If an initiative by the department of biotechnology (DBT) to push ecofriendly biofertilisers succeeds, it will revolutionise Indian agriculture and loosen the hold of chemical fertilisers.
DBT has proposed that the production of biofertilisers be given industry status to promote mass production and ensure quality control. Says P K Ghosh, a DBT scientist, "Investment and loans from financial institutions will be easily available for developing biofertilisers once it is declared an industry."
Biofertilisers are now classified under agriculture and their production is mostly restricted to research institutes in the public sector like the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and agricultural universities. The commercial production of biofertilisers has been taken up by only a few companies such as the Gujarat State Fertiliser Company.
The biofertilisers currently in use are rhizobia, which help leguminous crops like pulses to fix atmospheric nitrogen. According to DBT officials, biofertilisers are to be introduced in about 50 per cent of the cultivated area under pulses. However, this can be achieved only by increasing the annual production of biofertilisers from the current 1,200 tonnes to 10,000 tonnes, for which large-scale industrial investment is required.
Some DBT officials are also concerned about a possible resistance from the chemical fertiliser sector. Pratap Narain of the Fertilisers Association of India says, "Biofertilisers are supplementary and not an alternative to chemical fertilisers." He points out that about 22 million tonnes of soil nutrients are removed every year and at the current level of synthetic fertiliser production, only 12 to 13 million tonnes of lost nutrients are replaceable. Biofertilisers are, therefore, a welcome supplement. However, according to Ghosh, "Biofertilisers must become suitable and viable alternatives to chemical fertilisers."
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