Agrochem’s Biggest Challenge: Overcoming Farmers’ Reluctance to Right Usage
With a new era of governance and a new government in place, it is necessary to draw the attention of the policymakers to the issues that are dragging agriculture back and impeding its momentum.
Photo Credit : Bivash Banerjee
Every industry has a set of challenges to overcome and agrochemical is no exception. On the face of it, poor uptake of farm input materials, lack of awareness and knowledge about them, no big innovation, and investment in R&D in the sector, and markets flooded with spurious materials seem to be the issues we have at hand. Some may also count the advent of GM products and meeting strict regulatory needs as the sticking point. With a new era of governance and a new government in place, it is necessary to draw the attention of the policymakers to the issues that are dragging agriculture back and impeding its momentum.
Farmers resistant to change
However, professionals who work with the people in the grassroot can that the problem is at a deeper level – the reluctance of farmers in adopting anything that counters their traditional understanding of farming. They are resistant to anything that they think could damage their crop, even if it means that they get lower price for their crops when not using agrochemicals. They are not aware of the right product nor do they know the right time and amount for the type of crop they have grown. Their concern with the crops volume as they struggle against the volatile market prices is genuine but their lack of awareness and understanding is harming the prospect more than the prices. Hence, many companies have initiated the effort of training along with the government, but there is long way to go.
Overreliance on Generic Agrochemicals
Insecticides dominate the crop protection industry in India with about 50 per cent market share while other segments such as herbicides, fungicides, and other elements sufficient distribution such as micronutrients, plant growth regulators (PGR), and bio-stimulants hold 22 per cent, 21 per cent and 7 percent of the market, respectively. A bulk of domestic consumption of insecticides and herbicides is generic in nature and this demand is likely to grow northward in future, mainly due to the price difference with the branded ones. Generic agrochemicals are popular among farmer who is comfortable using these tried, off-patented agrochemicals – in absence of new, patented products in the market, they grow dependent on these generic products. Insecticides (India) Ltd. is continuously trying to reverse this trend by bringing in products from other countries to allow variety to the farmers and introduce better products in the market and has entered into partnerships and tie-ups with foreign-based MNCs to hasten the process.
Poor supply chain management and the problem of counterfeit products
There is a need for more efficient distribution systems to let more farmers access these products. Problems of supply chain inefficiencies and inadequate infrastructure have plagued the agrochemical industry which result in post-harvest losses estimated at Rs 45,000 crore every year, according a report by FICCI. The lack of efficient distribution system also makes it difficult for the agrochemical companies to reach the farmers to promote their products and educate them about their usage and benefits. Besides, generic products are prone to counterfeiting. These sub-standard products not only prove to be effective but also harm the crops at many times, they hurt the laboriously-built reputation of the agrochemical companies. A poor supply chain and ignorance of the farmers facilitate the entry of counterfeit products, especially in remote areas.
R&D investment is a sticking point
R&D is crucial for developing new molecules and improve the existing products. But the cost is high. Apart from the upfront cost of setting up a research facility, tracking right resources and running the facility calls for sustained investment while the return is usually slow. That makes people scary about investing in in-house R&D as well as any other similar project. What they do not realise is that in order to improve the products and to reduce their prices, R&D is key, for it paves the way to innovation. In this regard, IIL has been a pioneer of sorts and established joint venture programs for developing the right kind of product through R&D efforts. IIL has signed a joint venture agreement with OAT Agrio Co. of Japan to set up an R&D centre in India to invent new molecules. The in-house R&D centre at Chopanki in Rajasthan has been tirelessly working to provide the right agrochemical to our farmers within their reach. On the other hand, another aspect of R&D is flourishing; the research on genetically-modified (GM) crops is being extended to almost everything that can be cultivated. Had agrochemicals been given that amount of attention, especially in tropical countries where crops are more vulnerable than temperate climates, India may not have been struggling on issues like farmers’ income and food security.
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