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Biologicals, Fertilisers and the Future of Soil Health
In which we discuss the second-order consequences of regulating biologicals through the framework of fertilisers in an age of runaway Climate Change and depleting soil health.
Welcome to yet another podcast edition of Agribusiness Matters.
That the Goliathan Agrochemical Industry has been going through an existential crisis in its audacious pursuit to “feed the world” sustainably without further messing up with soil organic matter in an era of climate emergency is widely known.
The Davids working hard to earn the trust of farmers, helping the Goliaths change their stripes and dance to the changing tunes of customer expectations aren’t widely known.
In India, there are largely three types of biological players. The first two are a tad too common. The third one isn’t.
Those who are demanding farmers to change their behaviors, understand complex science about climate change, micro nutrition, and nutrition efficiency, and push them to change the way they grow food, fiber, and feed.
Those who are telling farmers: You don’t have to change behaviors. We will continue to sell traditional agrochemicals - mix a few micro-nutrients, and heavy metals in seaweeds- and call them under a more fashionable label called “biologicals”. Sure, regulation is hazy, but over time, we will iron things out.
Those who are telling farmers: You don’t have to change behaviors. Our products have walked the long mile - They have been designed from a product philosophy that doesn’t compromise its science, complies with nascent regulations, AND does what you expect of them even when you buy them from a local pesticides retailer shop near your village.
Few weeks back, I moderated a panel to cover the development of the Biologicals industry in India and the peculiar challenges it throws up due to its regulatory environment.
This panel was an interesting mix of 2 scientists ( Dr. Venkatesh Devanur, one of the pioneers of biologicals in India, Dr. Richa Nair, Co-Founder at AariaBiolife), a technocrat (Vinay Nair, CEO, Khetibuddy), and a government official (Vijay Kolekar) who has been helping farmers adopt climate resilient practices in the state of Maharashtra through a World-Bank funded project.
We explored a variety of important questions:
What happens when we call microbes ‘bio-fertilizers’?
What happens when biostimulants are covered under the Essential Commodities Act, thereby stuck in a framework that is largely suited for fertilizers?
How does the farmer's behavior of biologicals change when he or she is habituated (or do I say addicted?) to using subsidized urea?
What are the second-order consequences of subsidized fertilizers in farmers’ focus on the quality of the produce? (Hint: They stop caring about the quality of the produce unless it is for the export market)
What happens when farmers treat biologicals as “chyawanprash” - a popular dietary supplement that is widely consumed in India? In other words, how do we deal with the “less prescriptive” agronomy climate for biologicals in India?
How do we balance yield gap and climate resilience? Do we have to make hard tradeoffs in pursuit of climate resilience?
I hope you enjoy the conversation.
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