Boost to ecofriendly farming

THE UNION government has sanctioned a Rs 10.16 crore plan for the popularisation of biopesticides. This comes on the heels of a large outlay for organic farming announced in the present five-year plan.

The project, proposed by the department of biotechnology (DBT) and approved on January 24, envisages the setting up of 50 pilot units in two stages during the eighth five-year plan. In addition, private entrepreneurs will be extended help to set up biopesticide manufacturing units.

Says R Jagannathan, general manager, Biotech Consortium of India Ltd (BCIL), which will market the technologies developed by DBT, "The incidence of crop and pest resistance to chemical pesticides, their residual presence in food materials, and export regulations on the use of inorganic pesticides have been increasing. These have helped the government to focus on the commercialisation of biopesticide production technologies." Adds Seema Wahab, the principal scientific officer in DBT who is coordinating the project, "The use of living plants and animals are a chemical-free, biological alternative to control diseases and pests."

Besides being harmless to the soil, biopesticide use can increase profits. A Karnataka-based DBT project found that using biocontrol agents instead of chemicals resulted in a total gain of Rs 4,673 per ha on sugar cane, Rs 4,861 per ha on tomato and Rs 699 per ha on maize.

The large-scale economic viability of producing biopesticides was demonstrated through two model units set up in Coimbatore and Madurai at a cost of Rs 21 lakh. The units together earned Rs 5.76 lakh in the first two years.

Jagannathan believes that biopesticides can never entirely replace chemical pesticides. But, he says, "Biopesticide production and use is very profitable, with returns coming in 2-3 years. The biopesticide industry will certainly grow."