Technology to the aid when farmer and agriculture ails: A note on the impact of fake pesticides and need for anti-counterfeit solutions for the Indian agro-chemical industry.
Agriculture employs nearly 50% of the people in India. Presently, agricultural activities contribute to approximately 17% of the country’s GDP. According to UN Forecast, by 2030, India is likely to become the most populated nation globally. Thus, the demand for food grains and self-sufficiency will put increased pressure on the agricultural sector. Indian farmers will be expected to produce large scale yield with smaller farm holdings. But the current scenario of the quality and quantity of farm produce in India puts the nation on a weak footing and preparedness for the future. Globally, the productivity of Indian farmers is below average. At the same time, many farmers in India lack access to education and exposure to technology. We are in the era of the internet and e-commerce. Yet, there are many farmlands in India which lack electricity and network coverage. Farming is still labor-intensive, and traditional agricultural practices dominate the sector in India. To increase farm productivity and meet the rising demand for food grains, we must focus on India’s agro-chemical industry. The chief culprit for low farm productivity is the lack of accessibility to crop protection products and methods. Quality fertilizers and effective pesticides protect crops, increase yield, and safeguard the farmer and the farmland’s health. Along with improved infrastructure, agro-chemical products like hybrid seeds, organic fertilizers, and pesticides can revolutionize and optimize Indian agriculture.
Amongst the many issues that ail the Indian farmer, counterfeit pesticides are a significant one. Unsuspecting farmers spray fake, adulterated, or spurious pesticides on the crops, thereby leading to crop damage. As per some reports, the counterfeit pesticides market is estimated to grow by 20% every year in India. The cost of counterfeit agro-chemical products sold annually in India amount to rupees 3475 crores. Estimates place the percentage of counterfeit pesticides sold in India at around 30%.
Impact of counterfeit pesticides:
Sustained use of counterfeit pesticides can ultimately turn the farmland infertile. The crops sprayed with spurious and adulterated pesticides enter the food chain, risking the spread of foodborne diseases. The hazardous residues can cause airborne and waterborne diseases as well. In an economy where farmers are already suffering from regulatory delays, meddling middlemen, inflation, lack of adequate storage facilities, fatalities caused due to counterfeit pesticides seems like a final straw. Due to a lack of awareness, some farmers end up overusing pesticides.
Additionally, with spurious and counterfeit pesticides, farmers can develop acute respiratory distress and poisoning. Also,many farmlands are in remote areas with poor health infrastructure and emergency transport facilities. Ultimately, the cost of counterfeit pesticides can be the very life of the farmer. As per the National Crimes Records Bureau, 7672 people suffered from pesticide poisoning. Of these, 7060 lost their lives. Counterfeiters rob a poor farmer of health, land, and livelihood for a small amount of profit.
Why counterfeiters target pesticides and the agro-chemical industry?
- Lack of awareness amongst farmers: While the literacy rate amongst farmers is improving, we still have a long way to go. It becomes easier to dupe gullible, poor, and illiterate farmers. Counterfeiters prey on farmers’ lack of awareness and sell them fake pesticides.
- Manufacturers skeptical about using anti-counterfeit technology: Will a farmer understand scanning, tagging, blockchain, and other anti-counterfeit technologies? Will farmers be comfortable getting on board with the use of apps? Is it feasible to invest in anti-counterfeit technology when many farmers do not have internet access? While the concerns are valid, the scenario has been slowly changing. Today, many farmers use smartphones and are adept with technology. They can access information on the agro-chemical products with just a click. So with user-friendly apps and seamless anti-counterfeit technology, manufacturers can arrest the counterfeit pesticides market. ACVISS has had vast experience working with blue-collar workers like farmers, electricians, laborers, and more. With a nuanced understanding of the unique challenges that farmers face in accessing technology, ACVISS has developed apps that work offline. The data gets uploaded on the server when the internet is available.
- Retailers and the gap in supply chain: Farmers trust local retailers and dealers. Retailers are the entry point for most counterfeit pesticides. Given the fragmented supply chain and poor packaging, tampering with pesticide packets is easy. Retailers use look-alike packaging for duplicate pesticides. The packages look like the original product, making it difficult for farmers to distinguish between genuine and fake products. Without overt and covert markers and lack of traceability across the supply chain, duplicate products seamlessly enter the supply chain.
- Counterfeit while outsourcing: Big companies outsource pesticide production to local small-scale manufacturers. Counterfeit products enter the market at the outsourcing stage.
- High demand and a competitive market: Indian ranks 4th in the world in the production of pesticides. The government is contemplating bringing agro-chemical products under price control. But presently, manufacturers can sell pesticides at competitive prices. High demand, high production, and stiff competition make pesticides and related crop protection products susceptible to counterfeit.
- Low cost of fake pesticides: Farmers are sold low quality, spurious, adulterated, and counterfeit pesticides at a lower cost than the market price. They are lured into thinking that the low cost will add to their profit margin. However, a counterfeit pesticide can cause irreversible damage to the crop, farmland, and the farmer. Ultimately, the farmer will end up bearing a substantially higher cost because of fake pesticides.
- Regulatory issues: Arbitrary quality controls, vague definitions, and a fragmented production fester corruption in the market for pesticides.
ACVISS Anti-counterfeit technology to tackle the issue:
On the awareness building and regulations front, the government has made significant efforts. Along with social and economic support, farmers can benefit a lot by harnessing anti-counterfeit technology. Some state governments have now taken active steps by putting into place regulations that mandate pesticide packaging to use barcodes for track and trace.
ACVISS uses unique QR codes, 2D codes, proprietary codes, and more to help manufacturers track and trace their products down the supply chain. The tagging can be used for primary, secondary, and tertiary packages, thereby covering every product unit. ACVISS tags seamlessly integrate with packaging. The app for authenticity verification is simple to use and thus can be used by farmers who may have little technological literacy. Additionally, anti-counterfeit technology uses overt and covert markers that can help the buyer identify fake products. With sector-specific understanding and experience, ACVISS has developed customized anti-counterfeit solutions for the agro-chemical sector. Pesticides sold in loose packets by local dealers can disrupt farm produce and the farmer’s income. Thus, ACVISS offers many tamper-evident and tamper-proof packaging solutions. With anti-counterfeit technology, farmers can:
- Check the validity of the licenses of the dealers and retailers
- Check the manufacturing and expiry date of the pesticides
- Check the registration number
- Understand the active ingredients used in the pesticide
- Look for evidence of tampering
- Report suspicious products with ease