Amid the government’s efforts to make India self-sufficient in fertilisers, there is now a need to open two separate dedicated centres under the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) to undertake research in fertilisers and pesticides as none exist now, said agriculture scientists. Research on fertiliser and pesticides are currently done in several of its centres, including Pusa institute. The main research of ICAR has been confined to developing new seed varieties, while there are also some milestones achieved in the dairy and fisheries sectors.

As there has always been resistance about funding for opening new centres, ICAR never pushed for separate bodies for fertiliser and pesticide in the past, sources said. “Not only the expenses for separate centres, the research on fertiliser and pesticides itself requires huge investment which large multinational companies undertake as they have scope to market their innovative products across the globe,” said a former deputy director general of ICAR in charge of natural resource management (NRM) division.

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Sources said that due to objection from Finance Ministry, ICAR has not been able to open a new centre for research on honey bees, and the proposal has not seen the light of the day despite efforts in past few years. Currently, research on honey bees is conducted through the All India Coordinated Research Project, the sources said. On the other hand, after months of continuous persuasion, the sources said a new national centre for millets is said to have been approved for Rajasthan, the largest bajra producer.

“It is only as election is scheduled for Rajasthan later this year that the proposal has been approved, otherwise it was once rejected earlier. So, the funding needs to be seriously pumped in to expect results,” a source said.

The Fertiliser Ministry has also been trying to set up a separate centre or university for research on fertilisers with industry’s support, sources said.

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Admitting that there was no proposal moved to create separate centres for fertiliser and pesticides research during his tenure (2016-2022), former director general of ICAR Trilochan Mohapatra said that there are already centres like Bhopal-based Indian Institute of Soil Science and Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), commonly known as the Pusa Institute, who has been researching on agro chemicals. Even research on fertilisers is being undertaken by institutes like Jodhpur-based Central Arid Zone Research Institute, he added.

However, he agreed that there is a need for separate centres as new molecules have to be found, whether it is bio-pesticides or chemical pesticides, and private companies may also be partnered in funding the research.

The Budget allocation of ICAR, which manages 98 institutes (including research centres and others) and four deemed universities, in the current fiscal has been raised to ₹9,504 crore from ₹8,659 crore in 2022-23 (RE), up by nearly 10 per cent.

The Bhartiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), an affiliate of RSS, recently demanded the Centre’s plan to allow private participation in research by ICAR should be cancelled. According to Mohini Mohan Mishra, general secretary of BKS, many senior scientists of ICAR are engaged in research work for years. With such a proposal, they feel uncomfortable and insecure. By allowing the participation of private agencies in research projects of ICAR, all the research will go to big corporate houses in favour of industry and finally, ICAR will be unused for farmers. He also sought sufficient funds to ICAR be allocated for scientific research for its successful completion.

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Though Indian agro-chemical companies have made big strides in their business turnover in the last two decades, there is hardly any investment made in research, industry officials said. “Most of the production are in generic pesticides and some are in new formulations under licence from the patent holding companies,” said an industry official.

According to the latest industry data, India’s export of agrochemicals in 2022 was $5.5 billion, ahead of $5.4 billion by the U.S. China is the top exporter of pesticides and insecticides. On the other hand, India’s fertiliser sales (urea, DAP, MOP and complex varieties) increased 1.6 per cent to 58.54 million tonnes (mt) in the 2022-23 fiscal, out of which 18.81 mt (or 32 per cent) were imported.