Environmental and Sustainability Benefits of Biofertilizers

Harshvardhan Bhagchandka has been at the helm of IPL Biologicals since 2011 and is now steering the company on its rapid global expansion. His dream is to see IPL Biologicals’ specialized products, which are developed and manufactured in India by Indian scientists, and adopted by the agriculture industry in all corners of the globe.

In conversation with Charulatha, Correspondent, Silicon- india Magazine, Harshvardhan shared his views about the key environmental and sustainability benefits associated with the use of biofertilizers and the primary cost considerations for farmers when adopting biofertilizers.

The key environmental and sustainability benefits associated with the use of biofertilizers
Adopting sustainable practices has become critical as a result of the impact that climate change has on the agricultural sector. One viable solution that has proven to be beneficial to negating the challenges is biofertilizers, as they offer several key environmental and sustainability benefits. Let us delve deeper into some of these benefits -

1)Sustainable and integrated nutrient management: Biofertilizers contribute to sustainable and integrated nutrient management by increasing microbial diversity and activity. It further improves soil structure, water-holding capacity, and nutrient availability of the crops, which is vital for sustainable agriculture.

2)Improved Soil Health: Biofertilizers promote the development of beneficial microorganisms in the soil, which enhances soil structure, fertility, and overall health. This leads to enhancing the soil's capacity to retain water and nutrients, which reduces erosion and improves soil health.

3) Reduced use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides: biofertilizers have emerged as a viable alternative to synthetic fertilisers as they complement the plant's nutrient requirements. This allows for more environmentally sustainable and ecologically friendly agricultural practices.

4) Reduced chemical residue in crops: When farmers use biofertilizers for their crop production, a drop in the need for synthetic chemical fertilisers has been observed. Therefore, consistent usage of biofertilizer not only reduces the chemical residue in the crops but also reduces the environmental impact of conventional fertilisers.

5) Long-term soil fertility: Biofertilizers improve long-term soil fertility by promoting a natural and self-sustaining ecosystem through continual application. They function in sync with the ecosystem, reducing reliance on external inputs and preserving soil fertility for future generations.

6) Enhanced crop resilience: Biofertilizers enhance the ability of crops to withstand environmental stresses and bolster their capacity to absorb nutrients effectively, resulting in improved crop yields, resilience, and quality. Furthermore, as these fertilisers comprise vital nutrients and promote the natural recycling of nutrients within the soil, it decreases the requirement for external inputs.

7) Conservation of biodiversity: The use of biofertilizers promotes the growth of different microorganisms in the soil, which helps to maintain a healthy environment. This contributes to the promotion of biodiversity, which is necessary for the general health and resilience of the environment.

8) Decreased greenhouse gas emissions: By enhancing soil health and fertility, biofertilizers can potentially minimise the need for tilling, which, in turn, helps in reducing carbon dioxide emissions associated with conventional agriculture practices.

The use of biofertilizers promotes the growth of different microorganisms in the soil, which helps to maintain a healthy environment

The primary cost considerations for farmers when adopting biofertilizers
Cost has been a crucial element for farmers in developing countries such as India, and there are several questions that a farmer may have while considering a biofertilizer. These questions can be such as: What is the cost of biofertilizer when compared to its chemical alternatives? Will it improve crop yield and productivity? What might be the long-term impact of biofertilizer on soil fertility and more? However, once they adopt biofertilizers, they start to experience the following benefits:

1) Yield and Productivity: The adoption of biofertilizers can significantly impact a farm's yield and productivity. While the upfront cost might be a consideration, evaluating the return on investment (ROI) from potential increased yields and improved product quality is crucial. Biofertilizers improve product quality, which can lead to enhanced crop yields, which ultimately contribute to improved economic returns for farmers.

2) Long-Term Cost Benefits: One of the significant advantages of biofertilizers lies in their potential for long-term benefits. They can enhance soil fertility, increase organic carbon content, and foster a healthier soil ecosystem. As a result, this reduces the dependency on synthetic fertilisers over time. Considering the reduction in the need for continual input of expensive synthetic fertilisers, farmers should weigh the long-term cost benefits against the initial investment in biofertilizers. This can lead to substantial cost savings and improved sustain- ability in the long run.

3) Comparative Costs: Adopting biofertilizers and reducing chemical fertilisers make it a cost-effective solution as the natural alternative enhances soil health and also increases crop yield. On the other hand, in the long term, chemical fertilisers are 30% more expensive to apply than biofertilizers.

Collectively, the economic considerations for farmers adopting biofertilizers involve assessing the overall impact on their farm's productivity, evaluating long-term cost benefits, and com- paring costs against traditional synthetic fertilisers or other available alternatives. Therefore, balancing upfront investment with potential long-term gains is key to making a financially sound decision about adopting biofertilizers.

Challenges do farmers typically face when transitioning from chemical fertilizers to biofertilizers, and how can these challenges be addressed
Whenever adopting any kind of change, be it a new technology or transitioning to a new fertiliser, farmers do witness a myriad of challenges. Here are some of the typical challenges and ways to address them:

Less awareness and training on product usage and technical know-how:
Farmers usually possess insufficient knowledge about the appropriate utilisation of biofertilizers and their advantages. Therefore, in a bid to overcome this challenge, arranging educational initiatives, training programmes, raising awareness, and offering technical guidance on the accurate application of biofertilizers has become necessary. We at IPL Biologicals Limited have ensured that we cater to these requirements with efficacy.

Local Players and Spurious Biologicals Available in the Market:
Local, unregulated players have flooded the market with substandard or spurious biofertilizers, creating uncertainty about product quality and effectiveness.

These products may not meet the required quality standards, potentially leading to poor crop performance and financial losses for farmers. We have also been striving to make the best quality products available in the market, which has made us one of the top players in the industry.

In the totality of improving the market, there are some of the methods by which the challenges can be overcome:
1) Quality Control: Establishing stringent quality control measures and standards for biofertilizers is crucial. Regulatory bodies and industry associations should collaborate to define and enforce these standards. Regular inspections and quality checks of biofertilizer production facilities can help maintain consistent quality.

2) Market Availability: Promoting the availability of genuine, high-quality biofertilizers on the market is essential. This can be achieved through partnerships with reputable manufacturers and distributors. Encouraging transparent labelling and branding of biofertilizer products can help farmers distinguish between genuine and spurious options.

3) Regulatory Compliance: Strengthening regulatory oversight is key to combating spurious products. Implementing stringent regulations and penalties for non-compliance can deter unscrupulous players. Moreover, government agencies should actively monitor the market and take legal action against those selling spurious or low-quality biofertilizers.

4)Consumer Education: Educating farmers about the risks associated with using spurious biofertilizers is crucial. Extension services, workshops, and awareness campaigns can help farmers make informed choices.

Addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach involving education, support systems, financial assistance, and policy adjustments. Collaboration between government bodies, agricultural experts, industry stakeholders, and farmers is essential for a successful transition from chemical fertilisers to biofertilizers. By addressing these challenges related to local players and spurious biologicals in the market, the agricultural sector can ensure that biofertilizers are a reliable and effective option for improving soil health and crop productivity, benefiting both farmers and the environment.

Role of innovation in the biofertilizer industry, and how might it affect their affordability and efficacy for farmers in the future
Being in the industry for more than three decades, we surely understand the significance of innovation in the biofertilizer industry. What today’s farmers require is a product that is not only efficient but also cost-effective. Therefore, the need of the hour is constant innovation, as it can provide several benefits. Some of them are listed below:

Enhanced Efficiency and Effectiveness: Innovation in formulation and production techniques can lead to more stable and user-friendly biofertilizer products. Improved formulation can help extend the shelf life of biofertilizers, making them more accessible to farmers, especially in remote or resource-constrained regions.

Different Methods of Application: Innovations in application methods can lead to more precise and efficient distribution of biofertilizers. This can include advanced technologies and equipment for application, which reduces waste and improves nutrient delivery to plants.

Customization for Specific Crops and Soil Conditions: Innovations in biofertilizer production and application techniques can enable customization for different crops and soil types. Tailoring biofertilizers to specific requirements can lead to improved yields and reduced costs, as farmers get the most out of their investments.

Environmental benefits: Biofertilizers offer environmental benefits by promoting soil health and reducing chemical fertiliser use.

Boosting affordability: Innovation can increase affordability for farmers and boost biofertilizer efficacy, improving food security and sustainability.

"Innovation in formulation and production techniques can lead to more stable and user-friendly biofertilizer products"

Potential market dynamics or shifts that might influence the economics of biofertilizers in agriculture in the coming years
The expansion of the organic food sector is a major driving force in the biofertilizer market. The rationale for this advancement is owing to the fact that the future organic sector will be heavily reliant on chemical-free crop production. This reason is anticipated to create a heavy demand in the upcoming years. According to research by IMARC Group, the biofertilizer market in India is anticipated to cross US$356.7 million by 2032. Apart from the reasons mentioned above, there are several market dynamics and shifts that might influence the economics of biofertilizers in agriculture in the coming years:

1)Growing demand for sustainable agriculture: As global awareness of environmental concerns grows, there's a rising demand for sustainable agricultural practices. Biofertilisers, being environmentally friendly and promoting soil health, are likely to gain traction as farmers seek more sustainable alternatives to traditional chemical fertilisers.

2)Regulatory changes favouring eco-friendly practices: Government policies and regulations supporting sustainable farming practices could significantly impact the adoption of biofertilizers. Incentives, subsidies, or tax breaks for using eco-friendly agricultural inputs might encourage farmers to switch to biofertilizers.

3) Ongoing research and innovation in biofertilizer technology: Advances in biotechnology, microbiology, and agronomy can lead to the development of more effective biofertilizer products. This could result in higher crop yields and cost savings, making biofertilizers a more economically viable choice for farmers.

4) Climate change mitigation incentives: Changing climate conditions can affect the economics of agriculture. Biofertilisers may become more appealing as they contribute to climate resilience by improving soil health and reducing the need for chemical fertilisers in unstable weather conditions.

5) Increasing awareness and education about biofertilizers: Improved education and outreach to farmers about the benefits and proper use of biofertilizers can increase adoption rates. Government and non-government organisations may play a role in this knowledge dissemination.

6) Competitive landscape and new market entrants: The biofertilizer industry has been witnessing a growing number of players, including startups, established companies, and research institutions. Several factors are shaping the competitive landscape. Innovative startups are leveraging biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and other technologies to create novel biofertilizer products that can compete with established brands. These startups often focus on specific niches or utilise unique microbial strains for better outcomes.

7) The impact of biofertilizers on crop yield and quality: Biofertilizers introduce beneficial microorganisms that facilitate the conversion of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, into forms that are more readily available to plants. This can result in improved nutrient uptake and utilisation, leading to increased crop yield.

8)Global Trade and Supply Chain Dynamics: Changes in trade agreements, tariffs, or disruptions in the supply chain may impact the availability and cost of biofertilizers. Access to raw materials, production facilities, and distribution networks could influence their economics.

9) Farmers' economic conditions and risk tolerance: The cost of production and distribution plays a significant role in determining the adoption rate of biofertilizers. If innovations lead to more cost-effective production techniques and distribution methods, it could make biofertilizers more economically viable for farmers.

10) Next-generation molecules and nanotechnology products: Innovation in biofertilizers, particularly next-generation molecules and nanotechnology products, holds significant promise for improving agricultural practices. It can positively impact the affordability and efficacy of biofertilizers for farmers, potentially revolutionising the way nutrients are delivered to crops and contributing to sustainable agricultural practices.

Informed decisions about integrating biofertilizers into their practices while considering long-term economic benefits and risks

I believe integrating biofertilizers into farming practices requires careful consideration of various factors to ensure long-term economic benefits and mitigate potential risks. Now, farmers have their own ways to test and try a product before considering it. However, some of the steps must be taken to bear biofertilizer’s long-term economic benefits:-

Conduct Soil Testing: Before incorporating biofertilizers, farmers must conduct comprehensive soil testing to assess nutrient levels, pH, and overall soil health. This will provide a baseline understanding of the soil's condition and guide the selection of suitable biofertilizers.

Understand Types of Biofertilizers: Farmers must familiarise themselves with different types of biofertilizers available on the market, such as nitrogen-fixing bacteria, phosphate solubilizing bacteria, and mycorrhizal fungi. It is crucial to understand their specific benefits and ensure that they comply with local regulations.

Consider Local Climate and Soil Conditions: Biofertilizer effectiveness can vary based on climate and soil characteristics. Therefore, farmers must be careful to choose biofertilizers that align with their region's climate and soil conditions in a bid to maximise their impact on crops.

Understand Long-term Sustainability and Environmental Impact: It is necessary to evaluate the long-term sustainability of using biofertilizers by considering factors such as soil structure improvement, reduced dependence on chemical fertilisers, and environmental impact.

Monitor and Measure Impact: It has become crucial for farmers to implement a monitoring system to track the impact of biofertilizers on both crop yield and soil health. Moreover, they must also regularly assess the changes in nutrient levels, crop productivity, and any improvements in soil structure.

Network with Other Farmers: Farmers must also connect with fellow farmers who have experience with biofertilizers. This will help them to exchange knowledge, share success stories, and learn from challenges faced by others in the community.

Carbon Credit Monetization Opportunity: Farmers must also explore the potential for carbon credit monetization by adopting biofertilizers. Some practices, like reducing synthetic fertiliser use, can contribute to carbon sequestration, and farmers may be eligible for carbon credits.

By following these steps, farmers can make informed decisions about integrating biofertilizers into their practices, considering both short-term gains and long-term sustainability. Regular assessment and integration of the biofertilizer strategy based on results and experiences will contribute to a successful and economically viable agricultural system.