AgroChem Summit 2023: Experts emphasize mechanization & digitization for sustainable agriculture

AgroChem Summit 2023: Experts emphasize mechanization & digitization for sustainable agriculture

Inaugural session focused on regulatory issues, incentivizing R&D, adoption of digital technologies, and maximizing farmer income through awareness initiatives

  • By Rahul Koul | February 27, 2023

At the inaugural session of AgroChem Summit 2023, organized by the Indian Chemical News (ICN) on February 24, 2023 in New Delhi, India’s agrochemical stalwarts spoke on the existing policies including regulations, schemes and incentives besides the support required in terms of digital adoption and creating awareness among stakeholders.

The inaugural edition of the Summit themed as ‘Making India A Manufacturing Hub” brought together all stakeholders of the agrochemicals sector under one platform to brainstorm on the growth opportunities, safe and judicious use of agrochemicals by farmers, and current issues to draw a roadmap for the future direction of the Indian agrochemicals sector. 

 In his keynote address at the event, Arun Baroka, Secretary, Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals, Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, Government of India lauded the Indian Chemical News for bringing agrochemicals stakeholders with different perspectives on one platform. He assured the industry that the department will be supporting it with right policies with the bigger interest of farmers in mind.

“The negative perception about the industry has been hurting its image and the government has been trying to remove the same. What contributes to the negativity is because of the damage caused by overuse of the chemicals due to lack of awareness among certain sections of farmers. It is important to educate them about the optimal use of such chemicals. The shortage of resources who could work with farmers is also a constraint. Therefore, the extension activities are very important to provide the support and training to the farmers. On that note, the government has been taking up the issues raised by the industry from time to time and is making all its efforts to work in the right direction. We are working at arranging the minister level meetings with the Agriculture Ministry and Environment Ministry to resolve pending issues. Our intention is to ensure the welfare of all the stakeholders,’ informed Baroka.

Baroka also revealed that the Institute of Pesticides Formulation Technology located on Delhi-Gurugram road will now be replicated in four more states namely, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat. The institute has so far developed 82 technologies, out of which 60 have been transferred to industry.  

Speaking on the importance of strengthening the agriculture extension system, Dr Kalyan Goswami, Director General, Agro Chem Federation of India said, “Agrochemicals is a significant industry for the Indian economy and poised to reach US$ 18 billion by 2025. To sustain this momentum, industry needs significant increase in R& D activities, policy reforms related to trade, marketing, production, manufacturing, product registration and most important is protecting intellectual property rights. Agrochemical industry has grown substantially in the last decade, but there is a gap between research labs and farmers' fields. Interestingly, we spent only 00.7 percent of GDP on agriculture research and education, which includes extension and training, which is far below the recommended 2% by the World Bank. There is a scarcity of extension officers at various levels in India. Only 50% of the positions are filled and one extension officer is serving an average 1200 operation holding. The public sector extension is currently offering one size fit all for all the farmers and all kinds of products. It doesn’t really work, as it varies from one region to another region, from one segment of people to another segment of people. The extension work cannot happen sitting in the office. The government needs to increase the budget for agriculture extension and training.”

Simon Thorsten Wiebusch, Executive Director, Bayer CropScience expressed his strong belief that India is at the cusp of moving forward into a new era of agricultural production.

Wiebusch explained: “Indian agriculture is collectivizing, mechanizing, and digitizing, taking steps towards becoming more sustainable. One of the reasons for this structural shift which is not transitory, is labour shortage and it will drive value in Indian agriculture. While we talk about China plus one, companies like ours actually also speak about EU plus one. The changes in terms of energy costs in Europe again are almost fundamental and not transitory in terms of energy. Same is the case for regulation around the EU new Green Deal. It is becoming very important to realize that a one country, one source strategy is not going to fly. While India has an opportunity, we can’t take it for granted. The China plus one strategy in terms of investment for active ingredient production has another competition which is United States of America where the energy is cheap and land is available. Nowadays you don’t need a lot of labour to put up a production plant in the US. And you have a huge modern market in front of your doors. this is what we need to focus on in India. Its not just the number of active ingredients, but our local consumption. In terms of value, it is not even 50% of China in terms of volume. At the modernization level, we are very far behind but the labour shortage is driving this now.”

R G Agarwal, Group Chairman, Dhanuka Agritech highlighted the fact that agrochemicals are unnecessarily perceived negatively and often demonized. He strongly calls for changing the scenario.

Agarwal said: “The spurious manufacturers have spoiled the name of the entire industry. The parallel industry that smuggles from China is bringing a bad name. There are hardly about 300 genuine industries but CIB-RC has given registration to close to 8,500 entities which is unfortunate. At the same time, there has been a positive development in terms of reforms in the industry. While we talk about India has one third agriculture GDP than China. We have to understand the pain points of the farmers and transform the old extension system. We have to give them access to the latest technology in place of spurious chemicals and seeds that are responsible for limiting their income to mere one third. We have to support them and make them competent. They need to be provided the information on drip and sprinkler irrigation. It is unfortunate that despite bringing the policies to promote drones, the GST has been levied on it. Schemes should be specific and directly benefit the farmers.”

I am very optimistic about India’s bright future and the huge potential that this industry holds, said Rajju Shroff, Chairman Emeritus, UPL Group, India.

Shroff elaborated: “Recently the EU parliament stated that India should cut down its pesticide use. It is surprising that while India uses 62,000 tonnes of pesticides, the EU itself uses 3, 44,000 tonnes and they are telling us to reduce. Our production is 5.43 billion and EU production is half of it. Therefore, the negative perception built by certain sections of NGOs must be countered effectively and the media must report fairly on the industry. In terms of the regulatory scenario, the regulators who never work on the ground often issue silly regulations that do no good. We need to streamline and tackle that. We need to build awareness among the farmers through proper demonstrations.

“They must be provided proper storage and transportation facilities. At the same time, the government needs to work on industry friendly policies and streamlining the coordination between the Agriculture Ministry and Environment Ministry. Fast-track implementation is the key and there is no stopping for India to become an agriculture superpower. The future of the agrochemicals industry in India is bright provided we remove the hurdles.”

Earlier in his welcome address, Pravin Prashant, Editor, Indian Chemical News outlined the need for government support, digital technology adoption and mechanization and sustainability.

 “India can become the food bowl of the world if proper technologies are deployed in large numbers in block and village levels. Use of digital technologies and availability of institutional lenders or institutional loans could help solve the problems to a certain extent. While the government is doing its best, we need a quantum jump in this direction. In terms of skilling in farming practices, massive training is required for farmers.  To a certain extent we are doing it as we are seeing poly-houses and drip irrigation, but we have to move forward and use drones, artificial intelligence, data analytics, and IoT. If these things can be integrated, the best possible solution with technology as a service can come into picture,” said Prashant.  

The deliberations at the session at the inaugural edition of titled, ‘Policy Support For Growth of Indian Agrochemicals’ were aimed at highlighting the challenges at the policy level and the realistic solutions that could address the requirements of the industry.

 The Summit was supported by Platinum Partner - UPL; Gold Partners - Godrej Agrovet, BASF, FMC, Dassault Systemes Solize, Carbanio, and Auxilife (a unit of GPC); and Associate Partner - Resistotech and Super Scientific Works. The event is supported by Industry Association Partners - PMFAI (Pesticides Manufacturers & Formulators Association of India), Croplife India, ACFI (Agro Chem Federation of India), and CCFI (Crop Care Federation of India).

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