India launched Mars Orbiter Mission Mangalyaan at a fraction of a cost of what similar missions placed in space by other space organisations. While the cost of the space mission to Mars by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States was in the region of USD 672 million, the overall cost of the Indian mission was just about USD 74 million.
Challenge was thrown for the Indian mission to last 180 days in space and our Mangalyaan has completed that time period many times over and still beaming strong. This clearly establishes the fact that India not only has technological finesse but also has substantial cost savings in many of the new innovations in the scientific and technological fields as compared other advanced nations.
The same prowess can and should be implemented in the field of agriculture, a sector that accounts for about 17 percent of the GDP. There are number of molecules in the agrochemicals domain that can be developed indigenously. This can tremendously change the agricultural scenario as overall cost savings that accrue in using indigenously developed crop care products can be ploughed back in the agricultural sector for the benefit of the farmer community and enhancing crop yields.
Dependency on Imports
Most of the agrochemicals India currently uses are those molecules that have been developed and invented by companies of other countries. Indian companies can also research and invent new molecules at a much lesser cost which can make it within the reach of the small and marginal farmers.
Indian researchers and scientists are second to none and the conditions for research are apt in India. The country has all major crops, all seasons and weather conditions suitable for research. Scientists in India can test the newly developed molecule anytime of the year since winters, summers and rainy season can be found at all times in some part f the country or the other. Similarly, the molecule can be tested on all crops within the country as India grows all major crops. All that is required is a little push for them to do research and come up with innovation in the agrochemicals field.
Increasing Yield to Combat Rising Population
With an ever-increasing population, there will be more pressure on land which will further intensify the focus on crop yields. India accounts for 2.4 percent total geographical area but 17 percent of the global population, according to Census of India. Crop yields in India stand at a mere 2.8 tonnes per hectare compared with 7 tonnes in the US, according to global agricultural experts. By 2024, India is expected to pip China to claim numero uno position in terms of population. Indian is expected to have 153 crore people as opposed to 146 crores in China by then, according to the United Nations Organization.
This will increase the focus on various aspects of crop yields. Crop protection will be an important aspect of crop yields since about a third of the total crops is destroyed by pests annually in the country, according to agriculture experts.
Not just for India, the scientists can invent those crop care molecules that will be used for crop protection in other countries and export the domestically produced products to other markets and can earn foreign exchange for the country. Around USD 4-10 billion worth of molecules are patented by multinational giants every year which means there is significant market which can partake in. Thus, India can be a hub for exports of patented insecticides and since the country is also endowed with excellent process optimisation strength combined with low-cost manufacturing abilities, such opportunities should be sized with both hands.
India Should Move Up The Value Chain
As we go forward as a nation and become one of the top three economies of the world, which is projected in the next 10 years, we will have to come up with new innovations in various fields including in agro-chemicals. This is also a good opportunity for India to move the chain in the global insecticides play. Currently, India is mostly manufacturing those molecules which go off patent. There are none or very few molecules which the country has developed so far worth patenting. There are about 125 technical grade manufacturers and around 850 formulators in the agrochemicals industry but mostly engaged in those molecules which go off patent, according to a Government report. The industry is currently selecting molecules manufactured by international companies that have become off patent and then working backwards to look at their components and mass manufacture them at a cost-effective manner.
There is no reason why India should not seize the opportunity for a more formidable play in the international insecticides market by having its own patented molecules as it established itself as a world leader and a force to reckon with. All that is required is to have acumen for research and development.
(The views expressed in the article are author’s own)