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In our desperate attempt to attain high production to feed an ever-growing population,we have ended up relying heavily, as well as recklessly, on excessive use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Though we have achieved the target to an extent, the quality of soil has been reduced and the food we consume has been turned to mild poison. When the country’s crop losses, due to pests, stand at almost Rs 120,000 crore annually, and to control the pests we spray chemical pesticides worth Rs 35,000 crore annually, it is a sensible move on our part to rethink the way in which we have been using chemicals in farming.
In a study jointly conducted by International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh, and Stanford University, it was discovered that unplanned use of pesticides and herbicide in crops is one of the reasons behind the presence of lead in the blood of pregnant women in rural Bangladesh. Lead is an element which can interfere with variety of body processes and is toxic to many organs and tissues.
When our intellectual advancement complements our propensity to consume, our demand for food has become more defined and it tends to inch towards organic options. Keeping these in mind, Lokesh Makam founded Barrix Agro Sciences in July, 2011. The company develops ‘next generation pheromone traps’ that provide farmers with effective crop protection while reducing their dependence on chemical insecticides.
An MBA in pharmaceuticals management, Makam worked for companies such as Ranbaxy, Dabur and Himalaya before founding Barrix with personal savings of Rs 23 lakh.
“Cancer cases are increasing day by day. The treatment is very costly. So I thought what was the root cause of the problem creating health concerns, and I came to know about the presence of pesticides in our food. So I thought to provide some alternatives to farmer to control pests in a safer way,” Makam, the company’s CEO, explained.
In the beginning, it required him to make way through red-tapism. When it was easy to sell pesticides, he had to pay sales tax of 14 percent in Karnataka and 5 percent in Andhra Pradesh. Besides, it was difficult for the company to get funding.
“It's really hard to explain, we went to remote areas where even buses do not ply and no mobile network is available to give demos to the farmers, convincing farmers about the performance of products. Thus we created demand at the retailer end,” Makam elaborated.
Pheromones developed by Barrix are artificially synthesised smelling agents that attract pests. Instead of eating the crops, the pests are attracted to the pheromones in the traps. Barrix Catch Fruit Fly Trap, Barrix Catch Vegetable Fly Trap and Barrix Magic Sticker Pestfly Sticky Sheet are some of its major products.
Data on the impact that Barrix's pheromone traps have on their users was collected from 23 farmers across Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh using an independent surveyor. It has been gathered that there is a 60 percent drop in pesticide use, 15 percent increase in yield, farmers have reported net benefits of 20-50 thousands per crop cycle, and more than 15,000 farmers have switched to Barrix’s products.
Sensing the prospect of the company, Godrej Agrovet-backed early-stage venture capital fund Omnivore Partners decided to invest. The invested amount cannot be ascertained, however, it is understood that Omnivore typically invests Rs 5 crore in its portfolio companies.
“Taxes are high, and agriculture departments should encourage these kind of new age products to be used by farmers. And they should discourage promoting the use and giving license to pesticides,” Makam asserted.
The company claims that it is developing the species specific control products targeting the pests of high risk for tea, peas, paddy, sugarcane, cotton and pulses. Developing products to protect fruits and vegetables, Barrix has moved up the value chain by making plant-based organic products that protect crops from fungi and bacteria. Besides expansion in domestic markets, it is now planning to tap foreign markets like the US and Europe. It expects to achieve revenue of Rs 200 crore in the next five years.