Move to boost organic farming

Kerala Agriculture University is preparing to step up research in microbial technology with the objective of developing a range of bio-fertilizers and bio-control agents to meet the growing demand for eco-friendly options from farmers in Kerala.

Scientists at the KAU have developed potent cultures of Pseudomonas and Trichoderma, bacterial and fungal strains that act against plant pathogens and promote plant growth.

The university has evolved technology for large-scale production and application of bio-control agents. It has recently developed a microbial consortium capable of combating a variety of fungal and bacterial diseases.

“The role of microbial inoculants in sustainable agriculture assumes special significance in the context of their eco-friendly nature, growing demand for organic vegetables, and the rising threat of pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables,” says P. Rajendran, Vice Chancellor, KAU.

Essentially, formulations of living organisms, microbial inoculants, when applied to the soil, improve nutrient availability, reduce input of chemical fertilizers, and promote sustainable agriculture.

“We have made remarkable achievements in this area. This is a giant step towards converting Kerala in to an organic state,” Dr. Rajendran said.

Pseudomonas and Trichoderma have been proved to possess a broad spectrum of activity against an array of plant pathogens causing serious crop diseases. The KAU has developed the technology for large-scale production of Pseudomonas in powder and liquid formulation of Pseudomonas and Trichoderma. A simple technique for farmer-level multiplication and field application of Trichoderma in organic manure has also been evolved.

The university has secured the registration of the Central Insecticides Board (CIB) for Pseudomonas.

The mother culture and production technology have been transferred to the State Bio Control Lab (SBCL), Mannuthy, under the State Department of Agriculture and different KAU centres for commercial production.

“Farmers are now fully convinced about the potential of these cultures and the response is so high that the SBCL and university centres are not able to meet the demand,” Dr. Rajendran said.

“All the centres are running on profit. It is expected that the royalty from the sale of mother inoculants will add additional annual revenue of more than Rs.10 lakh to KAU”.

Using mother cultures developed by the KAU, different agencies in the State are producing 1,200 tonnes of bio-control agents annually that can substitute 200 tonnes of fungicides worth Rs.6 crore. They also produce 100 tonnes of bio-fertilizers equal to 1,000 tonnes of nitrogen worth Rs.2.5 crore.

Farmers in Kerala use microbial inoculants extensively for the management of serious diseases and promotion of growth in black pepper, vanilla, cardamom, betel vine, ginger, rice, and vegetables.

Betel vine farmers in Thiruvananthapuram district and spice farmers in Idukki depend heavily on Pseudomonas and Trichoderma for disease management.

The current annual production of bio-fertilizers in India is less than 13,000 metric tons, against a potential demand of 34 lakh tonnes a year.

“There is tremendous potential for microbial industry. KAU has identified this as a sector for advanced research and massive production and hence a centre of excellence has been envisaged,” Dr. Rajendran explained.