Agrochem’s Biggest Challenge: Overcoming Farmers’ Reluctance to Use the Right Kind and Quantity

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  • Date:- 08 Nov, 2019

'Agrochem’s Biggest Challenge: Overcoming Farmers’ Reluctance to Use the Right Kind and Quantity'

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, poor 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. As we enter a new era of governance and welcome a new government, it is necessary to draw the attention of the policymakers to the issues that are dragging us back and impeding our momentum.

Farmers resistant to change

However, as a professional who works with the people in the grassroot, I see a problem 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 harm their crop, even if it means that they get lower price for their crops when not using insecticide, fungicide or plant growth regulators. They are not aware of the right product nor do they know the right time and amount for the type of crop they have planted. I can understand their concern with the crops volume as they struggle against the volatile market prices but their lack of awareness and understanding is harming the prospect more than the prices. Hence, IIL has initiated the effort of paying for the gap in expenses that a farmer may incur while using these products. Once the crop is ready, it becomes an example to the other farmers in the area to adopt that mode. This experimentation has borne some fruit in Uttar Pradesh and we wish to extend it to other parts of the country as well.

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 ch as micronutrients, plant growth regulators (PGR), and bio-stimulants hold 22 per cent, 21 per cent and 7 per cent 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 are comfortable using these tried, off-patented agrochemicals – in absence of new, patented products in the market, they grow dependent on these generic products. At IIL, we are 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. We have also entered into partnerships and tie-ups with foreign-based MNCs to hasten the process.

Poor supply chain management and the problem of counterfeit products

But we need 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 INR 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 more than branded ones. These sub-standard products not only harm the crops, 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 quality of 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 quality of products and to reduce their prices, R&D is key, for it paves the way to innovation. 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, we may not have been struggling on issues like farmers’ income and food security.