Pune-based Sandeepa Kanitkar, founder of Kan Biosys, has created 16 products that have helped farmers improve soil fertility and control pests for over three decades
Since 2005, Kan Biosys has worked with millions of farmers to make the organic switch and encourage the use of natural methods to reverse the damage caused by the massive use of toxic chemicals in farming.
As over 50 per cent of India’s agricultural land is degraded, thanks to the exploitative use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in farming, reports from the 2019-20 soil health survey show about 55 per cent of India’s soil has a deficiency of nitrogen, has 42 per cent less phosphorus and 44 per cent less organic carbon.
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However, the Pune-based startup has spent 30 years improving the condition of agricultural land.
Microbes To The Rescue
Sandeepa Kanitkar, a Pune-based microbiologist and founder of Kan Biosys says that the initiative started after her graduation in 1990 when she was considering pursuing her higher studies in the USA.
She aimed to work towards developing new microbes that would help in agriculture and other aspects of businesses. But Professor UK Kanitkar, her mentor, suggested she work in the agricultural field and directly impact the beneficiaries.
“The professor had a small lab in his home and showed 2,000 microbes that could potentially be used to create agricultural products and benefit the farmers,” she tells The Better India.
Though an interesting proposition, the concept itself posed a challenge. “Farmers were widely using chemical fertilisers and pesticides. So, giving up on the same for increasing productivity of crops during the 90s was a difficult thought to digest,” she says.
But there was also an opportunity. Sandeepa says that it was at that time that reports of the degrading agricultural soil started surfacing. “The problem arose due to excessive or misuse of the chemical fertilisers and pesticides,” she says.
Banking on the opportunity, she decided to take up the challenge.
“After researching and testing for the next couple of years, we conceived our first organic product in 1993. It was a liquid biofertilizer that could help increase production. However, there were not many buyers, and the acceptance of the product became unfeasible. Hence, the company identified farmers in Australia and the USA to sell to,” she says.
The 53-year-old adds that simultaneously the company approached sugar factories and sugarcane farmers to create a distribution channel and establish a potential market in Maharashtra.
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“Working closely with farmers for years, we realised that farmers also faced issues of pests and preparing quality soil for cultivation. Moreover, the product was used mainly by educated, financially stable farmers exporting farm produce. They were aware of the strict certifications required for chemical-free produce. But we were unable to reach the grassroots farmers, and it was required to address their requirements at various levels from soil preparation to harvest,” she says.
Identifying the issues and after researching for years, the startup introduced multiple solutions for the farming community. “In 2005, we started preparing products that addressed different issues,” Sandeepa says, adding that they registered the startup Kan Biosys that year.
“We created products that helped seeds improve their germination rate, increase carbon sequestration in the soil, add nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus for better growth and prevent pests in crops. The products involve introducing microbes that work in benefiting the crop health, thus, making it entirely sustainable, environment-friendly and without the use of any chemicals in the process.”
Over the past 30 years, the company has helped more than a million farmers practice organic farming in states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana.
Their products are also exported to countries like the USA, Australia, Turkey and Europe, Africa and Latin America. The turnover of the company stands at $ 2.5 million.
Eco-friendly Alternative To Stubble Burning
Watch testimonial for farmer using Speed kompost
In 2016, the company came up with another unique solution to benefit the farmers facing stubble burning issues.
“The issue of air pollution due to stubble burning came into the limelight during the 2010 Obama visit in Delhi as air filters were installed across the capital city to keep pollutants at bay. The phenomenon of stubble burning exists across the country, but the impact and its repercussions are visible at its worst in Punjab and Haryana,” she says.
Sandeepa adds, “Rice and wheat straws have a high content of silica and lignin, which are responsible for delay in the decomposition of the agriculture residue. Therefore, we chose to address the issue in the worst affected areas as the proportion of soil degradation, issues of air pollution, water solution and cancer are also high in the region.”
She adds that their product ‘Speed Kompost’ became the first product to address the stubble burning issue.
The bio-manure product contains microbes that accelerate the decomposition of stubble in the soil and increase its fertility.
Explaining its unique selling point, Sandeepa says other products were introduced in the market later on. “However, the products in the market take 30 to 40 days for stubble to decompose, but our product does the same job in 15 days, making it 50 per cent more efficient,” he says.
She claims that the product costs Rs 600 an acre and has returns worth Rs 8,000. “The cost benefits come in the form of an increase in yield, repairing the health of the soil and saving production costs,” Sandeepa says.
“The product is validated by Punjab Agriculture University and Haryana Agriculture University. In the past four years, we have mitigated the stubble burning issue on 30,000 acres of land,” she says.
Tajinder Singh, a farmer in Moga village of Punjab, says, “I have used the product three times and it has proven to be efficient on all the occasions. There is no residue left that affects the sowing process for the next crop.”
He adds, however, the process depends on weather conditions. “If the temperature drops during winter months, the process takes longer (up to 20-25 days) and may affect the sowing of the wheat crop for the next season. But farmers should consider the massive environmental benefits of preventing air pollution,” Tajinder says.
Carbon Credit Exchange
Speaking of the challenges faced over three decades, Sandeepa adds, “Creating an agricultural product requires many trials and simulations. There are many barriers to the process. Moreover, there needs to be a sizable market to penetrate the agricultural sector. It is only the recommendation and farmer market channels that help us reach the potential customers.”
Sandeepa stresses that creating a brand and providing a platform of multiple solutions for the community was another challenge in the business.
She says that in the future, the company aims to create a model for carbon credit exchange. “The model will allow the farmers to avail incentives for sequestering carbon emissions through agriculture which in turn will ensure clean air, water and safe food,” she adds.
Sandeepa says, “There are many products that can be created using biotechnology. Agriculture activities are responsible for 30 per cent of the carbon footprint. If such solutions are applied, it will benefit addressing environmental issues at large.”
On a parting note, she adds that there are many undiscovered jewels in biotechnology, and they have the potential to offer solutions to address the climate crisis, which should be explored. “Ultimately, human life depends on health and food entirely,” she adds.
Edited by Yoshita Rao