Just what the doctor ordered: A bio-pill for crops

TV Jayan New Delhi | Updated on July 16, 2019

Biocapsules can enhance the shelf life of microbial strains substantially

ICAR scientists develop technology to pack microbial strains in tiny capsules

These biocapsules pack the punch, literally. Researchers at an Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) institute in Kerala have found a way to pack bugs beneficial to farmers in tiny capsules, eliminating the need for lugging around sacks of biofertilisers as farmers do currently.

The technology developed by scientists at the Indian Institute of Spices Research (IISR) in Kozhikode offers several benefits. Besides reducing the quantity of beneficial microbial strains to be carried around by farmers, it provides them with an optimal way of delivering these biologically active organisms and enhances their shelf lives substantially. In addition, as these microbial strains are retained in dormant stage, there is no worry of they losing their viability in room temperatures as is the case with many liquid-based bioformulations.

The achievement by the IISR scientists led by Dinesh Raghavan is remarkable because no such technology is commercially available world over. “Successful investigations on encapsulation of microbial strains so far are largely confined to the laboratory and no commercial products are available in the market yet,” said Raghavan, who developed the technology together with former IISR director Muthuswamy Anandaraj and a junior colleague, YK Bini. The scientists already have a patent application pending for the proprietary encapsulation technology in many countries.

Currently, various forms of plant growth promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) formulations are sold commercially. While some are powder-based formulations, others are liquid-based.

One-gram capsule

“The biocapsules made with our technology weigh just one gram. But the microbial population they contain is equivalent to what is present in a one-kg pack of powder-based biofertliser or a one-litre bottle,” said Raghavan.

According to him, the beauty of the technology is that it can be used for packing any kind of farm-friendly microbes, including nitrogen-fixing bacteria, solubolise phosphates, micronutrients and fungi that help control pathogens.

Biofertilisers and biostimulatants have become popular in the last few years with organic farming increasingly becoming popular.

Can reduce fertiliser use

“The use of beneficial microbes can cut fertiliser use by as much as 25 per cent,” Raghavan told BusinessLine.

The IISR technology is already attracting a lot of attention. Many firms working in the crop nutrient and protection space have already approached the ICAR institute for licensing the technology. Kodugu Agritech, an agri start-up firm founded by microbiologist Chaitra Narayan a few years ago, is one of them.

The Kushalnagar, Karnataka-based firm has developed biocapsules containing microbes that can be used for a variety of horticulture, ornamental and spices crops. “We have been marketing these biocapsules since 2016 in five States,” said Narayan whose venture won laurels from President Ram Nath Kovind last year. According to her, Kodagu Agritech, which started in a small way is already growing at a rate of 30-to 40 per cent annually.

The technology was also acquired recently by SRT Agro Sciences, a Raipur-based biofertiliser/biopesticide firm. SRT plans to extend the biocapsule technology to eight different registered bioagents for biocontrol as well as growth promotion in a wide range of crops, including legumes, vegetables, trees, ornamentals, cereals, beverages, fruits and spices. SRT has already set up a plant that which can produce one lakh biocapsules a day.

Published on July 15, 2019

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