The Indian economy is predominantly agriculture-based, with about 70 percent of Indians engaged in activities linked to agriculture. The use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers increased tremendously after the revolution within the 1970s. But now there’s an increasing realisation of the risks posed by “rampant and continuous use of pesticides and fertilisers” to human health, ecosystems and their “catastrophic” effects on soil microorganisms, the study says.Biopesticides are yet to take off in a major way in India because of mixed constraints, despite their enormous market potential and the national and state initiatives to promote them as alternatives to chemical pesticides, according to latest studies.Developing plant breeds that are tolerant to, or have better resistance to, pathogens is one eco-friendly alternative option, but it requires a longer time to develop, test, license and commercialise new varieties.This opens the way for using other cost-effective, eco-friendly and sustainable alternatives that will give better yield, like the agriculturally important microbes (AIM) ‘rhizobacteria’ (bacteria that grow on plant roots in a very interdependent relationship which
These microbes enhance plant growth) and biopesticides that can control the outbreaks of pests.“India still faces major challenges in developing its agricultural sector to enable the country to feed its growing population within the next 20–50 years,” says Chetan Keswani of the department of biochemistry at the Institute of Science, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, who is one of the heads of the study.Biopesticides are designed to protect crops from insects, diseases and weeds. They do so by controlling pests that infect, consume or damage crops. Uncontrolled pests significantly reduce number and quality of food production. It is estimated that annual crop losses could double without the use of Biopesticides. Food crops must compete with 30,000 species of weeds, 3,000 species of nematodes and 10,000 species of plant-eating insects. We know that despite the utilization of biopesticides 20-40% of potential food production remains lost per annum to pests. These losses can occur while the crop is growing in the field, when it is in storage and in the home. In short, an adequate, reliable food supply cannot be guaranteed without the use of Biopesticides.A disturbing trend Meanwhile, during a disturbing trend, the increase in demand for biopesticides due to national and state initiatives has ended up “stimulating the marketing of spurious biopesticides that are undermining the respectability of the biotechnology sector,” it says.One of the constraints in India is that the limited production of biopesticides with only 14 biopesticidal formulations being registered under the 1968 Insecticide Act, which primarily catalogues the standards for determining pesticide bio-safety, the review says.“India needs an integrated federal action plan, realistic funding and smooth administrative mechanisms for the registration and marketing of biopesticides,” said Keswani, “For harvesting maximum benefits, farmers should even be trained properly on how to use biopesticides,” he adds.Santra says biopesticides are more target-specific than chemical pesticides, affecting only target pests and their close relatives. In contrast, chemical pesticides often destroy friendly insects also as birds and mammals.Biopesticides are also highly dose-dependent and their effectiveness varies from climate to climate. Unlike synthetic pesticides which will be produced in desired purity and yield, it’s often difficult to supply pure botanical pesticides thanks to the wide variations within the active and associated ingredients of the parent plants in several agro-climatic zones, says Santra. This results in variations in their physical and chemical, also as toxicological and other related properties. Their physical, chemical or microbial contamination also complicates matters.More research and trials needed “It would be unrealistic to expect biopesticides to completely replace chemical pesticides. They are one of the components of integrated pest management.” Santra said, adding that more research and trials on area-specific and crop-specific formulations are needed to maximise the use of biopesticides.Microbial products can’t be commercialised the way other agri-inputs are commercialised, points out Rajeswari Raina, a professor within the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Shiv Nadar University, Gurgaon.“Being live products that are subject to high variability and variety , they can’t be standardised across the country,” she says. “There is a need for research and production units at the local level to supply to each region/crop/crop-livestock system.”“Secondly, no good scientist will advise that these products be applied directly or along with inorganic fertilisers. The microbial product is applied along side organic matter like farm yard manure or compost.Compounding the matter is that the incontrovertible fact that mechanisation of agriculture has reduced or removed cattle in many areas, reducing the scope for biomass application generally .Raina, a former scientist with the National Institute for Science, Technology and Development Studies (NISTADS), New Delhi, too emphasised that the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach can’t be applied to biopesticides or biofertilisers. Biopesticides “need local data and intelligence, understanding of pest incidence patterns, etc., also as non-pesticidal practices like a bonfire during the laying season of the pest, or two rows of a trap crop.”“The biggest problem is with the centralised consolidated agricultural research system which couldn’t , and still cannot, cater to any location-specific problems,” says Raina. It is “very easy to try to to validation trials for chemical products which may be applied across the board in any season and crop. This is not the case with biopesticides where you cannot produce a standard product for all the districts even in one state,” Raina adds.There is massive potential for marketing biopesticides in India, says Raina. “But it needs a re-organisation of agricultural research and knowledge systems, strengthened with local data and native pest scouts to succeed.”Conclusions:Sustainable farming yields more nutritious and safe food. The popularity of chemical food is growing dramatically as consumer seeks the safe foods that are thought to be healthier and safer. Thus, Sustainable farming perhaps ensures food safety from farm to plate. The Sustainable farming process is more eco-friendly than conventional farming.