: At a time when all things “organic” is the buzzword, poly-houses are becoming a cause for concern due to high pesticide residues in the produce following indiscriminate use of chemicals.
In fact, the sustainability of poly-house cultivation is facing a threat as a sizeable number of them have closed due to soil degradation and attack by nematodes — harmful soil bacteria — and fungi, which have resulted in massive devastation of crops.
The Indian Institute of Horticultural Research (IIHR) has now come out with a series of technologies and practices to reduce the use of chemicals in poly-house cultivation.
“The main focus is to turn the high-end poly-house cultivation into a sustainable farm and economic activity,” said M.S. Rao, head of IIHR’s Division of Entomology and Nematology.
“This will result in not only production of pesticide-free produce, but it will go a long way in improving the financial health of poly-houses,” he said, while indicating that closing down poly-houses would result in a loss of Rs. 900 crore.
What has come as a shot in the arm for the IIHR is that a 24-year-old farmer Raju in Doddaballapur taluk near Bengaluru has used this technology showing it is possible to grow broccoli, a crop highly susceptible to various pests and diseases, without pesticides.
It is the first time in the country that broccoli has been grown in a chemical-free manner in a poly-house.
Of course, the experiment is not completely organic as the farmer has used a certain amount of fertilizers. But, the produce has been selling like hot cakes to exporters at a premium price since it is pesticide-free.
Mr. Raju, who migrated to Karnataka from Andhra Pradesh, took up poly-house cultivation on about one acre of land in Doddaballapur, of which broccoli is grown on half an acre. What has enthused scientists is that he has trounced the general perception that chemical-free farming and reduction in fertilizers would lead to drop in yield. The farmer’s yield has not only increased by about 30% by using the natural plant growth promoters as well as bio-fertilisers and bio-pesticides of IIHR, but the cost of cultivation too has dropped by about 30% as he has not used chemicals and pesticides. He was able to earn about Rs. 4.18 lakh in 90 days.
Dr. Rao said the farmer used bio fungicide, bio nematicide, bio bactericide, bio fertilizers, neem and pongamia soaps as well as plant growth promoters developed by the IIHR. It has helped improve soil fertility and reduce soil-borne pathogens.
If a farmer uses these chemical-free and cost-effective applications for two to three years, there is no need for soil enrichment for the next five years, he said. Biotechnologist-turned entrepreneur J. Gavaskar, who has taken licences from the IIHR to mass produce and also sell some of its biotechnologies, says the awareness among farmers is slowly increasing about such bioapplications. “Big farmers and some Farmer Producers’ Organisations from Pune, some cities in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are trying out these chemical-free applications,” he said.
Dr. Rao said ICAR-IIHR has demonstrated similar success stories in capsicum, European cucumber, tomato, gerbera, carnations grown under protected conditions in various poly-houses and guava, pomegranate, tomato, okra, brinjal, tuberose grown under open field conditions in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Maharashtra, and Bengal.