Kochi: India plans to register neem-based products as a pesticide under its Insecticide Act, a top official said.
The government is collecting data on the effects of neem-based fertilizers and hopes to complete the registration in a year and a half, Mathew C. Kunnumkal, additional secretary in the ministry of chemicals and fertilizers, said.
A pilot project using neem is being implemented since 2000 in some 80 villages in South 24 Parganas district in West Bengal and Nagpur district in Maharashtra, with support from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (Unido).
The programme has been found effective in managing pest attacks on vegetables and fruits, Kunnumkal said, adding that there are at least 425 known pests which attack crops in India.
India is the world’s fourth largest producer of agrochemicals, with a market size of Rs4,500 crore, according to the website of the ministry of chemicals and fertilizers. Neem-based fertilizers are not tracked by the ministry since they are not yet registered.
Unlike chemical pesticides which act on specific pests, neem helps in managing all pests and has no toxicity, Kunnumkal claimed, adding that it doesn’t leave any residue on plants or soil.
He was speaking at a meeting last week on production and promotion of neem-based pesticides as environment-friendly, biodegradable alternatives to chemical pesticides. The meeting was organized by the Indian Cardamom Research Institute under state-owned trade promotion agency Spices Board of India.
After the success of the pilot, the government decided to extend it to the rest of the country in 2007, involving various commodity organizations, the Spices Board, Tea Board of India, Coffee Board of India and the Coconut Development Board, as well as the Coimbatore-based United Planters’ Association of Southern India-run Tea Research Institute and the Punjab State Council for Science and Technology in Chandigarh.
The second phase of the programme is expected to last three years, during which the registration of neem-based products will likely be completed, giving it legal sanction and make availability easier, Kunnumkal said.
This phase will also be supported by Unido arm Regional Network on Pesticides for Asia and Pacific. The project not only looks at providing technical support to develop neem-based products and generate data, but also promotes growing neem trees in the country, said S.P. Dhua, the network’s regional coordinator.
Though neem-based insecticides cost 10-20% higher than chemical pesticides, they also help plants develop resistance to a number of pests, said T. Krishna Kumar, managing director of Lalitha Neem Pvt. Ltd, which makes neem oil extracts and neem-based fertilizers in Rajapalayam district in Tamil Nadu.