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Innovations for sustainable development in agriculture

Apr 28, 2009

With Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring, the hazards of chemical pesticides were exposed paving the way for a new environmental movement that encouraged eco-friendly products. OneWorld South Asia spoke to four distinguished speakers and sought their views at the 5th International Conference on Biopesticides currently on in the Indian capital.

New Delhi: The five-day long 5th International Conference on Biopesticides (ICOB-V) began in New Delhi at India International Centre on a hot Sunday afternoon of April 26. The conference is being jointly organised by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and the Society for Promotion and Innovation in Biopesticides (SPIB).

It was Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring, published in 1962, that had exposed the hazards of DDT, a chemical-based pesticide and had eloquently questioned humanity's faith in technological progress. This revolutionary book helped set the stage for the environmental movement and adoption of sustainable practices globally.

Stressing on the importance of eco-health for eco-wealth, the conference theme is commercialisation and utilisation of biopesticides with main emphasis on the stakeholders’ perspective. About 600 delegates from around the world – comprising members of the research community, the private sector and government officials – are expected to participate in the conference.

OneWorld South Asia (OWSA) correspondents – Shailly Kedia and C.R. Sivapradha – spoke to four distinguished speakers that included Dr. T. Ramasami, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology; Dr. M.K. Bhan, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology; Dr. Seema Wahab, Advisor, Department of Biotechnology [all of them from Government of India]; and Dr. R.K. Pachauri, Director-General, TERI and Chairperson, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They shared their views on the current state of urgency and the role of technological innovations to foster sustainable development for the sake of mankind and the environment.

Here are the excerpts:

OneWorld South Asia: In your address there was a lot of emphasis on innovation and the benefits that it entailed for ultimate stakeholder, that is, the farmer. What role can technology, particularly Information and Communication Technology (ICT), play in the dissemination of knowledge pertaining to sustainable innovations?

Dr. T. Ramasami: ICT plays an important role as a delivery mechanism and therefore it should be an integrated component of any technology. While creating ICT tools, utmost importance should be given to content creation and building a knowledge domain that will deliver contextual and relevant knowledge to the end user.

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In the present scenario and taking the example of biopesticides, there are two important things that must be considered – cost compliance and consistency. The successful entrenchment of these two components can only take place when all stakeholders are involved in the knowledge creation process.

In the case of biopesticides, the ultimate stakeholder would be a farmer – small or marginal. Thus he needs to be involved not just at the stage of field tests or during the final promotion but right from the initial stage of product development.

The practice of bottom-up approach should be a process that actively involves and considers the farmer at all stages of research and implementation. In order to strengthen these processes, incentivisation should be made an integral part of the system.

For ICTs to play an important role in knowledge dissemination, it is also very important that they consider the scalability of communication. To bring societal change, ICTs ought to be designed with a bottom-up approach and must overcome the barriers of language and accessibility.

'To bring societal change, ICTs ought to be designed with a bottom-up approach and must overcome the barriers of language and accessibility'

OWSA: You spoke of inadequate market mechanisms in demand creation for certain products, particularly biopesticides. What additional measures are required to be taken then?

Dr M.K. Bhan: There is an urgent need to marry the short-term, individual needs with the long-term, larger good. This requires meticulous management. The central and state governments need to work in tandem with each other in this area.

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Ironically, what we see today is that different state governments have taken the issue of plant protection with varying levels of commitments. Overall, I would say that they haven’t shown as much zeal as the government at the centre.

Farmer has to be convinced about the efficacy of these biopesticides. And he will be convinced only when these products are good value for his hard-earned money.

In this regard the quality control or quality assurance is of utmost importance. The whole process needs to be subsidised. Initially, there is a need to give incentives to encourage farmers to go for environment-friendly biopesticides.

Organic food is a classic example of smart demand creation. Though initially it, like biopesticides, was touted as economically unviable. A similar model can be followed in the case of biopesticides. Ultimately we should aim to inform the citizenry, particularly the youth, of the importance of biopesticides to the society. In this endeavour, media can play a crucial role.

There is an urgent need to marry the short-term, individual needs with the long-term, larger good.

Most people love to admire a problem, so you need to put some sensible people around them to find solutions to those problems. Innovations and ideas even in small packages can make a difference. I urge the new generation to come up with solutions that will make a difference at a larger scale.

OWSA: At present biopesticides have a very low market share (about 3%) in the Indian pesticide market. According to you, what is the potential of biopesticides in India?

Dr Seema Wahab: The indiscriminate use of chemical pesticides has affected humans and their environment, and pests remain one of the major limiting factors in sustaining the productivity of various crops.

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The concept of IPM (Integrated Pest Management) for sustainable development has emerged with the increasing realisation of the importance of sustainable agriculture. I see a lot of scope and potential for organic farming, IPM and biopesticides in India.

There are lots of opportunities at the grassroots level, if only the bottlenecks are removed that are there at various stages – from registration of formulations to their commercialisation.

'There are lots of opportunities at the grassroots level, if only the bottlenecks are removed that are there at various stages – from registration of formulations to their commercialisation'

Presently all the formulations are registered under an archaic law known as Insecticide Act, 1968, which creates a lot of confusion. Hence we, at the Department of Biotechnology, are pushing for a separate Biopesticide Act to deal with registration, regulation and other such policy issues related to biopesticides.

OWSA: As an eminent expert in the field of climate change, what would be your message to OneWorld’s partners, especially community based organisations working at the grassroots level in the entire South Asian region?

R.K. Pacahuri: The impacts of climate change are already showing several negative signs in terms of loss of yields and output. Adaptation measures would need to be taken in hand to minimise these negative consequences.

'The impacts of climate change are already showing several negative signs in terms of loss of yields and output'

Looking at the urgency of the current situation, I will say that the time has come to utilise our capabilities and build on our roots of rich traditions and indigenous knowledge.

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Taking the example of agriculture sector, climate impacts that mainly include higher frequency and intensity of droughts and floods, and soil salinity due to sea level rise have directly affected agricultural yield, jeopardising food availability.

Life thrives in a state of diversity, even in the agricultural sector. Currently development had thrived on monoculture and to break trend this we have to benefit from the enlightened use of science and technology. By chartering out pathways and frameworks, we should develop pioneering and innovative solutions that the rest of the world can follow.

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