With the government trying to set up clusters of organic farms, Goa’s only bio-fertiliser unit Cosme Biotech Pvt. Ltd., is hoping for turnaround in its fortunes. The plant located in the verdant forests of Sarvona, Bicholim, is a modern production facility designed as per international standards. However it operates in isolation with few Goans aware of its existence. It is one of the few certified, genuine, bio-fertiliser units in India but plays a marginal role in boosting local agriculture.
Presently the company employees have their fingers crossed for better times. They are hoping for clientele on the home turf instead of seeking markets in other states. Being excluded from local agricultural production is a sore point for the employees who find their products finding takers in other states and working wonders.
The unit belongs to the Cosme Menezes group and markets under the brand name Shubhodaya. Products are sold in Karnataka, Gujarat, Delhi, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Maharashtra. Sales are also to overseas markets like Turkey, Myanmar and Kenya. In Goa however the company is notched zero sales and unsuccessful in making its presence felt.
Sandesh Kamat Bambolkar, plant, in-charge and director, gets talking on the difficulties of marketing in the state. He says that the company is tried hard to get its products accepted locally but in vain. Moreover government officials are also disinterested in their products despite knowing of the benefits of organic fertilizers. Presently the company’s efforts are on in Parra and Aldona where they have convinced about three farmers to try out their products. “We are hopeful that the experience of these farmers who are reporting higher yield will spread the word among others.”
LH Bhonsle, technical advisor, gets talking on the manufacturing facility. He says that the bio-fertiliser the company makes is fungus (mycorrhiza) based and growing the fungus is the most tricky and complicated part of the production process. “The fungus requires a contamination free environment. It requires a completely sterile atmosphere. If the contamination is above 10 per cent then you lose the batch,” says Bhonsle.
The plant has a manufacturing capacity of 2,000 tons a year but actual production is much lower and depends on orders received from customers. “Our products are sold throughout the year but peak demand is during the kharif and rabi season when agriculture is in full swing across states,” says Bambolkar.
He adds that, the bio-fertliser is suitable for all crops including paddy, horticulture, groundnut, chillies, sugarcane , coffee, fruits, etc. “Our certification is from an accredited certifying agency based in Bangalore,” explains Bambolkar.
He reveals that, although the current emphasis is on organic produce which fetch higher returns to framers, it is difficult to get pure organic farm produce which is 100 per cent free of chemicals.
According to him, there are some farmers who do pure organic farming and some do a mix of both but the bulk of the farming community settles for nitrogen, phosphate and potassium which is the customary nutrient for the Indian farming community. In Goa though the use of chemical fertilizers ar relatively less but that is more due to insufficient agricultural production and local farmers lack of interest in increasing productivity of the soil.
According to Bhonsle, the government needs to impose restrictions on use of N-P-K because of their long-term damaging impact on the soil. “European countries are strict about the usage of chemical fertilizers. They discourage the usage of it and restrict its use. In India with the fertilizer industry being extremely powerful in lobbying for itself there are no such restrictions and farmers consider urea and N-P-K as their lifeline,” he says. .
He rues that, the lobby of the fertilizer industry in India discourages the use of natural nutrients. “The government needs to stop incurring expenditure on fertilizer subsidy and instead subsidise bio-fertliser. Chemical fertilizers suck nutrients from the soli and ultimately do permanent damage.”
Bambolkar points out that, bio-fertilsers are also cheaper in cost. “A farmer would needs five kg of bio-fertliser per one acre of land, while the same area would require 50 kg of N-P-K.” he says.
The company’s technology is patented with TERI, Delhi. About two-three companies in India use the same technology but since production is complex and needs contamination free preparation there are few takers for the technology.
Set up in 2006, Cosme Biotech currently employs about 25-odd employees who maintain a strict protocol on cleanliness on the premises. The production process comprises, sterilization, media preparation, storage of the media in the right temperature of -20 degrees Celsius, inoculation, incubation and harvesting. The last stage is if dry-grinding of the VAM fungus (vesicular arbuscular mycorrhiza) to powder which is then mixed in the soil and marketed.
“At every step of the production we undertake quality control analysis and the sterility in the laboratory is maintained,” explains Bambolkar. The fertilizer is sometimes mixed in fly ash instead of soil. The fly-ash is sourced from cement manufacturing units.
“The agriculture department is planning to set up herbal gardens. It is also planning for clusters of organic farms. All these initiatives need organic fertlisers which can be sourced from us,” points out Bhonsle. He explains that, their existing customers have never gone back to the use of chemical fertilizers after using their
“Natural fertlisers need time to take effect. The results are not immediate. They need to be used consistently for the benefits to be seen,” he says.
The company is the only surviving unit of the Cosme group that in the past comprised three other units- Cosme Remedies, Menezes Pharma and Cosme Pharma.
The bio-fertiliser industry in India is huge. However are several who are spurious in quality and Cosme Biotech is among the few units that manufactures through the VAM