India to expedite registration of new agrochemicals to boost sector

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IAC Picture by Parivartan Sharma

The Indian government is looking to expedite clearances for new agrochemical molecules so that they reach farmers faster as well as enable help the crop protection industry emerge as a global hub, Ravi Prakash, plant protection adviser, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare.

He told a conference of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry that as many as 40 applications for registration of new agrochemical molecules are filed with the government every week. 

The government is planning to review and clear suitable molecules faster as often farmers are using non-recommended agrochemicals that  limit the crop productivity as well as potential exports as many countries may not accept certain chemical residues.

India is the world’s fifth largest producer and fourth largest producer of agrochemicals, though most of the products are generic. With a large number of patented agrochemical products due to come off patents soon, the country is positioned to benefit strongly.

However, there are certain inherent challenges such as quality issues with a large number of companies and low awareness among Indian farmers about the need for use of agrochemicals, which result in post-harvest losses of 25%-30% every year.

China’s influence

China’s application of agrochemicals on their crops is about three times that of India, which suffers from one of the lowest productivity in most crops. 

Ashok Dalwai, chief executive officer of National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA) and the architect of the government program to double farmers income by 2022-23, said that the use of agrochemicals would help to achieve the objective provided suitable products were made available to farmers.

He cited the example of drones in the country, but said that the lack of a suitable agrochemical for such unmanned aircraft limited their potential use in crop protection.  

The domestic agrochemical industry’s annual turnover is around $6 billion currently, but the industry had the potential to easily double it, Dalwai added.    

While India’s share of the global agriculture export market increased to around 9.4% in 2019 from 3.3% in 2005, the nation’s share is still low compared to the European Union,said Vikram Shroff, director UPL Limited, an Indian agrochemicals company that is ranked among the top five globally.

“We think (India’s) agro exports can grow to $8 billion  from $3.4 billion presently,” he added.

Sector could boost farm exports

Though the sector is perceived negatively, he said the Indian sector can go a long way in boosting farm exports as well as reduce imports.

India’s imports of fruits and vegetable oils alone are worth 140 billion rupees. and 720 billion rupees annually.

Therefore, the agrochemicals sector potentially could play a huge role in the government goal of doubling farmers’ income, he added.

The disruption in global supply chains due to the pandemic has reinforced the importance of the agrochemicals sector, industry executives said.

Simultaneously the government should provide a data protection window of three years to a company that introduces a path-breaking agrochemical which allows them exclusive rights before allowing other companies into the space.

“It is truly positive that governments and people now recognise the importance of what we do,” said Rajan Gajaria, executive vice-president at Corteva Agriscience.

Self reliance is key

“India is on the Atma Nirbhar (Self-Reliance)  journey. When it comes to crop protection, India has to take one more step than Atma Nirbhar. It only has to be self-reliant but emerge as a global supplier,” he said.

“India has a very important role to play in seamless supply of chemicals.”
He added that the government has to join hands with the industry in spreading awareness about crop protection in the same manner as it eradicated illnesses like polio from the country.

Dr  R.S. Paroda, founder chairman, Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences, said that the country needs to move towards a proper policy towards agrochemicals and crop protection as food and health security have emerged as key challenges post covid.

He noted that the country was importing $1.2 billion worth of pesticides, though it was a bigger exporter. 

Biman Mukherji is a columnist and consulting editor at Indoasiancommodities.com. He has worked for international news organisations such as Reuters, The Wall Street Journal as well as for newspapers like The Times of India. He can be reached at biman.mukherji@indoasiancommodities.in

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