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Special Content

Vol.27, 2017

Digitization of Plant Protection Activities
in Indian Agriculture

Arun Khurana

National e-Governance Plan (NeGP)
The National e-Governance Plan (NeGP), takes a holistic view of e-Governance initiatives across the country, integrating them into a collective vision. Around this idea, a massive countrywide infrastructure reaching down to the remotest of villages is evolving, and large-scale digitization of records is taking place to enable easy, reliable access over the internet. The ultimate objective is to bring public services closer home to citizens.As a part of agricultural extension (extending research from lab to the field), under the National e-Governance Plan - Agriculture (NeGP-A), various modes of delivery of services have been envisaged. These include internet, touch screen kiosks, agri-clinics, private kiosks, mass media, Common Service Centres, Kisan Call Centres, and integrated platforms in the departmental offices coupled with physical outreach of extension personnel equipped with pico-projectors and hand held devices. However, mobile telephony (with or without internet) is the most potent and omnipresent tool of agricultural extension.Technology for Farmers under NeGP would facilitate farmers to get real time price information, online ordering of inputs and online cash, loan, and relief payment with mobile banking.Technology for Financial Inclusion shall be strengthened using mobile banking, Micro-ATM program and CSCs/Post Offices.
M-Kisan is a mobile-based agriculture advisory services that enables all Central and State government organizations in agriculture and allied sectors to give information/services/advisories to farmers by SMS in their language, preference of agricultural practices and location
*Subscribers receive real-time and interactive advice direct from a panel of experts on crop and livestock such as insects, diseases and nutrition helpline
*Farmers also receive regular weather bulletins, pest and disease alerts and market price information to support on-farm decision-making
*Advice is delivered through voice based messages using IVR (interactive voice response) technology available on all mobile phone types.
The service has recently been expanded to provide a farmer helpline across three Hindi speaking states of central and eastern India (Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh). The call centre provides farmers direct contact with subject matter experts, and answers queries to farming problems in their own language. The service enables the farmer to select specific subjects, for example, insect problems of tomatoes, record a query and listen to the solution either straight away or when an expert is available.The query data generated by the call centre will help mKisan gain an overview of the type and extent of farmers’ queries, and will further help to expand and tailor the service’s content to better support its subscribers.
Plant Protection Strategy and activities have significant importance in the overall crop production programme for sustainable agriculture. Plant Protection efforts aim at minimizing crop losses due to ravages of insects, pests, disease, weeds, nematodes, rodents etc. The major thrust areas of plant protection are promotion of Integrated Pest Management, ensuring availability of safe and quality pesticides for sustaining crop production from the ravages of pests and diseases, streamlining the quarantine measures for eliminating the chances of entry of exotic pests and for human resource development including empowerment of women in plant protection skills. Directorate of Plant Protection, Quarantine and Storage (DPPQ&S), Department of Agriculture and Cooperation (DAC) is the nodal agency for plant protection at national level through its network of regional and field units namely Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee (CIBRC), Central Insecticide Laboratory (CIL), Regional Pesticide Testing Laboratories (2), National Plant Protection Training Institute (NPPTI), Plant Quarantine Stations (31), Central Integrated Pest Management Centres (31) and Locust Warning and Control Centers (11) located across the country. The Directorate has strong linkage for information exchange with state governments for implementing various central schemes. The plant protection and quarantine services of DPPQ&S; focus to sustain crop production by reducing the losses in crop production from pests and diseases and ensure biosecurity. It includes:
*Pest Surveillance and forewarning
*Locust surveillance
*Conservation and augmentation of bio-control agents
*Production and release of bio-control agents
*Preparation and propagation of IPM practices
*Conducting of Farmer Field School (FFS)
*Plant Quarantine, fumigation, pesticide registration, pesticide sample quality testing services
*Registration of pesticides dealers
*Availability and distribution of pesticides
*Infrastructure Development and Capacity buildings in Plant Protection and Quarantine activities
To harness the potential of ICT for effective Plant Protection and Quarantine services in the country in information reporting, processing and dissemination, Agricultural Informatics Division of NIC envisaged strengthening of Plant Protection Informatics Network (PPIN) in collaboration with DPPQ & S; DAC, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a new mobile app— Kisan Suvidha— which will provide farmers information on the five parameters of weather, input dealer, market price, plant protection and expert advisories. Given that India has the world’s second largest smartphone market, with 87 million rural mobile Internet users, and agriculture is the mainstay of Indian economy, with more than 60 per cent of the workforce employed in it, it is presumed that this app is likely to have many takers and is poised to change the face of Indian agriculture. However, there are some worrying factors. First, a smartphone is required to operate this app. Secondly, at present; the information is available only in Hindi and English. Both these factors are currently proving detrimental to the large-scale impact this app set out to create. According to IAMAI, the Active Internet User (AIU) base in rural India was 6.7% of the overall rural population of 905 million and accounted for 61 million as per verified 2014 data, which is projected to be 109 million by mid-2016. However most of these users use the same for messaging service WhatsApp only. Not all mobile-based services are useful as they mostly provide generic advisory which doesn’t help in a single catch tool. A half-hour episode once a fortnight can inspire someone to be a better farmer but not necessarily help much. Farm advisories need to be customized and given in a method that farmers can understand and execute on their fields.
Indian Agriculture needs to ensure food and nutritional security for the nation due to growing population, increasing urbanization at the expense of agricultural resources and loss of agricultural produce due to pest attacks. It therefore becomes imperative to implement measures not only for crop protection but also for enhancing the crop productivity. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a sustainable approach to pest management using a combination of techniques like Biological control, habitat manipulation, modification of cultural practices, and use of resistant varieties. In this process, Pesticides are used only after ensuring their necessity as per established guidelines, and treatments are made with the goal of removing only the target organism. Pest control materials are selected and applied in a manner that minimizes risks to human health, beneficial and non-target organisms, and the environment. The most effective, long-term way to manage pests is by using a combination of methods that work better together than separately.
With a present size of 1.32 billion, India currently supports nearly 17.84% of the world population, with 2.4% land resources and 4 % of water resources. It is also noted that about 15-25% potential crop production is lost due to pests, weeds and diseases. Continuously shrinking arable land, slow pace of improvement in farm productivity and loss/wastage of crops both during and post-harvest poses a critical challenge to ensuring food and nutritional security for the nation. To add to the complexity, the agricultural workforce in India is expected to reduce by 50% in the coming decade. A combination of Crop protection and Crop enhancement solutions will be critical. Although yield per hectare has doubled in the past years, Indian agriculture is still grappling with challenges like high monsoon dependency, unpredictable weather patterns, reduction in arable land, low per hectare yield, increase in pest attacks, etc. These indeed are challenging times. There are good emerging trends and solutions for sustainable crop protection which include crop protection chemicals, agronomy, fertigation, seed treatment, bio-technology development etc. The next generation agriculture in the country will have to encompass all such possible solutions using the best mode in a given scenario. The sector faces many challenges and solution to same can lead to India becoming a global manufacturing hub of quality crop protection chemicals.
Plant protection chemicals or agrochemicals are an important input for facilitating pre-harvest and post-harvest management and thus ensuring national food security. The agrochemicals sector in India has huge unrealized potential for growth, given the present low level of application, as compared to global norms. Besides, agrochemicals are also highly export intensive, with more than 50% of production fully exported. Although, the sector faces many challenges right now, the solution to same can result in India becoming a global manufacturing hub of quality plant protection chemicals. Plant protection continues to play a significant role in achieving targets of crops’ production. The major thrust areas of plant protection are promotion of “Integrated Pest Management”, ensuring availability of safe and quality pesticides for sustaining crop production from the ravages of pests and diseases; streamlining the quarantine measures for accelerating the introduction of new high yielding crop varieties; besides eliminating the chances of entry of exotic pests; and for human resource development including empowerment of women in plant protection skills.
In addition to the use of crop protection chemicals, Indian agriculture needs to focus on specific solutions to enhance crop productivity. It is imperative for us to adopt efficient agronomy practices, fertigation, seed treatment, biotechnology and plasticulture to reduce wastage and attain self-sufficiency in agricultural output. Integrated pest management is one of the most effective and sustainable ways of tackling the issue of pests and diseases in Indian agriculture. Many organizations and start-ups in the agriculture domain are working towards addressing the issues faced by Indian agriculture. Government of India is proactively working towards addressing the unmet needs of the farmers across the agri-value chain through multiple initiatives like Soil Health card scheme, Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana, National e-Governance Plan (NeGP), m-Kisan etc. Given the geographic expanse of India, digital technology based solutions could be one of the efficient routes to reach the farmers and equip them with information in real time which will help in arriving to better and timely farming related decisions. Indian agriculture ecosystem is realizing this but it will take time for these technologies to be embedded into everyday farming practice.
Control of the registration and proper use of Plant Protection Products (PPP) is key to ensure that fruits and vegetables produced in India comply with the requirements of the countries where they are sold, to minimize exposure of populations to harmful residues.
In Plant Quarantine, besides ongoing activities, the thrust area is pertaining to Pest Risk Analysis (PRA) and post entry quarantine surveillance. This has become essential in the light of World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement, which will facilitate more and speedier movement of plants, planting materials globally.  Such a situation will expose a linking danger for the introduction of exotic pests/diseases in the country.  Considering this fact, Ministry of Agriculture issued a notification entitled “The Plant Quarantine (Regulation of Import into India) order 2003” replacing the “The Plants, Fruits and Seeds (Regulation of Import into India) order 1989”. The new regulation was effective from 01.01.2004.  The existing Plant Quarantine Stations will be strengthened and there is possibility to establish some more stations with a view to enforce the quarantine regulations more effectively so as to keep the exotic pests   and diseases at bay.
Major Plant Protection laws in India and relevant international legal instruments include the following:
*The Destructive Insects and Pests Act, (DIP Act) 1914 and amendments (popularly known as Comprehensive Plant Quarantine Act)
*Plants, Fruits and Seeds (Regulation of Import into India) order, 1989 (popularly known as PFS order)
*Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPVFR) Act, 2001
*The Plant Quarantine Order 2003 – Amendments
*Pesticides Management Bill, 2008
*The Agricultural Biosecurity Bill, 2013
*International Plant Protection Convention
*WTO-SPS Agreement
*International Standards on Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMs)
*Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs)
There is an urgent need to ensure both domestic and global food security with effective crop protection solutions by assisting the industry experts to understand the new tools for agroecosystem management, projections for seed coating materials market, bio-control market, seed treatments and seed enhancements to extend the crop protection window, and phyto-biomes enabling sustainable and profitable production of crops to meet global demands while minimizing negative impacts on the environment.
(The Author is  Founder Director, Social Responsibility Council, New Delhi. e-mail : khurana@arunkhurana.com)