Funds, incentives, quality: How to unlock potential of India's organic, bio-fertilisers sector

Farmers need to be made aware of benefits to increase uptake, says new report

By Amit Khurana, Vineet Kumar
Published: Thursday 12 May 2022

There are several barriers to growth in the biofertiliser and organic fertiliser sector from the perspective of key stakeholders — the governments, manufacturers and farmers, flagged a new report. 

The sector is relatively unorganised and unregulated compared to the chemical fertiliser industry, according to State of Biofertilizers and Organic Fertilizers in India report by Delhi-based think-tank the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

The production of organic- and bio-fertilisers is restricted to only a few states and the sector receives much less attention and support from central as well as state governments. 

Insufficient government support

The overall budgetary allocation to promote organic and natural farming in India is low. A level-playing field is missing for manufacturers of biofertilisers and organic fertilisers as well as for farmers willing to use non-chemical fertiliser options because of the heavy subsidies afforded to chemical fertilisers.

Budgetary allocations and funds spent by the government on this sector are very limited, despite being allocated through multiple schemes. Similarly, funds from the central government allocated for schemes aimed at providing support to infrastructure and manufacturing have largely remained underutilised and have not seen much uptake in states. 

The scheme to promote city compost has been discontinued since October, 2021. State initiatives are largely limited to implementation of central schemes, despite huge scope for production- and procurement-related support. 

Government support for farm-level extension, training of farmers as well as local, small manufactures is inadequate. Research and development of non-chemical inputs in public research institutions is neglected and the budget allocation is  almost negligible.

Poor quality control

Only eight states have government-owned notified testing laboratories. Overall testing capacity of available laboratories is underutilised. Sample collection and testing of products is inadequate. Local-level implementation of fertiliser control order (FCO) regulation and related monitoring mechanisms, which is mostly controlled by state agriculture departments, lacks credibility and trust among different stakeholders. 

Product samples tested are increasingly failing to meet criteria specified under FCO, a sign either of declining quality of tested samples or the fact that tests were not properly performed earlier. 

Samples of products not approved under FCO were also being tested by central government laboratories, which is very strange. Such products, even though not allowed by FCO, still continue to be available in the market. 

Cases of corruption involving local officials responsible for quality control are reported in mass media. State procurement of products for distribution to farmers under several schemes is also questioned by many stakeholders, as the procured products are of very poor quality.  

Corruption affects market sentiment

Low, uncertain demand has prevented the industry from optimally utilising its capacity and discouraged more investment. Farmers are not very aware of the benefits of these natural products. 

Moreover, spurious and fake organic fertilisers and biofertilisers in the market leads to loss of trust among farmers and discourages genuine manufacturers. Dealers are also not very interested in buying and selling them. 

Corruption in securing licences and authorisations for manufacturing, selling and quality testing of these products also acts as a hindrance to their manufacture and sale. Technology transfer from laboratories to the biofertiliser and organic fertiliser manufacturing industry is slow and cumbersome. 

Good quality microorganism strains are not easily available. Some identified strains have yet to be fully commercialised. Availability of strains suitable to different agro-environments is a cause of concern for the industry. 

Awareness to increase uptake

Farmers lack awareness regarding optimum practices related to organic farming, and usage and benefits of these products. Farmers are not adequately trained regarding non-chemical fertiliser approaches. 

Consequently, there is limited confidence in the ability of organic and natural farming approaches to match the crop yield obtained through the chemical based approach. Use of biofertilisers, organic fertilisers and on-farm inputs is labour-intensive for farmers in comparison to chemical fertilisers. 

There is a perception that non-chemical options alone cannot result in the desired crop yield. There is a lack of motivation and trust among farmers regarding biofertilisers and organic fertilisers. This is linked with poor results from use of inferior quality and substandard non-chemical fertiliser products distributed by local authorities as well as spurious and fake products available in the market. 

Way forward

Targeted, ambitious and well-funded nation-wide programmes must be developed to drive the change towards organic and natural farming. Doing so will require strong political commitment and will at the Centre and state levels. 

Quality of biofertilisers and organic fertilisers must be ensured by developing and institutionalising a robust monitoring and enforcement mechanism in collaboration with the Centre and states. This should include greater sampling frequency and more testing, supported by a wider and enhanced laboratory network. An annual disclosure of collated results in the public domain should follow.

The process should also include audit and inspection of manufacturing, distribution and selling entities to ensure that fake, substandard, misbranded and mislabelled products are not registered, manufactured and available in the market. 

Legal and fiscal deterrent action should be taken against defaulters ad violators. Similarly, reports related to corruption at the local level should be strictly addressed. Transferring subsidy from chemical fertilisers, provision of incentives to production and promotion of biofertilisers and organic fertilisers should also be considered. 

Farmers should also be incentivised for using non-chemical options in order to save natural resources, prevent ecological damage and help to mitigate effects of climate change. 

Offering payments for ecosystem services provided by non-chemical inputs should be considered and a mechanism should be developed and mainstreamed in this regard. 

Production and availability of biofertilisers and organic fertilisers must be ensured and their use must be promoted through multiple approaches by the Centre and states. These approaches can involve government institutions-, industry- and community-led initiatives.

Local communities, institutes, rural cooperatives, farmer organisations, self-help groups, gaushalas and small-scale entrepreneurs must be involved in the production and distribution of organic fertilisers like vermicompost, farm yard manure and organic manure. Such initiatives will provide livelihood opportunities, waste recycling and management as well as resource efficiency at the local level. 

Infrastructure support is also needed for such initiatives to increase uptake. 

There must be investment in building capacity and training small-scale manufacturers, entrepreneurs, extension officials and farmers. 

States should develop structured programmatic interventions to use existing unutilised organic sources like crop residues, agro-industry waste and municipal organic waste for city compost. 

This is the third article in a series on India’s non-chemical fertiliser sector. Read the first and second stories as well.

Download full CSE report "State of Biofertilizers and Organic Fertilizers in Indiafrom this weblink:

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