Policy support, R&D & regulations top priorities for agrochemicals: Experts

Policy support, R&D & regulations top priorities for agrochemicals: Experts

Judicious use of agrochemicals, tackling counterfeit products, decriminalizing obsolete laws, encouraging sustainable agricultural practices and streamlining regulatory processes

  • By Rahul Koul | June 25, 2022

Being an integral part of agricultural practices in India, the government has identified agrochemicals as one of the 12 champion industries that can play a significant role in the global supply chain. However, despite being the world's fourth-largest agrochemical producer, industry experts point towards a plethora of issues which if addressed on priority could help unlock its full growth potential.

India offers tremendous opportunities in terms of agricultural resources but it needs to upgrade its policies to stay competitive, feels Rafael Del Rio, Chairman, Syngenta India.

“In India we have 300 grams per acre consumption of agrochemicals as compared to 13 kg in China. The answer to this is not only looking for increasing consumption but increasing quality in a sustainable way for farmers. We want the right policies to bring our innovation to India. In all new products, there is change in formulation and improvement of processes. While in the rest of the world it is called minor change and you don't need to register again, in India you need to start from zero. That is a huge delay for us to bring new technologies,” mentioned Rio.  

Rio shared his views alongside leading agrochemical stakeholders at the 11th Agrochemicals Conference 2022: Policy Landscape for a Flourishing Agrochemicals Industry organized by Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) on June 23, 2022.

Highlighting the bottlenecks further, Rio added: “The registration for a new product takes a fixed amount of time in other countries but in India it gets delayed unnecessarily. That means the technology which comes to India takes too much time to make it available for the farmers. Another aspect is the innovation protection and I believe the data needs to be protected at least for five years and that is fair because we invest million of dollars on the new technology. We have approximately 1200 molecules but in India we work with 270 molecules and 75 products.”

Sharing his experiences on Brazil’s agricultural growth, Angelo de Queiroz Mauricio, Agricultural Attache, Embassy of Brazil said: “The agrochemical sector in Brazil has grown hugely in the last 30-40 years. With the rise in demand for food, there has been increased productivity. What we have been doing is heavily investing in research, development and innovation. We have invested a lot both in public and private research centres and we have been encouraging them to work together. We have been encouraging them to engage into joint projects, to work together, to come out with solutions. And that's pretty much what happened in Brazil in the last 40 years. This change in scenario from being importer to exporter happened because we have been investing in R&D.”  

“In India, a lot of people call for fast-tracking of products but we must remember that following all the steps is necessary because there is a need to to analyse, to assess those new products in a more effective way, in a quicker quick way and we've been establishing the parameters for assessing them. Prioritizing the assessment is really something that needs to be done if you want to make use and to pick advantage of all those good technologies that are coming out,” added Mauricio while sharing Indian perspective.

“An integrated pest management is necessary for judicial use of agrochemical products. In a country like India where the consumption of agrochemicals at 340 grams is significantly low as compared to China at13 kg and US at 7 kg, there’s a huge shortfall for domestic consumption. Above that the shutdown of thousands of factories in China due to stringent environmental laws is an opportunity India can focus on.  The EU-China trade war where the tariff has been imposed on imports of Chinese groups is a scenario that India must take advantage of. Cortiva, FMC, Bayer, BASF and other multinational companies that have been historically putting their stakes in China are now looking at India to be one of the key geographies that will help in synthesising the product they want. Indian manufacturers should be concentrating on building capacities to meet such demand, opines Shubra Jyoti Roy, Senior Vice President, Jubilant Ingrevia.

“If you look at the regulatory landscape, it is something which is still going to be very similar to what it used to be earlier. The new act is going to provide a framework, but the rules and institutions which are actually going to implement look at it in a very different manner. Maybe these are very good from an intent purpose but the way it is going to get interpreted might be an issue.  I believe that at the policy level there can be a lot of changes which can be done including how R&D and innovation is going to get promoted in this sector. The protection of data and IP are are going to become very important and need to be coming through a policy separately. The production incentives too may help the sector to grow in future,” added Roy.

“When India went through a spate of lockdowns, the agriculture sector showed resilience and was one of the primary sectors which performed well and was able to cushion the entire impact on the rural economy. However, there are challenges that remain and one of these is the decreased yield sue to extreme erratic climate events such as floods or heatwaves. The lower yield is also due to the resistance of pests to the existing general molecules which we are using as part of the agro chemical, be it pesticides, insecticides and herbicides. While all this is actually impacting agriculture, another challenge is the small and decreasing land holding every year. That's a problem which we have to deal with through right policy level initiatives, says Ashok Varma, Partner, PwC India.

“While there is a lot of investment happening on the digital or emerging technologies, we have to also start thinking about agrochemicals which are equally important part of the entire farming and Agri input set-up. The amount of R&D happening in allied sectors, like fertilizers is also going to define the way the agriculture sector is going to transform in future. Agrochemical has close to around 50% domestic consumption and 50% exports. So it's also an opportunity which is there for India to become the global agrochemical hub in future. To make it happen, there is definitely a need for policy and regulatory push. Judicious use of chemical elements, tackling counterfeit products, decriminalizing obsolete laws, sustainable agricultural practices due to decreasing water availability and regulatory processes that are helpful in registration and formulation of new molecules in lesser time are very important,” adds Varma.

“FPOs help farmers in selecting the right chemical in a timely manner. We aggregate our demand and contact the company officials directly. Through this approach, we can not only get the quality chemical when it is urgently required but also ensure that the delivery part is taken care well on time. As per studies, around 25 to 30% of agrochemicals in India are either not registered, substandard or fake. Further complicating the scenario are unregulated agents who sell these products. The credit sale leads to interlocking of farmers where the person who is providing agrochemical makes the farmer bound to sell his crop back to him. This cycle repeats each year, making the farmers interlocked with agents who even sell substandard chemicals only for the sake of commission, says Puneet Singh Thind, Director, Northern Farmers Mega FPO.

“The agricultural practices have changed drastically and thanks to social media connectivity, farmers are looking at best molecules now. It is important that the policymakers look at each state differently. For example, Punjab is altogether different from the central and east part of India and we need to have a separate agricultural model for different states by taking all geographical areas and microclimate into consideration. The policies can’t be implemented forcefully and also there should be appreciation for farmers when they adopt the right practices and show results,” adds Thind.

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