates. The demand of bio-fertilizers is also fuelled by increase in area of organic farming - a 4 billion dollar market in India for organic food which is growing at the rate of 23% CAGR. Bio-fertilizers are certified for organic farming and can improve the yields of organic as well as conventional farming systems.
Presently there are numerous small companies engaged in the production of bio-fertilizers. The main ingredient for their mass scale implementation is shelf- stability which determines their success on field. Government is taking special steps to provide extension support for creating awareness amongst farmers. However, the success will be more pronounced when it modifies the seed act by allowing various seed companies to factory seed microbes on seed as well as by allowing dry-coating on chemical fertilizers. Factory seeding of bio-fertilizers can be a boon for the huge class of small and marginal farmers growing rice, wheat, soybean, cotton etc. This will be an easy source of nutrient for them and applying microbes at the seed stage is, “well begun is half done”.